Tears as Chernobyl children fly home

PUBLISHED: 15:38 11 October 2007 | UPDATED: 15:17 12 May 2010

Graham Palmer gives English lessons to some of the youngsters

Graham Palmer gives English lessons to some of the youngsters

THE children of Chernobyl have again touched the hearts of all those they have met, as their second visit to the UK came to an end on Sunday. For four weeks, the 17 youngsters have been staying with families in and around Melbourn. While in their care t

Dianna and Dianna meet one of the residents at Shepreth Wildlife Park

THE children of Chernobyl have again touched the hearts of all those they have met, as their second visit to the UK came to an end on Sunday.

For four weeks, the 17 youngsters have been staying with families in and around Melbourn.

While in their care they have been given much needed medical and dental treatment, nutrition and vitamins, and vital respite from the radiation-plagued environment at home.

The trip has given the children a welcome healthy break, with the annual four-week programme estimated to add as much as two years to their lives.

And despite their disadvantaged backgrounds, the children have once again demonstrated a remarkable ability to bond with their host families and everyone they meet.

Founder of the Melbourn branch of the Friends of Chernobyl's Children, Nicola Dunklin, said: "It's been another incredible year and we have seen more than ever just how important the four weeks are for them.

"When they arrived in September you could tell they had deteriorated since we last saw them.

"But they've gone back looking a lot healthier and better.

"It's very hard when they have to return to Belarus, and there were more than a few tears at the airport.

"They go back to some very difficult circumstances. But despite that, they are such wonderful children.

"And I think it is their love and ­affection that really bowls people over - it's so natural and really quite amazing."

Host Sue Price said: "One of the major differences from last year has been the language barrier.

"It's been a lot easier this time around, and some of them have shown a cheekier side.

"They settled straight back in with their host families and it's been another fantastic year. I'm so glad that I got involved."

But it is not only the host families who have been touched by their visit.

Over the four weeks the children have been involved in activities that have produced more volunteers.

Graham Palmer, who has been teaching the youngsters English, said: "It's been hard work, but I'm glad that I got involved.

"I've tried to make their learning as fun as possible, and I think they've enjoyed it.

"They've been a nice group to teach."

They have also visited the Cheeky Monkeys play centre in Ware, taken to the slopes at Bassingbourn Snowsports, and twice visited the seaside.

The youngsters had fun in the pool at Melbourn's McSplash, soaked firefighters with hoses, ran Ken and Di Charles ragged at Royston Leisure Centre, and marvelled at the tigers and lemurs at Shepreth Wildlife Park.

Clare Williams of McSplash said: "They're a lovely group of children and all so very caring.

"I've never known a group to have so much fun in the pool and every year I have a great time with them."

Pete Chapman of Royston Fire Station said: "They have had a tough time, so it's been great to see them enjoying themselves.

"The children have so much enthusiasm which rubs off on everyone else."

Throughout the four weeks the children have been under the supervision of interpreter Olga Sharapkina, on her second visit to the UK.

She said: "The children have had an amazing time that has given them so much.

"It has improved their health and you can see a clear difference.

"The trip has also given them more confidence as they have to fit into a different way of life.

"The host families have been really nice and they look after them very well - and the children realise this."

Host Jo Desmarais said: "Once again they have left a lasting impression on everyone they have met - you just can't forget them!

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