Chernobyl children given a lifeline by charity

Children from Chernobyl who are enjoying a short break in the UK visited the William Beatty dental laboratory at the University of Portsmouth to have their teeth checked.  (left to right), Sasha Grynkivskyy, Pasha Boyko, Kristina Koba and Yarynka Belikova.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (141666-1)
Children from Chernobyl who are enjoying a short break in the UK visited the William Beatty dental laboratory at the University of Portsmouth to have their teeth checked. (left to right), Sasha Grynkivskyy, Pasha Boyko, Kristina Koba and Yarynka Belikova.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (141666-1)
From left - John Bagnall, Karen Read (Wetwheels Solent), Geoff Holt (Wetwheels founder), John''Harris-Burland (MindWorks Marketing), George Cheeseman (Suzuki Marine)       Picture: Pete Lisle

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Imagine spending your childhood living in the shadow of one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.

The fallout of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 left long-term side effects such as cancer and deformities, which are still being felt to this day.

The nuclear plant exploded on April 26, 1986 and killed 31 people and more than 500,000 were drafted in to clear up afterwards.

These people were exposed to radiation and the effects are still felt in villages in Ukraine and Belarus.

If the villagers are not suffering the effects of diseases, they are eating contaminated food which is weakening their immune systems.

Not only did this disaster bring with it a terrible health implications, it plunged many of these villages further into poverty.

This year, this has been exacerbated by the unrest in Ukraine, which has seen bloody riots in the country’s capital Kiev.

For the innocent children, growing up in amongst this is something they have to deal with everyday.

For a lucky few, a UK charity organises for them to spend a month here so they can experience the carefree life British children often take for granted.

This four-week break gives them rest, recuperation and education. It gives them a chance to get away from the radiation, as well as a chance to access our health care, boosting their life expectancy by as much as two years.

This year, the Portsmouth and Hayling Island Link of Chernobyl Children’s Life Line hosted 12 children from Borodyanka, Ukraine.

The children, aged from 10 to 12, are staying with six host families in the Portsmouth area.

They are accompanied by Tanya Soshko, a group leader, who acts as a translator and they go out on trips most days.

Tanya beams as I meet the group before their trip to the dentist.

She says: ‘The whole programme is brilliant and the people are brilliant.

‘Nobody is home sick. The children love it. The people in Portsmouth are so nice and they don’t realise how lucky they are to have such a nice city on the sea.’

Ben Baker, from the charity, explains: ‘Their most beneficial trips are to the Portsmouth University Dental Academy and Specsavers on Palmerston Road, Southsea.

‘However as you can imagine, these aren’t the most popular.’

There are no sad faces when I meet the group who have had to return to the dental academy for further treatment.

Although they can’t speak much English, they are laughing and look happy.

One girl smiles and says ‘top banana!’ a phrase she has picked up from her host family when I ask how they are finding life here.

During their stay, the children are given a course of dental treatment and have their eyes tested, with many returning to Ukraine with fillings and glasses.

Ben says: ‘The other trips include Fareham fire station, Sainsbury’s in Broadcut and Alum Bay on the Isle of Wight.

‘We are also lucky enough to go to Mengham on Hayling Island where the children go sailing and to Northney Farm, Hayling Island where they are treated to ice cream followed by a trip to Funlands Amusement Park.’

The charity is reliant on the goodwill of people and businesses to make the trip beneficial to their health, educational and fun.

Thanks to the hard work of dedicated volunteers like Marian Stapley a group visits every year.

Marian has been volunteering for the charity for eight years and has seen first-hand the poverty and threatening environment these children are living in.

Marian, 47, from Paulsgrove, says it is all worthwhile when she sees the improvement that just four short weeks brings.

‘These children come from a small town called Borodyanka where there is a population of 12,000,’ she says.

‘The poverty there is incredible. Some of these kids don’t even have running water. It’s freezing as the temperature drops to -30C in the winter and there’s no heating. The windows are broken, they are poverty stricken.

‘We make sure they go back with a suitcase stuffed full of warm, winter clothes.’

The charity provides the children with two suitcases full of clothes, toiletries and supplies such as seeds, toothbrushes and fire alarms, all donated throughout the year, so that they go back to Ukraine prepared.

Marian says after a few days in England the children grow in confidence and start to enjoy themselves.

And by the end of their stay, they are like totally different children.

One of the group’s most enjoyable trips each year is their visit to Fareham Fire Station.

This year, the children had a go at abseiling, got to cut a dummy out of a car, played with the hoses, went in fire trucks and were treated to a barbecue lunch.

The Fareham police even popped down and showed the children their crime-fighting gadgets.

The group has visited Fareham Fire Station for the last four years and watch manager Simon Whelan says it is one of the highlights of the station’s calendar.

All of Simon’s crew - blue watch - pitch in and make the day one to remember.

Simon explains, ‘The kids love it. They go away with big smiles on their faces.

‘They are so into it and keen to get involved.

“They are so pleased and interested and that’s really nice to see.

‘They are a brilliant bunch. It is very rewarding to see the effect this trip has on them over just one month.

‘They go home with good experiences and good memories, as well as being medically healthier.’

Simon’s wife Linda spent the day at the station helping out and the kindhearted couple, plus Linda’s sister Sarah Williams, even pay for the children to go to Monkey World.

Linda, from Denmead, says, ‘What you get back from it is the feel-good factor.

“You can’t imagine the difference to their lives when they go back to Ukraine.’

Kind-hearted families across Portsmouth have welcomed children from Chernoybl into their homes.

The host families are from a range of different ages and backgrounds, and host two children for their four-week stay.

Nita Hebberd and her partner Les Hawkes, from Horndean, have been putting up Nastya Koba, 11 and Anna Us, 12.

It is the first year they have helped out and Nita said she was inspired to do so after reading an article in The News about last year’s group.

Nita, whose children have all grown up and moved out, says, ‘It’s like going back in time. I’d recommend it to anyone. What I like best is the camaraderie. The support has been brilliant.’

The children this year are:

Yaryna Belikova, 11, Ilona Sokol, 11, Nastya Koba, 11, Anna Us, 12, Kristina Mikhay, 10, Diana Menko, 10, Andriy Grytsenko, 11, Zhenya Vyshnevskyy, 12, Denys Goncharov, 11, Artem Sukhin, 11, Pasha Boyko, 12, Sasha Grynkivskyy, 11.

To get in touch with the Portsmouth branch of the Chernobyl Children’s Life Line email or call 07952 290124.

There are also branches of Chernobyl Children’s Life Line in Lee-on-the-Solent, Havant and Eastleigh. For more information go to