WIGHT LIVINGOn April 26, 1986, at 1.23am, technicians at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in the Ukraine allowed the power in the fourth reactor to fail 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.
But 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 radioactivity 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 more than 90 times greater than that of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
Twenty-eight years after the disaster, the lives of thousands of families are still being blighted by the contamination.
Children are at particular risk, because as they are growing, their vital organs are small and more susceptible to the radioactive toxins that exist in the background over large swathes of Ukraine and Belarus.
The result is their immune systems can be impaired and cancers develop. This problem will continue for hundreds of years and some estimate it may take as long as 3,000 years to return to natural levels.
The Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline (CCLL) charity was set up by retired businessman Victor Mizzi in 1992 and is dedicated to helping children overcome the after-effects of the disaster.
The Island branch hosts a group each year and the children enjoy visiting most of the Island’s tourist attractions. Many give them free or discounted entry. Melanie Boileau Goad, who hosted two Ukrainian girls at her Island home last year, said: "It’s amazing how different the children are after a few weeks of country air, good food and fun.
"Some of these kids arrive with literally the clothes they stand up in. They’ve never seen the sea, or had a bubble bath. Their ground is so contaminated, they can’t get enough fruit while they’re here.
"Some of the children had never eaten a banana. They can’t get over everyone’s kindness."
One Island family was mystified to find 50 empty plastic water bottles in carrier bags under their visitor’s bed.
It turned out she could cash them in for pennies at home and had spent the month dutifully collecting the group’s empty bottles to help her family.
This week, six girls and two boys, aged between ten and 12, from the rural Koresten area of Ukraine — located around 50 miles from Chernobyl — are enjoying their first taste of the seaside during a month-long stay on the Island.
There were fears the current turmoil in the Ukraine could affect the children’s visas, particularly where there had been problems in the past after the UK government started charging £88 per child last year.
But thankfully, after an anxious wait, news finally filtered through that the documentation had been approved and the youngsters, with their English teacher, Alla Chyrkova, had arrived safely.
Alla, making her fourth visit to the Island, said their children always had an unforgettable time on the Island.
She said: "My children improve their health and they have a wonderful time. We go to different parks and even swim in the sea.
"Some of the children have never seen the sea before because we live so far away from the coast.
"The children usually come here with disease but, after a month in your climate, leave with rosy cheeks and smiles."
Doctors believe 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.
Alla said: "There are quite a lot of children at my school whose health has been adversely affected by Chernobyl. The children are very weak and often have headaches. In the winter they suffer from colds and flu because their immune systems are so weak.
"Their trip to the UK boosts their immune system and their health improves."
All of the children who visit are from poorer families who would otherwise find it almost impossible to fund the trip themselves.
Agriculture is the main industry in Koresten and average earnings are around 1,500 dollars a year.
Alla explained: "In our village, we have a lot of land where we grow potato, wheat and maize crops. Each family has a plot of land and we grow our own food. However, our soil is not so good to grow rich crops.
"A family member might also have a cow and they share the milk with their extended family. Supermarkets are very expensive and not always very near. However, there is a shop in every village which stocks the necessities we can’t provide for ourselves."
Each month the people receive a payment to compensate for the nuclear disaster but Alla said it wasn’t enough to buy a loaf of bread.
The children attend school from 9am until 4pm each day and study a range of subjects, including maths, geography, history, biology, physics and music.
Lessons end at 2pm but the pupils take part in a range of after-school activities, including football and volleyball.
The school building is maintained by the teachers.
Alla said: "The teachers paint the school and the classrooms. Each teacher has their own classroom and the parents give some money to repair it each year.
"The teachers also look after the grounds and we have a lot of flowers because our biology teacher is very skilful in this."
The children start school at six years old and stay in education until they are at least 16.
They can then stay on for a further two years and go on to university if their parents can afford to support them. "Very few children stay in their village after finishing school," explained Alla.
"Everyone tries to leave because they want to live better than their parents. They enter college and if they are successful in their studies they go to university and move to the towns and cities."
Alla said they were very thankful to the Island’s host families who opened their doors to their children every year.
She said: "The time they spend on the Island are the happiest days of their lives."How to become a host family
Some Island families have hosted the children for years, always in pairs so they don’t get homesick.
They receive no money but say their reward is seeing the transformation in their guests in so short a time.
Paul Smith, chairman of CCLL’s IW branch, said: "These families are unsung heroes who work for nothing to give these kids a chance."
He said the charity was grateful for commercial sponsors who provide activities for the young visitors, giving them memories they will treasure.
But it still costs hundreds of pounds to fly the children here and the charity always needs donations for future trips.
If you would like to help, you can visit www.justgiving.com/ccl and mark your donation for the Island Hosts (IOW) branch.
For more details on the work of the Island branch of the charity, contact Mr Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org