Belarus boy spends medical respite in Paris

Sasha Karaseu escapes radiated homeland for breath of fresh Canadian air

Posted By Casandra Bellefeuile

In a day and age where children can often take the simple commodities for granted, a seven-year-old Belarus boy just had the time of his life. What makes this story even better is that his stay drastically improved his health, an opportunity few children in Belarus have. Sasha Karaseu lives in Belarus and his small country was contaminated by a nuclear disaster over 20 years ago. The early morning explosion of reactor #4 at the Chernobyl nuclear plant on April 26, 1986 is still a grim fact of life for the people who live in the contaminated regions of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. It is estimated that 190 tons of radioactive uranium and graphite were expelled into the atmosphere and Belarus received approximately 70 per cent of the fallout. About 40 per cent of the country is contaminated.

It is through the Canadian Friends of the Chernobyl's Children that Karaseu is able to stay for six weeks in Canada. The organization was initiated to provide humanitarian aid and assistance to the children. The summer trip to a land unknown gives the youngsters a chance for healthy respite. Karaseu's trip began when he landed in Canada on July 4 with the Bergsma family. Skinny and malnourished, Karaseu was welcomed by Jim and Jennifer, Matthew (11) and Jordan (5) of Paris. "In six weeks his health has improved dramatically," said (Jennifer) Bergsma. "He was so pale when he arrived, now he shows off his tan," she added. He is also enjoying Canadian food so much, he couldn't pin point his favourite meal when asked by his translator. "He was described as having a poor appetite but he eats like a horse," professed Bergsma.

She was also amazed at how quickly Karaseu learned English. Russian is his first language, but English is quickly becoming his second. "He's learning English and that is a valuable commodity. It's a marketable skill he'll have when he gets older." Karaseu communicated with the Bergsmas through a mixture of English and Russian sentences. Luckily the Bergsmas neighbours speak Russian. They helped tremendously by providing the Bergsmas with a Russian list of words, what they mean in English and how they sound pronounced in Russian.

The young visitor was a natural swimmer, excelling in lessons he completed on his visit. In fact, the pool has likely been the best part of his adventure- one he'll surely never forget. The first morning he woke up in Canada and saw the large outdoor pool out the window, he began yelling, "Plavatz, plavatz." Bergsma later found out that means "swimming, swimming." Even during the Star's interview with Bergsma, Karaseu was excited beyond belief to learn the Star photo would take place by the pool.

Some of his other favourites during his visit were a trip to Canada's Wonderland, almost every Disney movie the Bergsma own, Sponge Bob Square Pants and of course, the computer.

It's been quite an adventure for the Bergsma family as they adjusted to another child in the house, but it was a cultural exchange that Bergsma thought was a great opportunity to experience.

Watching his health improve is an indescribable feeling for the Bergsmas. During his doctor's visit with Dr. John Hadley in Brantford, he received an examination and blood work. He received three dentist appointments in Canada by Dr. Jonathon Mahn of Paris. He had two fillings and two root canals on his teeth that lacked calcium, said Bergsma, adding, "He was so brave. They don't have access to this care at home and they're terrified of dentists."

He also had an optometrist appointment where he was diagnosed with a minor stigmatism that will likely result in glasses in a few years. "They had to modify the exam because he only reads in Russian," noted Bergsma.

Karaseu left on August 13 to return home. He is one of 23 visitors during this year's session (runs only once every summer). The Bergmas don't know if they'll ever see Karaseu again, but they sure won't forget. "He felt like part of the family. It's going to be quiet now," smiled Bergsma.

Canada is one of 23 countries that offer children a healthy respite from Chernobyl's dangerous environment. Families in our area (centered out of Elmira) began opening their homes in 1994. Host families fundraise and/or pay for the transportation, insurance, clothing and living costs (approx. $1,500), arrange for appointments and care for daily needs of the children during their six or 12 week stay. For more information, visit



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