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Chernobyl nuclear disaster: Meet the NGO giving children a summer from the still present pollution

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By Núria Vilà
Chernobyl nuclear disaster: Meet the NGO giving children a summer from the still present pollution

TV hit series Chernobyl may have revived interest in the 1986 nuclear disaster, but for one Spanish NGO, it’s never gone away.

Vallès Obert has helped organise summer holidays in Spain for around 2,000 children from the Chernobyl region since 1995.

It does this by finding families willing to host them. 

The time away from the area helps their bodies recover from exposure to the toxic radioactive materials still present in the atmosphere around the diaster site.

In April 1986 a reactor at Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded, sending a radioactive plume across Europe. 

Dozens were killed in the immediate aftermath and the effects of the world's worst nuclear disaster are still felt to this day.

Read more: Memories of Chernobyl as acclaimed HBO series puts disaster back in focus

“There are many people who have health problems”, explains Natasha, 14, who was born two decades after the incident.

She is being hosted by a family in La Roca del Vallès, near Barcelona, but will soon return to her hometown, Stanyshivka, about 60km from Chernobyl.

“After radiation, some people born cannot speak,” she told Euronews. 

Sasha, a 13-year-old boy from Ivankiv, 50km from Chernobyl, despite not being very aware of the risks that radiation has on his health, wants to keep coming to Spain in the summer.

"Here it is calm and the air is better than in Ukraine", he explains.

Vallès Obert estimates two months a year outside the polluted environment helps their defences regenerate significantly.

Manuel, president of the association, explains that “there is an age range between 40 and 50 years old in which cancer problems begin to appear: larynx or stomach cancer, leukaemia… everything related to cancer".

Gallery: Chernobyl, the biggest nuclear plant disaster in history, marks its 33rd anniversary

For Manuel, thanks to the programme "we are helping that, in the future, these cases are not as numerous as [they are] now".

Given the risks, many may wonder if it would not be better to move to an area farther away from Chernobyl.

For Natasha, although she fears that radiation will end up affecting her, the relationship between the people and the place is rather emotional:

“People want to live in their town because it is their place, they have spent their whole life there,” she said.

Maria, who hosts Natasha, sees an economic component on staying in the contaminated area:

“Simply because they have nowhere to go. No more and no less," she said.

In the future, Natasha wants to study something that includes the Spanish language and help people who need it, whether in Ukraine or Spain.

Sasha would like to study computer science and live in Ukraine.

“They carry things back home in their suitcases, but what they leave here is much more than what they take”, explains Maria.

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