A breath of fresh air

PUBLISHED: 13:20 08 February 2007 | UPDATED: 13:48 04 May 2010

The children from Chernobyl

The children from Chernobyl

IT is almost 20 years since the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the subsequent radioactive contamination of the surrounding area of the Ukraine. More than 330,000 people were evacuated and resettled following the disaster, regarded as t

IT is almost 20 years since the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the subsequent radioactive contamination of the surrounding area of the Ukraine.

More than 330,000 people were evacuated and resettled following the disaster, regarded as the worst accident ever in the history of nuclear power.

Last Sunday, 12 youngsters from Belarus - where 70 per cent of the radioactive fallout landed - arrived in East Cambridgeshire.

LESLEY INNES found out more about their trip which has been made possible for the 10th year by a Soham-based charity.

TWELVE little girls, some as young as six, arrived in East Cambridgeshire on Sunday to breath clean air away from their contaminated homeland of Belarus.

These are the children of Chernobyl - suffering from the after-effects of the worst nuclear accident in history, which dumped 70 per cent of its radioactive fallout on their doorsteps.

But for the next month the youngsters will escape the nuclear power plant's legacy and live with families across the region thanks to the work of the Soham branch of the Chernobyl Children Life Line charity.

It is estimated that this month-long break will build up their immune systems and increase their life expectancy by two years.

All the children have been chosen because they have had cancer and are now in remission after treatment, live in one of the contaminated parts of the country or have other illnesses related to the situation in Belarus.

The girls, mostly aged between six and eight, arrived at Chippenham village hall near Newmarket where they met their seven host families for the first time.

Maria Shelton, from Queen Adelaide, who is hosting for the third time this year and is a fund-raiser for the charity said: "Looking after the children is great fun and very rewarding. They are mostly well behaved, but want to play like any youngster, and are extremely grateful for things that we consider commonplace.

"These children have found themselves in their situations because of no fault of their own. If the wind had been blowing in a different direction it could have been our children.

"This time we have four families hosting for the first time and it is always a major worry that the children speak very little English and none of us speak Russian, but that rarely leads to difficulties. You can get by very easily with signs, nods and smiles and the children pick up English very quickly.

"The main problem is getting the children used to eating the variety of food that we have regularly and some foods they are not happy with, like milk, because in Belarus they are heavily contaminated with radiation.

"The host families look after the children and provide them with meals, clothes, other entertainment and lots of care and attention."

The charity has arranged trips for the children to Ely Cathedral, Willer's Mill Wildlife Park, bowling in Newmarket and Cadbury World.

Local businesses and shops are also supporting the trip. Wades Opticians will give the children a free eye test and glasses if necessary, Waitrose has supplied the children with fruit each week, Startrite will provide the children with shoes and they will have a dental check up at Ely's Princess of Wales Hospital.

Since the charity's East Cambridgeshire branch was formed nearly 10 years ago, more than 135 children have come to the region.

Although the branch is run totally by volunteers who live in or around Ely, Soham and Newmarket, it needs £7,000 per year to pay for the children's airfares from Belarus, hire of minibuses and other expenses during the children's visits.

INFO: Anyone wanting to find out more about the work of the Chernobyl Children Life Line, becoming a host family for a future visit or in helping raise funds for the charity can contact Maria Shelton tel. 01353 659351 or e-mail mm.Shelton@btinternet.com

FACT FILE

# A reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Ukraine exploded on April 26, 1986.

# The radioactive fallout from the disaster was 90 times greater than that of the Hiroshima atom bomb.

# It is estimated that it will take more than 400 years to rid Belarus of contamination.

# The contaminated area of Belarus is home to around two million people and, being predominantly agricultural, is now very poor.

# Cases of thyroid and intestinal cancers, leukaemia and heart defects as a result of the disaster are common in the children and birth defects are higher than in western Europe.

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