Meet the children from Chernobyl living in Sheffield

“The children live in a contaminated area. They drink contaminated water. They eat contaminated food. Could you live like that?”

This was the appeal made by the organiser of a charity that hosts children suffering from the affects of Chernobyl, in Sheffield.

Ben Dean, chair of the Sheffield link of Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline Charity, has taken in 11 children from Belarus with his partner since 2007 as part of their effort to improve the health and livelihood of those left behind by the disaster.

On 26 April 1986, a late-night routine test at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine caused an explosion, seeing 31 confirmed deaths and huge amounts of toxic nuclear material released into the atmosphere.

Seventy percent of the radioactive fallout spread across to nearby Belarus, with towns and cities near the reactor still left devastated thirty-two years on.

The charity was set up in 1992 to raise money for children from the affected areas, often living in orphanages or suffering from cancer, to come to the UK for month-long respite holidays.

Over 600 children are hosted by volunteer families across the country every year, with 6 to 8 coming to the Sheffield link, which was founded in 2006. They are treated to days out involving archery, swimming, roller skating, astronomy, trips out to the Peak District, sailing and pot painting.

The children after a tennis session at Graves leisure centre 

Mr Dean said: “Belarus is a landlocked country so none of these children have seen the sea before.

“The children are treated to amusement parks and ice cream on days out to the beach.”

Crucially, research has shown that just four weeks spent in Britain can have vital benefits to health. Many have problems with eyesight and teeth, and receive free dental check ups at a local support 655 Chesterfield Road Dental Care and Opticians appointments at Daybell & Choo.

Mr Dean remembers the first child who came to his home fondly. He said: “When they first come over they look terrified, but by the end they’re very comfortable around the house and have a great time.”

However, the charity is suffering with a lack of awareness over the continued effects of the disaster. Thousands of children, even those born 30 years after Chernobyl, still have to drink radioactively contaminated milk on a daily basis according to a Greenpeace report.

“Trying to keep families involved and the links running is quite hard,” said Mr Dean.

He worries that current global issues have left the people of Belarus and Ukraine behind, with most in the UK no longer interested in the aftermath of the tragedy.

However, he remains optimistic about increasing the number of host families bit by bit.

“That’s all we aim for – one more family,” he said. “And that family might get another involved.”

In the meantime, the charity will be continuing in its efforts to raise money through craft sales, second-hand sales, restaurant and race nights.

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