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Monday, 01 September 2014

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Carlisle woman fears Ukraine conflict will trap Chernobyl children

A woman who has helped give hope to children suffering from the fallout of a nuclear disaster fears Ukraine’s spiral towards war will stifle any hope they have.

Chrissie McCaffrey photo
Chrissie McCaffrey

Chrissie McCaffrey, of Kirklinton, near Carlisle, and her colleagues at the Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline (CCL) have heard chilling, first-hand stories of snipers and use of grenades in the trouble-torn country. And they fear disadvantaged children will miss out on life-changing trips to Cumbria organised by the charity with the violence in the nation showing no sign of easing.

Youngsters from the ages of nine onwards, who continue to suffer the after-effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, have been able to experience life in another country with sponsor families from around the Carlisle area.

But, with conflict now in the country, there are doubts that trips planned for more children later this year can go ahead.

Chrissie said: “We were going to bring someone across this summer to come and experience life over here, but because of the situation I don’t know if that’s going to be possible.

“It is an opportunity lost for that child. These children really benefit from coming over here. It is an experience that lasts them a lifetime and they think it is great over here.

“They are really going to miss out on a totally different way of life. The people that take them while they are over here are very kind and everyone gets a lot from it. It is reckoned that a visit can give them an extra two years of life.”

Chrissie and other local volunteers have kept in contact with many of the children, young people and aides who have experienced life in the Carlisle area.

“Recently we had a plea from one of our translators for the UK to support them. Both her brothers were in Kiev and saw first-hand what was happening, including snipers shooting from the rooftops,” she added.

“I’m fearful, not so much for them because they come from a small city which is out of the main conflict and they are very pro-western, but as things get closer to Kiev then it becomes more difficult. If things carry on then it will affect the whole of Ukraine.”

In 2010, Chrissie and two other volunteers travelled to the Ukrainian city of Korosten where the charity’s children come from.

Chrissie added: “Life over there is tough. Some of the children that come say their parents are working three jobs just to make ends meet. I don’t know if I could stomach it. It is a hand-to-mouth existence for many.

“People don’t realise that the fighting is still going on and it hasn’t peaked yet. I spoke to one of the guys from CCL and they told me that it is a very liquid situation at the moment.

“They don’t know from one day to the next how it is going to pan out.”

Dennis Vystavkin, chairman of the charity, said they are monitoring the situation with “great concern”.

“We often get asked for our views on political crises in Ukraine,” he added. “The answer is very simple – while the politicians are pulling the hair out of each other trying to rip Ukraine into separate parts associated to the West or to the East, our hearts and attention is with those most affected such as rural children, their families and ordinary people of Ukraine who have no other wish but to lead a peaceful and quiet life.”

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