FAMILIES in Calderdale have thrown a lifeline to children growing up in a radiation hotspot in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Fifteen youngsters have returned to Belarus after a month-long respite break with host families here and around West Yorkshire in the hope of boosting their health and lengthening their lifespan.
The country was hit by 70 per cent of the fallout when the Ukrainian power plant’s fourth reactor exploded on April 26, 1986, and a generation not even born at the time are still developing radiation-induced illnesses and suffering extreme poverty.
Olga Goncharenko, a teacher from Belarus, escorted the youngsters on the trip, organised by the charity Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline.
She said: “It’s scientifically proven that just one month here makes them live at least a year longer.
“Moreover, they get to enjoy social activities, communicate with English speakers and get to know another culture.”
The children were taken for much-needed dentist and optician appointments during their stay, provided for free by the Beechwood Dental Practice in Illingworth, Halifax, John Pearson in Elland and Asda in Pudsey, Leeds.
And having fun was just as firmly on the agenda, with dozens of activities such as ceramics sessions, bowling and swimming, outings to places like Bolton Abbey and Blackpool and a traditional lunch at the Ukrainian Community Centre in Bradford.
First-time hosts Samantha and Robert Bates, of Northowram, said 10-year-old Veranika had fitted in well with their sons Isaac, five, and Luke, four. They decided to take part after reading an appeal for host families in the Courier.
“You’re not just giving something back to society but also it’s a good family experience for us to all spend some quality time together,” said Mrs Bates.
“We’ve got to do all sorts of activities as well as hopefully giving an underprivileged child the trip of a lifetime.”
Angela Bottomley, chairwoman of the charity’s Halifax and Bradford link, thanked everyone who supported the visit.
She said: “A lot of people have contributed and everyone has made us really welcome – we’ve just had a brilliant year. The children all went home very happy and fitter and fatter than they were. We’re all missing them like mad and now we’re getting ready for next year.”
Anyone interested in becoming a host next year can call her on 07825643679.