On April 26, 1986 at 1.23 am technicians at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in the Ukraine allowed the power in the fourth reactor to fall as part of a controlled experiment. To carry out their tests, they de-activated several major safety systems that would have shut down the reactor in an emergency.
The experiment went wrong. Two explosions blew the top off the reactor building and a fire started in the core which burned for several days. A cloud of deadly radio activity dispersed into the surrounding environment. This silent killer continued to pour from the damaged reactor for ten days.
The resultant fallout of radioactive material was over 90 times greater than that of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined! Over 70% of it fell on Belarus. Some of these highly carcinogenic radioactive particles have an half life of 24,000 years.
Children are particularly susceptible to radiation induced illnesses and many have leukaemia, cancer of the thyroid and other cancers. Babies are still being born with serious deformities.
Before this tragic event, Belarus was known as the breadbasket of Russia, with a stable economy. Now the people live with radiation all around them. They drink contaminated water and wash with it. There is very little to eat in Belarus and what there is, has a high chance of being contaminated. The compromised food chain means that they now have to import a high proportion of their foodstuffs. The most disadvantaged have no option but to eat crops grown in the contaminated earth - a vicious cycle
The Chernobyl Children's Life Line looks after children who are ill, organising respite breaks to Great Britain to give them a chance to live in a "clean" environment and eat uncontaminated foods for a month. Some 43,000 children from Belarus have visited Britain since 1992. During their stay all of the children receive medical attention such as dental care and having their eyes tested.
Doctors in the some of the cancer hostpitals in Minsk (capital of Belarus) believe that the children returning from respite breaks have their life expectancy extended by up to two years. This is because their immune systems have a chance to recover as a result of the "clean" food and the lack of heavy background radiation in this country. Many of the host families keep in touch with the children and some invite them for return visits.