Chernobyl's long legacy of suffering

March 03 2017

APRIL 26 2017 marks the 31st anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

APRIL 26 2017 marks the 31st anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. The people of Belarus are still suffering from the legacy of the world’s worst nuclear disaster when over 60 per cent of the radioactive elements blown out of reactor 4 fell on this small and impoverished former Soviet country. Even today, there is a permanent 30km exclusion zone surrounding the stricken reactor. 

The charity Chernobyl Children’s Life Line was formed with the aim of helping the children affected by offering them some relief from the relentless bombardment of radiation. A month’s respite holiday in the United Kingdom helps to boost their immune system by providing plenty of nourishing, uncontaminated food and clean fresh air.

Around 500,000 children in Belarus are classified as at ‘high risk’ by the World Health Organisation. 

The Bristol Link of the charity, which meets monthly in Oldland Common, brings 16 children to spend four weeks in this area each year and also supports, through financial aid, community projects and a school in the South East of Belarus. The national charity supports orphanages and hospital treatment in Belarus and Ukraine.

Andy March, a member of the charity who lives in Oldland Common, said money is raised throughout the year in order to finance summer breaks in Bristol.

"The latest generation of children now have heart problems and cancers so it's not just radiation sickness they are suffering from. If they have a month of good food, clean air, enjoyment, fun, relaxation and decent weather, their resistance gets built up and when they go back to Belarus during the winter they suffer less from flu and colds. It's likely to prolong their lives by another couple of years. However, they still don't live beyond about 68 years.

"We choose the children who come to the UK from a secondary school in a village 70 miles south of Minsk based on their age and health. People say to us why doesn't the charity help children in this country and the answer to that is that they aren't suffering from the effects of radiation."

Alan Elkan, another member, has visited Belarus to see the legacy of the disaster for himself.

"You can't stay for more than a week because you will start to feel tired," he said.

"The Belarusians are lovely people and you would love to stay longer but you can't as you are advised you will start to feel the effects of radiation. This is 30 years after the disaster! 

"I read an article recently where scientists went inside the exclusion zone to see what natural life was like. They discovered trees are still growing but the leaves that are shed don't rot down into the ground because it is contaminated; the mass of leaves just stays there.

"Some members of the charity went on a controlled visit to the plant where the accident happened. They had to wear protective gear but were only allowed in there for ten minutes. Any longer and the radiation would have started to affect them.

"We want to remind people that this isn't going to go away. The irony is that in an ideal world Ukraine would be helping to repair the problems created by a reactor in their country but they have too many of their own problems, both political and financial. No one else is interested - Belarus is well and truly stuffed."

Alan said he has a strong attachment to the charity. 

"It's the only charity that my wife and I support because we know where every penny goes. We can freely go to the school and meet the people who are receiving the results of our efforts and see exactly where the money is being spent."