Belarus halts student trips to U.S.

Fallout centers on teenager who refused to leave Petaluma family



The ban on travel for so-called respite programs for children living in the path of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster will impact about 1,400 children nationwide.

Oleg Kravchenko, charge d'affaires at the embassy in Washington, said barring a guarantee from the U.S. that such incident doesn't happen again, all such trips will be stopped.

"When an agreement is concluded, the trips may be recommended again," Kravchenko. "For now, all trips are prohibited."

Host families in the Petaluma-based Chernobyl Children's Project reacted with disappointment. And they criticized Manuel and Debra Zapata of Petaluma, who are sponsoring 16-year-old Tanya Kazyra.

"It's what we feared from the beginning," said Rosey Erickson, president of the group that brought Kazyra and 24 other children into the country June 26. "It is what we have tried feverishly to avoid by taking necessary steps to facilitate Tanya's safe and expenditious return to her grandma in Belarus."

A lawyer for Kazyra called the decision punitive and unnecessary.

Immigration attorney Christopher Kerosky said Kazyra has a legal right to remain in the country as well as permission from her guardian.

"I would just say the family believes it's a shame if the Belarusin government takes any actions against existing or future programs for young children based on the decision of one girl," Kerosky said. "It's a shame and a tragedy and there's no reason for it."

The Chernobyl Childrens Project, founded two years after the disaster in 1991, is one of dozens of similar programs across the country. Children visit for six weeks each summer and stay with host families handle medical needs and show them American culture.

Kazyra visited the Zapatas nine summers and was in her last year of eligibility, a Belarusina official said.

She has said the Zapatas had become her true family and that her parents were abusive.



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