Last Updated Mar 30 2005 11:55 AM CST

Chornobyl kids to visit Manitoba

CBC News

WINNIPEG - Sick children from near the Chornobyl disaster site will still visit Manitoba this summer, despite a threat from the Belarusian president to ban travel by the kids.

Alexander Lukashenko objects to his country's children being "contaminated by consumerism" in the west. He reportedly issued a ban in November against sick children leaving Belarus for recuperative holidays. Local officials have been assured the ban applies only during the country's school year.

Four children are expected to come to Manitoba in June as part of the Children of Chornobyl project. The children will stay with host families for five weeks.

It's a healthy respite from Chornobyl region on the Ukraine-Belarus border, where a nuclear reactor exploded in 1986, contaminating the water and air.

Denise Joss, spokesperson for the project, says the visits provide tremendous health benefits.

"We've been told and shown research that as little as four weeks away from the contamination helps to improve their immune system levels and it basically gives them the strength and energy and the few extra pounds to get them through the next school year."

Joss speculates Lukashenko may feel threatened by programs such as the Children of Chornobyl, because it shows the children what life is like in a democracy.

Lukashenko is one of eastern Europe's last hard-line rulers.