Belarus girl's fate: Talks fail



Tanya Kazyra, 16, right, of Belarus with her ``sister'' Ashley Zapata. Kazyra has been visiting Zapata and her family in Petaluma for nine summers.

"I came here with purpose to deliver to the family and the girl the proposals of our government for the best interest of the child," said Pavel Shidlovsky, special envoy of Belarus' ministry of foreign affairs.

"That is to continue her studies in Belarus, get her high school diploma, and make a thoughtful adult decision to go to the U.S. or stay in Belarus."

Shidlovsky said discussions with Kazyra and her host parents, Debra and Manuel Zapata in Petaluma, had not yielded any agreements. Lacking an agreement, Kazyra will stay in Petaluma, he said.

"We agreed to disagree," he said.

Kazyra's decision on Aug. 5 to stay with her host family in the United States rather than return to Belarus with the exchange program, Chernobyl Children's Project, sparked outrage in Belarus, a former Soviet country bordered by Poland, Ukraine and Russia.

Kazyra, who will be 17 on Dec. 14, was in her last year of eligibility for the program. The children's project brings children from areas affected by radiation released in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to radiation-free countries for respite.

The visa granted to her by the U.S. State Department for the trip is valid until Dec. 25, about 20 weeks longer than the program runs.

A San Francisco immigration attorney hired by her host family said Kazyra's extended stay is permitted by the U.S. State Department.

News that Kazyra had declined her government's offers saddened local organizers of the Chernobyl Children's Project, the organization that brought Kazyra to Petaluma.

"We are gravely disappointed in the Zapata family," said Ruth Williams, of the Project. "Decisions that are not in Tanya's best interest are being made by people who are not her legal guardians."



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