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Children blighted by Chernobyl enjoy Scots respite break

A group of 18 children are spending a month away from the effects of radiation.

The children enjoy going to the seaside and eating ice cream. <strong>STV</strong>
The children enjoy going to the seaside and eating ice cream. STV

On a sunny day in Buckie, a group of children are excitedly touring a lifeboat station.

Just like any other child they are excited to be by the seaside and enjoy a trip on a lifeboat.

But the group of 18 children, aged from eight to 12, are from the Mogilev area of Belarus.

It lies around 320 miles from the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

The explosion at reactor number four on April 26, 1986 sent a cloud of radioactive material into the atmosphere.

In the years that followed there was a spike in the number of cases of cancer in Belarus and the Ukraine, including children. Many still suffer from the effects of radiation exposure.

While none of the children visiting Scotland were born when Chernobyl happened, its devastating legacy remains.

Since then, hundreds of children have been travelling to Scotland to get respite from the effects of radiation.

As well as day trips and activities such as sports and crafts, the youngsters get health checks at the dentist and optician, and return home with a suitcase packed full of warm clothes and vitamins.

“You can definitely see the difference in the children when they’re here,” says Clare Cotton, chairwoman of the Friends of Chernobyl’s Children charity.

“From about the second week their skin is starting to look brighter.

“When I met them the first time in Belarus, I asked them what their dream was. More than half of them wanted to see the seaside – the other said it was to have an ice cream. So they’ve had both – many times.”

During their time in Scotland the children reside with volunteer host families.

Gary MacCallum has welcomed ten-year-old Maksim into his home every summer for the past five years.

“It’s really great to see the difference in him in the five years that he’s come here,” says Gary.

“Even just looking at him now I can see the change in him, he’s looking healthy.

“I’ve a daughter and a son and they really love Maksim. He’s become part of the family since he’s been here. He’s like a little brother to them.”

When the month comes to an end, saying goodbye to children is difficult for the host families.

“I always stand at the back with a tear in my eye because I don’t want him to see how emotional I am when he leaves,” adds Gary.

“But we know Maksim will come back and visit us in the future.”

The aim of the break is for the children to develop relationships and experiences which will last a lifetime.

It’s hoped they’ll be taking those with them when they return home at the end of June.

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