A group of children whose lives have been marred by the world’s worst nuclear disaster bid an emotional farewell to Moray yesterday following a four-week stay which could add years to their lives.
Youngsters who live in the devastated area surrounding Chernobyl moved in with local families for a month, where they were cared for and given healthy food to boost their fragile immune systems.
The 16 children, aged between seven and eight, were overwhelmed by the many staples of life which local kids take for granted, according to the charity that organised the poignant trip.
Friends of Chernobyl’s Children (FOCC) Moray said that between lessons in a temporary classroom at Duffus Village Hall, they savoured a range of firsts like the seaside, the taste of ice-cream, riding bikes, a youth disco, balloons and card games.
With the help of numerous businesses, individuals and groups, they also got to visit Spey Bay dolphin centre, Landmark, Moray Playhouse and Pinz bowling in Elgin.
They also received free health checks and will return home with packs of vital supplies and vitamins.
The charity hopes the same group will return to Scotland each year until 2020, as a month in this country is thought to prolong their lives by two to three years.
Group co-ordinator Clare Cotton stressed the impact the breaks can have on youngsters after the 1986 nuclear accident left the air, food and drinking water in their country polluted with radiation.
“A lot of the kids were so shy when they arrived,” she said.
“But the personalities have just come right out.
“All the children have put on 5-10% of their body weight this month eating healthy food.
“We asked them when they arrived what their dreams were and then we realised how many of them we had actually done.
“Not only have we given them that rest bite they needed, we have actually made some of their dreams come true.”
Heldon and Laich councillor, John Cowe, and his wife Joan were among the host families and welcomed eight-year-old Anastasia into their house at Lossiemouth.
After sending the kids on the bus to start their 15-hour journey home yesterday, Mr Cowe said: “The last 24 hours have been so emotional, and it has been a very touching, humbling and moving month.
“The difference in the kids is just astounding and they are a part of our families now.
“I’ve got to give every thanks to everybody concerned for their help and opening their hearts to FOCC Moray.
“It has been truly phenomenal and all businesses and the people of Moray have really pulled all the stops out on this one.”