Chernobyl girl caught up in Belarus ban

By Mark Dowie

An Angus couple are unsure if a ban on children travelling from Belarus will affect a teenager they have hosted for almost 10 years.

Graeme and Kathleen Robbie have been bringing Vica Dubina for holidays at their Kellas home through Chernobyl Children Lifeline.

The charity's host families routinely accommodate children during annual summer and Christmas visits.

The 15-year-old, who lives in an orphanage in the Belarusian capital Minsk, stayed with Mr and Mrs Robbie during her first month-long visit in 1999 and the couple have invited her back every summer and Christmas since.

Three years ago they also began hosting 11-year-old Yulya Gladkaya from Osipovichi, about 100 miles from Minsk.

In December last year, after Vica and Yulya arrived in Angus, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko introduced a ban on children over 14 travelling to European Union countries and America on charity-funded trips.

The decision was made after a Belarusian teenager refused to return home from America.

He is demanding a guarantee from host countries that children will be returned to Belarus after their stay. Ireland and Italy have already reached an agreement with the country's government but the UK is still in discussions on the issue.

Mr Robbie said the ban will not affect the annual invitation to Vica. He also said it will not affect other visits planned for this summer.

"We have a group of children coming from Ukraine on June 3, which we've been planning since January, and all the links in Britain will still be operating," he said. "We will still be inviting the girls and we pay for them coming over ourselves. We don't see that changing."

Mr Robbie said problems could arise when the charity approaches the health and education departments in Belarus. "I don't know if it will be a problem with Vica."

Since it was founded in 1991, the charity has brought children to the UK for respite care from areas of Belarus and Ukraine badly affected by fallout from the nuclear disaster in 1986 when a reactor exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

In many cases their homes are in rural areas suffering from the most profound deprivation and poverty as a result of the disaster, as well as a poor economy.

Belarus got 70% of the contamination from Chernobyl and thousands of people develop thyroid cancer, bone cancer and leukaemia as a direct result.

During their visits to the UK the children routinely get health and dental checks.

Radiation from the disaster is in the food chain in Belarus and parts of Ukraine.

It is thought a month's exposure to clean air and uncontaminated water and food can add a further two years to the youngsters' life expectancy.



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