A group of youngsters affected by radiation from a nuclear blast bade an emotional farewell yesterday to the Moray families who have homed them for the past month.
The 18 children from Belarus, which is still blighted by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, read a poem expressing their thanks to the locals who have taken them into their homes and hearts.
The group also performed a touching rendition of Caledonia, which left many of their adult supervisors in floods of tears.
The Moray Friends of Chernobyl Children scheme started two years ago, and this year’s trip was the third the children have undertaken.
In addition to offering them a fun break from the grim realities of their home life, the month-long spells in Moray have helped boost their immune systems.
Translator, Olga Sapunova, described the change she had witnessed in the youngsters since the project was launched.
She said: “I saw what these children were like before ever coming to Scotland, and there has been a big change in their personalities and in their health.
“They used to suffer with so many colds and flu bugs during the winter, but now they don’t have any of that.”
The children gathered at Duffus Village Hall yesterday, where they recited a poem about their experiences.
It ended with the lines “I want to live and not to die, I want to love and not to cry”.
The youngsters, aged from eight to 10, then gave a stirring rendition of Caledonia.
After their display, everyone involved with the scheme headed to the Stotfield Hotel in Lossiemouth where a leaving lunch had been prepared.
Organiser, Clare Cotton, added: “The children especially enjoyed swimming at the beach during the sunny weather.
“And one little boy said a trip to the Highland Wildlife Park to see monkeys and tigers had been the best day of his life.”
Hopeman mum Diane Owen took part in the initiative for the first time this year.
She said welcoming little Ilya into her home had been “amazing and emotional”.
Heldon and Laich councillor, John Cowe, has looked after 10-year-old Anastasia with his wife Joan during each of her three trips to Moray.