Families help Chernobyl kids

Angela and Steven Bottomley with their children Tom, left, and Will, and their Belarusian visitor Krystina
Angela and Steven Bottomley with their children Tom, left, and Will, and their Belarusian visitor Krystina

JAPAN’s latest assessment of the crisis at its disaster-hit Fukushima power plant has stoked the world’s worst fears by putting it on a par with Chernobyl.

It is now almost 25 years since the world’s biggest nuclear catastrophe, and its effects continue to be felt today.

A generation not even born when the Ukrainian power plant’s fourth reactor exploded on April 26, 1986, are still developing radiation-induced illnesses and suffering extreme poverty in its aftermath.

This summer, 11 young inheritants of this terrible legacy will stay with host families in Calderdale as part of a project by Chernobyl Children’s Life Line.

Since it was founded in 1992, the charity has organised trips to the UK for 40,000 children from Belarus, which suffered 70 per cent of the nuclear fallout.

Angela Bottomley, chairwoman of the charity’s Halifax and Bradford link, has been hosting a Belarusian girl named Krystsina at her home in Exley Lane, Elland, for four years.

The charity funded her first visit, aged eight, in 2007, and Angela and her husband Steven have paid for her to return three times since.

“It was just lovely to see her experience things like seeing the sea for the first time, because she’d never been to the seaside,” said Angela, 44.

“She had never done things that we just take so much for granted, like eating ice-creams or going on the donkeys. We all cried buckets when she went home.”

Angela said her own sons, Tom, 13, and Will, nine, had grown close to Krystsina and her visits helped them count their own blessings.

“They absolutely loved having her here, they consider her to be a sister now,” she said.

“I don’t think even I realised how lucky my children are until Krystsina came.

“She arrived with literally one change of underwear and one change of clothes, and it’s not because their parents want you to kit them out.

“They just haven’t got anything else to send with them - not even a toothbrush or a hairbrush.

“It made Tom and Will realise not everyone is as lucky as them.”

The message was driven home even harder when the family visited Krystsina in Belarus last year.

Children there are still developing leukaemia, thyroid cancer and other conditions as a result of contaminated food and water and babies continue to be born with serious deformities.

“It was a huge wake-up call for them,” said Angela.

“When we went over there, Krystsina, who’d been here three times at this point, looked so much healthier compared to the other children.

“When we went to her school they just looked so ill and unhealthy, and she was pink and glowing.”

Krystsina suffers from thyroid problems but none of the children the charity flies over are seriously ill - something the recuperative breaks are aimed at preventing.

Escaping for just a few weeks to a “clean” environment can increase a child’s life expectancy by up to two years.

While they are here, the youngsters are also provided with free eye tests and glasses by Asda and the charity is now seeking a dentist to treat them too.

“Their teeth are quite poor and their eyesight is quite poor and obviously their parents can’t afford to provide these things for them,” said Angela.

The charity has enough host families for this year’s visit, from July 25 to August 15, but will be welcoming more next year.

Angela said: “You just get a huge amount of satisfaction and pleasure from knowing that you are helping these children and giving them memories that they will keep forever.”

l A remembrance evening is being held on the eve of the Chernobyl disaster’s 25th anniversary at Halifax Ukranian Club, Queen’s Road, Halifax. Tickets to the event, from 5.30pm on April 25, cost £3. For more information call Angela on 07825643679 or visit www.ccll.org.uk