Stirling Council is supporting a three-week respite holiday for a group of children from Ukraine whose health has been affected by the Chernobyl nuclear power disaster.
The eight Ukrainian children – aged between 10 and 12 – are among millions of people still suffering health issues as a result of the 1986 reactor explosion.
It is estimated that 90 per cent of children from the worst affected areas of Ukraine and Belarus will suffer from some form of serious illness or deformity by the time they reach adulthood.
Charity Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline has been supporting youngsters affected by the world’s worst nuclear disaster since 1992 – with evidence suggesting even a short time away from contaminated areas can add up to an extra two-and-a-half years to the children’s life expectancy.
Stirling Council Provost Christine Simpson met the children as they enjoyed a visit to Stirling Fire Station.
She said: “These children are a stark reminder of the appalling consequences still being felt by families more than 30 years after the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
“I vividly remember news breaking of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Its true horror is illustrated by the fact that, even now, 90 per cent of children from the worst affected parts of Ukraine and Belarus will suffer from some form of illness or deformity by the time they reach adulthood.
“Stirling Council is proud to support the Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline charity and it was lovely to witness first-hand the impact of their important work by seeing the joy on the children’s faces at this event today.
“Not only are the children having fun, but the three weeks breathing clean air and eating uncontaminated food during their stay in Scotland boosts their immune systems, potentially adding two-and-a-half years to their lives.
“I’d like to applaud the host families for opening up their homes to the children because without them this visit would simply not be possible.”
The four boys and four girls are staying with host families in the Stirling area and are experiencing visits to local attractions, including the Wallace Monument, Stirling Castle and Blair Drummond Safari Park.
The group – from Ukraine’s Borodianka district, just 43 miles from the ill-fated Chernobyl nuclear reactor - have also been receiving medical care.
The teacher escorting the children on their visit told of the devastating affect Chernobyl has had on local peoples’ health.
Nina Kachalenko, 60, lost her husband Yuriy almost six years ago to stomach cancer. He was aged just 55.
She said: “Nowadays more people realise the danger of the Chernobyl tragedy because many, many young people die of cancer.
“My husband was just 55. He was very weak and it was impossible to save him. It will be six years ago in December that I lost him.
“My cousin’s daughter-in-law died on August 20. She was going to be 30 this month so was a young lady.
“The influence of the Chernobyl tragedy is felt by everybody because our health is not very good. Some of our friends moved away to different areas all over Ukraine but we have stayed.
“Do you know, we don’t think about the risks. We simply live and try to be happy. The children go to school, their parents work and life goes on. We don’t think about the danger of Chernobyl.
“We know that it is not very good for our health but still the area is our motherland and we can’t change anything. If we moved away we would miss all of our lifelong friends.”
Group leader Nina believes the three week respite trip is hugely beneficial to the children.
Nina explained: “This trip is very important for their health because they breathe fresh air and eat healthy food that is not contaminated.
“The benefit is their immune system is strengthened. This trip opens up the world to the children and they can see that the world is kind.”
Gail MacDonald, Chair of Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline Forth Valley Link, said: "The Chernobyl disaster may have been 32 years ago but the affects of it are still as bad today as they were the day after the event, because radiation is still spilling out from the plant.
"The trips that we organise for children to places like Stirling act as a real chance for health recuperation - just three and a half weeks in Scotland can help strengthen their immune systems for up to two and half years.
"If we can send them home with a boosted immune system, they have half a chance of going through puberty without anything that's lying dormant in their bodies coming to the forefront."
Roddie Keith, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s Senior Officer for Stirling and Clackmannanshire, said: "We are very humbled and indeed very privileged to welcome these young people here today.
"The firefighters from Stirling Station have done their utmost to ensure the children can enjoy a positive and lasting experience and it is my very sincere hope that they remember their time here fondly for years to come."