Charity supporting youngsters affected by Chernobyl disaster vows to 'build back' in 2022

The children arriving at Gatwick Airport. Picture: Alison Stannard.

Children from Belarus during a visit to east Suffolk in 2019 through the Chet and Waveney Link of Chernobyl Children's Life Line - Credit: Archant

A charity offering children a break from toxic radiation near Chernobyl has vowed to continue supporting youngsters however they can, despite a Covid-enforced hiatus.

More than 30 years ago the nuclear disaster launched a radioactive cloud across much of Europe, with around one million children living in contaminated areas of Belarus and Ukraine.

Since 2014, the Chet and Waveney Link of Chernobyl Children's Life Line (CCLL) has brought small groups of children from Belarus to live with local families, most recently in 2019.

Its main objective is to offer the children a break from the toxic radiation in Belarus and give them a taste of an "ordinary family life" in England.

But after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, a planned visit in 2020 had to be cancelled, with a similar story for 2021.

Alison Stannard is setting up a Chet and Waveney Link of the Chernobyl Childrens Life Life.Picture:

Alison Stannard, of the Chet and Waveney Link of Chernobyl Children's Life Line - Credit: James Bass

Alison Stannard, of the Chet and Waveney Link, said: "The last 24 months have been very difficult.

"We had to cancel our 2020 visit, and there was no prospect for organising a visit in 2021.

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"The position with respect to Covid is no better in Belarus than it is here, but fewer people seem to have received vaccinations.

"The political situation in Belarus also continues to be a cause for concern and it is currently impossible for us to get aid and supplies into the country either across land borders with neighbouring countries, or by air.

"Our Link is now sponsoring the family of a child from a previous visit who has lost both parents to Covid and who is now, along with his three younger siblings, is in the care of his 18-year-old sister."

In 2020, the group were able to support the local hospital in Brest, Belarus, with PPE and essential equipment.

One million children continue to live in contaminated areas of Belarus and Ukraine. Picture: Alison

Children from Belarus during a visit to east Suffolk in 2019 through the Chet and Waveney Link of Chernobyl Children's Life Line - Credit: Archant

Looking ahead to 2022, Mrs Stannard said the group will be focusing their efforts on smaller projects to "build back up."

She said: "The hiatus over the past two years has meant to prepare for a future visit, we will need to start from scratch, including recruitment of host families, volunteers and helpers.

"For the next year at least, our committee has decided to focus on supporting projects in Belarus through the provision of play, sport and educational equipment for children, as well as ones that provide emotional support and resilience, supporting families with Link-funded sponsorship, and organising a small group visit to this area at the earliest opportunity.

"We continue to be blessed with financial support from individuals and organisations.

"Just before Christmas we were contacted by the organisers of the Sotterley Country Fair who will hand over a cheque from money raised during their 2021 event, while the Butcher's Arms in Beccles has continued throughout this difficult period to also raise funds for us."

For more information about the group, including how to get involved, go to www.facebook.com/CCLLChetandWaveney.