By Julie Moffett
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, RFE/RL
December 13, 2002
Ukraine's Chornobyl nuclear accident occurred more than 16 years ago, but
its effects are still being felt in Ukraine and neighboring Belarus. RFE/RL
reports on efforts by private U.S. groups to help ease the pain of children
suffering from ailments related to the disaster.
Washington, 13 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- On 26 April 1986, an explosion tore
through Reactor 4 at the Chornobyl nuclear-power plant in Ukraine. More than
16 years later, the tragedy continues to have a devastating effect on the
health of many people in the region, especially children.
More than 2 million people still live in the areas contaminated by nuclear
fallout from the disaster. Much research has been conducted on the health
consequences of the accident. According to the Republican Congress of
Pediatrics in Minsk, there has been a considerable increase in morbidity
among children under the age of 14 during the past decade, particularly in
the Homel and Mahileu regions of Belarus.
Among the most common health problems reported are diseases of the upper
respiratory tract; persistent inflammation of the external ear canal; severe
itching, redness, peeling, and scaling of the skin; iron-deficiency anemia;
and eye tumors, especially in children under the age of 5. Dramatic
increases in thyroid cancer and inflammation of the thyroid glands also have
In the mid-1990s, the Scientific Research Institute of Radiological Medicine
in Minsk reported that the breast milk of women living in the Homel and
Mahileu regions contained startlingly high amounts of deadly isotopes.
Concurrently, some 18,000 residents of the Hoiniki District in the Homel
region were examined by doctors from the Institute of the Belarusian Academy
of Sciences. Doctors reported that 93 percent suffered from illnesses
related to Chornobyl.
While the effects of the Chornobyl accident no longer generate sensational
headlines, many organizations in the United States are devoted to helping
the people most affected by the tragedy, particularly children.
One such group, the Children of Chornobyl Foundation, was founded in San
Diego in 1993 under the auspices of a local church. Today, the group has
dozens of volunteers who invite Belarusian children to live with them in the
United States for a five-week respite from their contaminated environment.
Svetlana Krasynska is the president of the organization. She is from
Khmelnitsky, Ukraine, and came to the United States in 1997. Krasynska spoke
with RFE/RL about how her organization came to be created. "It was founded
to bring children from radiation-contaminated regions -- primarily from the
[Homel] region in Belarus that got most of the radiation as a result of the
Chornobyl explosion -- to bring the kids over here to San Diego to give them
medical, dental, and optometric support and get them out of the radiation so
that their systems get cleaned up," Krasynska said.
Krasynska said the children are provided with medical examinations and
medicine donated by local doctors and hospitals.
According to Krasynska, the children who visit typically show remarkable
changes within a short period of time. She said their skin color improves,
bruises and sores disappear, and that the children eat better and have
higher levels of energy.
Krasynska said the effects of Chornobyl are long-lasting. Even though we're
trying to address the problems of the children who are 8, 10 years old right
now -- and obviously they were born after the nuclear accident -- you see
that it still affects children who were born after the accident," Krasynska
Krasynska said local churches and civic groups raise the money to bring the
children to the United States. She said her organization's efforts are
sometimes criticized by those who believe the money would be better spent on
the ground in Belarus or Ukraine. "In this way, even though some people
dispute, 'Why do you people spend so much money bringing these children over
to the United States while this money could be spent on so many more things
over there?' -- the thing is that, in this way, we can ensure that all those
funds go to treat the children," Krasynska said.
Joe Knable is a self-employed machinist and owner of a towing company in the
state of Ohio. He is also the president of the Children of Chornobyl
Charitable Fund. Knable told RFE/RL that his organization also brings
children ages 8 to 12 -- most of whom live in poverty -- from Belarus to the
United States to live briefly with American families and to receive medical
When asked why he spends all of his free time trying to raise money for
children half a world away, Knable said it's simple: He wants the children
to know he cares, and he wants the families in the region to understand that
the world, and especially Americans, have not abandoned them. "Do I feel
like I'll be doing this forever? I feel like God has called this upon my
heart to do this forever," Knable said.
Norma Berkowitz is a retired social worker who heads the Friends of
Chornobyl Centers. Berkowitz told RFE/RL that her group's mission is to
support community centers in 13 areas on the edge of contaminated zones in
Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
Berkowitz said she is spending her retirement working to help those affected
by Chornobyl because she knows that her efforts are making a difference in
people's lives. "One of the things that we use as a slogan, if you will, is:
'To be remembered is to be blessed; to be forgotten is to despair.' So what
we do, in the last analysis, is to bring hope to people after they've had
such devastating times," Berkowitz said.
Cecelia Calhoun is the president and founder of the nongovernmental group
called the Children of Chornobyl United States Alliance. Calhoun said her
main goal is to foster a network of committed individuals to aid those in
the Chornobyl region. She said her organization continues to operate because
the problems of Chornobyl have not gone away. She said that some cancers are
only now manifesting themselves in young people who were toddlers at the
time of the accident. Many other children are being born with birth defects
and neurological damage.
The costs are considerable, Calhoun said. She said various U.S. groups
sponsored about 1,500 children from Belarus and Ukraine last summer. She
said the average transportation cost to bring a child to the United States
is about $1,000, including airfare, visas, and health insurance, for a total
of $1.5 million.
If you add the donated services provided by doctors and hospitals, Calhoun
said, the costs soar to an additional $4.8 million. And this cost does not
include medical services such as surgery, medicine, eyeglasses, or
prosthetic devices that are given to those children who are severely ill. In
addition, Calhoun said, each child returns home with a medical-care package
of basic medicines costing $125.
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