IT’S considered to be the worst nuclear power plant accident in history with thousands of deaths linked to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
The effects of the devastating explosion are still felt across Belarus today, with poverty stricken parts dominating the contaminated areas.
For the last three years, a Magherafelt family have pledged three weeks out of their summer to look after children from these areas through the group Chernobyl Charity Appeal NI.
Anne Mullan and her husband Malachy decided to host children after they saw how the Belarusian children’s health benefited from the clean air and good nutrition when her sister first played host in 2007.
Anne told the MID: “This will be my fourth year looking after these children. They come from different parts of Belarus, but mainly the worst effected areas like Mahilyow.
“We would look after two each year who both come from different areas, so it’s great for them to have someone from home.
“These children come from very poor areas and live in awful conditions. An interpreter would visit the children’s homes before they travel to Northern Ireland and she described some shocking conditions which they live in.
“Some of the children can be very shy and I can understand why after hearing how they live.
“One of the young boys lived in a brick block of flats, the house was very basic and didn’t have any running water, nor bathroom inside. The rooms are very dirty and they have broken furniture lying around, there are two sofas in the living room where the parents and up to four children sleep.
“Everything is in such poor condition and they have no money and own very little.
“It really shows the poverty in the country. When they come over here they are so shocked and get very excited at simple things that other children would take for granted.
“They think everything is so luxurious and they have big broad smiles when they see all the space where they can play, because they are used to a lot of restrictions in their own area.”
In the early hours of 26 April 1986, the Chernobyl power plant exploded at catastrophic proportions and is still regarded as the worst power plant accident in history.
Contamination and radiation levels were said to have travelled across Europe, even reaching as far as the UK and Ireland.
The effects of the disaster are still felt across the country today, evidently in the radioactive zone areas where there are bans on children walking in forests or in rain and playing in the park. Parents in these zones must check local radiation levels before allowing their children out to school.
Anne continued: “My sister first did it and we thought as we have the room, why not.
“It can be hard work but the feeling you get from looking after these children and helping to prolong their lives is worth it.
“They don’t expect much, they are happy to come over and do simple things, like taking them to the zoo, the swimming pool or going to the beach.
“As Belarus is landlocked it was such a big deal for them to play on the beach.
“They all have great manners and one of the children that stayed with me was very backward and shy, but after a few days he really came out of himself.
“They come with nothing but the clothes on their back and a small bag.
“We get so much pleasure from hosting and it makes our kids appreciate what they have and learning how to share their things.
“I truly believe it’s the right thing to do, and when you do it the once then you feel like you can do it again.
“You are giving these children the opportunity to experience a different life and to develop further. They have come from such a poor and socially deprived area.”
Anne, along with a host of other businesses and schools in the Magherafelt area, hold fundraising events, such as coffee mornings and street collections.
She also runs the Belfast Marathon each year and in total raises approximately £1,200 annually, which goes straight to the Chernobyl Children Appeal Northern Ireland.
The charity group carry out fundraising and provide aid to schools, orphanages and hospitals in Belarus.
The host families are can specify what sex and age range of child would best fit into their home, and they are supported the whole time by other group members and directors.
Each group also has an interpreter with them.
For further information you can visit the website ccanireland.com or contact Marie McGeowns on 07950 366 926.