Valley residents helping children of Chernobyl
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
SILT, Colorado ” While 14-year-old Nastia Tysnul of Belarus was staying with Beth Dardynski and her husband, Jim Croy of Silt this summer, she only knew three words in English ” “hungry,” “music” and “TV.”
Nastia is one of thousands of children from the country of Belarus, formerly part of the Soviet Union, which is located in eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the north and east, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west and Lithuania and Latvia to the north.
Dardynski hosted the girl through a non-profit organization called The Children of Chernobyl United States Charitable Fund, Inc. based in Ohio. The all-volunteer group seeks to help save the children from Belarus who still suffer side effects from the radiation fallout after the 1986 nuclear accident in nearby Chernobyl in the Ukraine.
“Seventy percent of the fallout blew over to Belarus,” Dardynski said. “It irradiated their food, soil and water. The radiation is having a cumulative effect, even today.”
Children of Chernobyl helps to find families to take children between the ages of 8-16 and host them for six to eight weeks during the summer, between late June and August.
By getting them out of the country and putting them in a healthy environment for a few months, it allows the children’s immune systems to function more normally and their bodies better able to fight off the effects of the radiation.
According to the Children of Chernobyl, by going to another country, the children are exposed to good water, healthy food, fresh air, sunshine, exercise, medical care and love.
It was 1:23 a.m. on April 26, 1986, when a violent explosion ripped apart a reactor in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Ukraine, along the border of Balarus, according to the Children of Chernobyl website. It was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. The reactor spewed tons of uranium fuel, plutonium and other radionuclides three miles into the atmosphere. For ten days, the lethal fire emitted particles 90 times more deadly than those released from the 1946 Hiroshima bomb and the winds blew the radioactive debris northward across Belarus and Europe.
More than two million residents, including 600,000 children, still live in the area of
Belarus contaminated by Chernobyl.
An increase in health problems, believed to be the result of the fallout, include thyroid cancer, malignant growths, birth defects and a 25 percent decrease in birth rates.
“As a result of the disaster, 600,000 children have been exposed to the radiation, causing their thyroid glands to be seriously affected,” the organization says. “Massive outbreaks of auto-immune thyroiditis and thyroid cancer have been reported by the Scientific Research Institute of Radiological Medicine.”
Nearly 18,000 people in the Hoiniki District in the Gomel Region were examined by doctors at the Institute of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences and 93 percent of the test subjects were ill, the report says. Genetic studies have only just begun.
“It’s still there, it hasn’t gone away,” Dardynski said.
Dardynski made a trip to Belarus with her cousin, Susan Ferrara from Ohio who, with husband J.V., has sponsored a child from Children of Chernobyl for the past eight years.
“Her husband couldn’t go, so I went with her,” she said. “A lot of host families go back to visit kids and their families, but you have to be invited and you need a special visa.”
While there, Dardynski met Nastia and her family.
“Her mother asked if I would bring (Nastia) over to the United States,” she said.
Nastia’s family lives in a small wooden house with no indoor plumbing and where they grow all their food in a backyard garden.
“It’s an eye-opener,” Dardynski said. “You think Mexico is a Third World country, but it’s nothing. (Belarus) is very sad. The people are not happy ” they don’t smile. It was really interesting to go over and view it.”
At one point, Dardynski, Nastia and Nastia’s cousin, Elena, were sitting on a park bench when a peasant woman approached them. Elena translated what the woman said to Dardynski.
“I’m glad to meet you,” she said, and then started to cry. “You nice. Americans nice people.”
Dardynski was touched.
“It’s so cool to make that kind of an impression,” she said.
While in Belarus, Dardynski also met another boy, Zhenya Kalikin, on her last day in Belarus. He had been in the Children of Chernobyl program for eight years, but was now 19 and too old to participate. So Dardynski invited him on her own to come and work for her husband, Joseph, who is a heating contractor, through a work program for the summer.
Ferrara hosted Nastia’s cousin, Elena.
The language barrier was one of the biggest challenges, Dardynski said.
“Nastia speaks very little English ” just ‘hungry,’ ‘music’ and ‘TV,'” she said. “Although we went to the airport many times and she learned from the greeters how to say, ‘Welcome to Denver.'”
They used a little hand-held translating device, but it didn’t always help.
“A lot of times the translations were very confusing and so mixed up and we had to translate the translations,” Dardynski said. “There were times when it was really, really frustrating. It was really interesting dealing with the language barrier.”
One of the big responsibilities of the host families, along with providing them good food, vitamins, a healthy lifestyle and some summer clothing, is to make sure the child gets medical attention, including a physical, an eye exam and a dental exam.
The services are typically donated by local doctors and hospitals.
In Nastia’s case, Dr. Mark Zilm of 20/20 Eyecare in Glenwood Springs contributed the eye exam and the dental work was done by Dr. John Murray, also of Glenwood Springs, Dardynski said.
The Children of Chernobyl will pay for the airfare for the child on the first visit and the host family pays for the visa. Subsequent visits by the child are paid for by the family.
The children are selected from an application process.
Host families must also submit an application and be approved by the Children of Chernobyl, which includes an in-home interview.
“I think the families over there are incredibly brave to put their child on a plane and send them to families they don’t even know,” Dardynski said.
While here, the children have the chance to have a variety of experiences.
“It isn’t really supposed to be like a summer vacation, but that’s what it turns out to be a lot of times,” Dardynski said. “The families want to show them America and show them that Americans are nice and good people. Some of them are still afraid of us.”
Dardynski and Ferrara took all three of the kids to Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon.
The kids have now left to go home to Belarus, but Dardynski said it felt good to help.
“The whole point of this and the number one priority is for health reasons and to get these kids out of that environment and to a doctor,” she said. “They say that every seven to eight weeks (being away from Belarus) adds another year to their lives.”
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