Travel for Belarus’ “Chernobyl Children” Temporarily Halted

In case you haven’t heard, 16 year old Tanya Kazyra, a participant in a summer program for children from Belarus’ Chernobyl-affected areas, refused to return home to Belarus at the end of her summer holiday with the Zapata family in Petaluma, California. She has not requested asylum - only refusing to return home. The Zapatas have willingly allowed Tanya to remain in their home. In response, the Belorussian government has temporarily placed a ban for all children on future travel abroad organized by charities.

These programs are designed to provide rest and recuperation for Belorussian children affected in some way by the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster. The programs allow these children to spend 6 to 8 weeks with a host family in another country.

Some charitable organizations believe these programs allow the children’s immune systems to recover, making it easier for them to fight the effects of lingering radiation at home in Belarus.

When considering the Belorussian government’s decision, don’t immediately assume they are doing something horribly wrong. All participants, including the sponsoring families, sign an agreement indicating the children will return to Belarus at the end of their stay. These children visit other countries on temporary visas. The programs are not exchange or adoption programs. The Belorussian government is merely trying to insure these agreements are honored by seeking bilateral agreements with the governments of participating families’ countries to ensure this type of situation does not happen again.

You may think Belarus is using a heavy-handed tactic, but these children (approximately 1,400 participate in such programs each year) can be looked at as ambassadors for Belarus. The entire country receives aid, due in part to the presence of these children in other countries. If a child does not return home, the country loses a powerful face in their attempt to obtain aid and improve conditions at home.

 In Tanya’s case, not only is the young lady violating the terms of the agreement, but the Zapatas have violated their agreement as well. I am sure Tanya’s life in Belarus is nowhere near as good as she has it with her sponsoring family in California, but her decision is jeopardizing many children’s opportunity to enjoy the same holiday abroad that she has had for the last nine years.

Tanya’s visa expires December 25, and her attorney has proposed that Tanya would seek a student visa to study in the United States, publicly apologize to the Belorussian government, help raise awareness in the US about Belorussian culture, history and traditions and help raise money for the Chernobyl Children’s Project charity in the area.

I don’t agree with all policies of the Belorussian government, but I can’t blame them for trying to enforce these agreements and not losing valuable ambassadors for their country. Hopefully this issue can be quickly resolved so these Belorussian children can again get a much needed holiday abroad.

The information presented here comes from a myriad of news stories and my own feelings. In the near future, I hope to contact people involved in the current situation (including Belorussian officials) to get a more complete picture of what is really happening. I will post an update when I have additional information.

5 Comments

We came across a few tweets on this sibject by Dr. Chebil today.

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