FOURTEEN children whose health has been put at risk by the world’s worst-ever nuclear power plant disaster say: “We love Hucknall”.
They are now here staying with local children as guests of the Hucknall group of Friends of Chernobyl’s Children (FOCC).
This is the fifth and last visit by this particular group and their two teachers, Olga Gorelova and Natasha Malaenko, who were given a heartwarming reception when a welcome party was held at the Royal British Legion Club on Beardall Street.
They will return home on Thursday 4th July after a farewell party, also at the Legion club, on the previous evening.
The FOCC charity devotes its energies to raising funds to bring needy children from Belarus to the UK for a month every year. Hucknall is one of 31 FOCC groups across the country.
The charity targets children aged between six and 13 from orphanages or disadvantaged families.
The Hucknall scheme began 15 years ago and was run by the town’s Rotary Club until the FOCC group was formed.
The main aim is to provide recuperative visits for the Belarus youngsters after the nuclear catastrophe in neighbouring Ukraine which happened on 26th April 1986.
But Kim Challand, who is a driving force behind the scheme, said: “We always aim to make the children’s stays really memorable for them with a full programme of activities.”
“With them landing in England at the height of the summer, we go all out to give them the time of their lives. They are lovely youngsters and really appreciate our efforts.”
As well as visits to a dentist and an optician, the children have been enjoying pursuits which include bowling, horse-riding, ice skating, cycling and even falconry at various local venues.
A big highlight will be a ‘Picnic in the Park’ at Moss’s Farm, Newstead, tomorrow (Saturday) evening.
As a very special feature this year, the children will go on a day trip to Skegness next Wednesday, sponsored by leading retailers John Lewis.
As on previous trips, the youngsters are keeping up their education at Hucknall National Primary School on Montague Road.
Kim said: “We are determined to make sure the scheme continues and we look forward to receiving a new group of youngsters next year.
She and other members of the FOCC group visited Belarus eight years ago and saw at first hand the poor standard of life experienced by the people there.
“It made us realise how important it is for us to help the children with the visits we organise,” she added.
Two years ago a candle-lighting ceremony was held at Seymour Road Baptist Church in Hucknall to mark the 25th anniversary of the disaster.
Olga said she, Natasha and all the children wanted to say a big ‘spaseebo’, meaning ‘thankyou’ in Russian, to the FOCC group.