Belarusian envoy will meet girl in Petaluma

Teen won't return to Belarus, which has halted student visits



A special envoy from Belarus is expected to meet Saturday in Petaluma with a 16-year-old Belarusian girl who has refused to return to the country after a summer visit with a host family.

Pavel Shidlovsky, an official from the Belarus capital of Minsk, is flying in from the embassy in Washington to meet with Tanya Kazyra, whom he is expected to try to persuade to go home.

Kazyra was among 25 children who came to the North Coast in June as part of a respite program for young people living near the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Citing her attachment to the family of Manuel and Debra Zapata of Petaluma, whom she had been visiting for nine summers, she refused to leave Aug. 5, sparking accusations of kidnapping from the Belarusian government.

On Thursday, the former Soviet-bloc country said it would halt all similar trips to the United States, a move affecting about 1,400 children in 40 programs across the country.

Rosey Erickson, head of the Petaluma-based group that brought the teenager to the country, said she hoped Kazyra will change her mind so that humanitarian programs would not be threatened.

"She needs to fulfill the agreement of contracts signed on her behalf so programs can be reopened," said Erickson, president of the Chernobyl Children's Project. "There's a tremendous amount at stake."

The Zapatas did not return calls Friday.

Kazyra, from the city of Borisov near Minsk, was believed to be staying at the Zapatas' eastside Petaluma home.

Her attorney, Christopher Kerosky, has said she is legally entitled to remain in the country while an application for a visa extension is processed. Her grandmother, who is her legal guardian, has given permission for the girl to stay, Kerosky said.

Debra Zapata told The Press Democrat this week that she would try to enroll the teenager in school. Petaluma public school officials said Friday they could not comment on Kazyra's enrollment status. School starts Wednesday.

The meeting, or series of meetings, today is expected to involve the Zapatas, other host families and possibly U.S. officials.

It will be the second time Belarusian government representatives have been dispatched to Petaluma to meet with Kazyra. Last week, a vice consul from the embassy in Washington met with the teenager and federal officials at the Petaluma police station.

Another Belarusian official, Oleg Kravchenko, head of the embassy in Washington, said letters requesting assistance have been sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma.

A spokesman for Woolsey said Friday that a letter had been received. Woolsey was on vacation and did not comment.

Erickson said Shidlovsky would attempt to assure Kazyra that she can return home without fear of persecution. She will be allowed to pursue a visa and return to the Zapatas if she wants to, she said.

Erickson said she had been talking to Shidlovsky on a daily basis, racking up a huge phone bill.

"He's coming to pave a safe way for this child to go home and come back under the right means," she said. "He's the right guy to get the job done. I'm happy to see him arriving."



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