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Armless Kazakh Artist Says 'Poor-Quality' Fingerprints Cost Him British Visa

Disabled antinuclear activist Karipbek Kuyukov was born in the eastern Kazakh region of Semey, formerly known as Semipalatinsk, which was used by the Soviet Union to test nuclear weapons.
A Kazakh artist born without arms says his lack of limbs has cost him many opportunities, but being denied entry into a country until he could provide fingerprints was a first.

"My inability to provide fingerprints was literally the reason I wasn't able to obtain a British visa," says Karipbek Kuyukov, who was hoping to travel to Britain last month.

The 44-year-old artist and antinuclear activist says the British Consulate in Istanbul recently returned his passport without granting him a visa, citing the poor quality of his fingerprints. Kuyukov had applied for a British visa in hopes of attending an international antinuclear conference in Edinburgh on April 15.

"As is standard procedure, consulate workers [in Almaty] took biometrics. I told them I didn't have arms and was unable to provide fingerprints. They took photos, filled out application forms, and sent our documents and passports to the British Consulate in Turkey," Kuyukov recalls.

"April 15 passed but our passports hadn't arrived yet. The passports finally were sent back on April 26 or 27. There was a letter with my passport which [essentially] said: 'Your fingerprints are of poor quality. We recommend that you get new fingerprints and send them to us so we can issue a visa for you,'" he continues.

"They issued a visa for my sister, who was to accompany me on this trip to assist me. But they didn't grant me a visa because I wasn't physically able to give fingerprints."

Apologies Come Too Late

The artist paints by holding a brush between his teeth or toes, and uses his artwork to campaign for nuclear disarmament. He was planning to exhibit his paintings in the Scottish capital.

In response to questions from RFE/RL, a spokesperson for the British Home Office said that "the visa application has not been refused," without commenting further on the case.

After his story became public in various media, Kuyukov says the British Consulate in Almaty contacted him on May 7. He says the consulate "apologized for the incident and promised to find out why it happened."

Kuyukov adds that he was offered a visa to Britain, but he's now reluctant to travel there. "I missed the conference and, besides, I can't organize my exhibition there now," he says.

Personal Nuclear Legacy

Kuyukov was born in the eastern Kazakh region of Semey, formerly known as Semipalatinsk, which was used by the Soviet Union to test nuclear weapons.

Some 470 nuclear explosions were conducted over four decades, resulting in thousands of people in Semey being born with severe birth defects. Kuyukov attributes his disabilities to the high levels of radiation his parents were exposed to.

Kuyukov has been appointed an honorary ambassador for the Atom Project, a government-backed campaign to abolish nuclear tests.

"Despite my experiences I am a positive person. So this incident with the British visa won't break my spirit," the artist says. "I just see it as an adventure. I've experienced many hardships in my life, so this incident didn't upset me too much. It's just upsetting that Kazakhstan missed that conference."

His antinuclear campaigning over the past 20 years has taken Kuyukov to the United States, Norway, Germany, and several other European countries. He is planning to travel to Japan this summer.

Written and reported by Farangis Najibullah, with additional reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service
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    RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

    RFE/RL's Kazakh Service offers informed and accurate reporting in the Kazakh and Russian languages about issues that matter in Kazakhstan, while providing a dynamic platform for audience engagement and the free exchange of news and ideas.