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Charity that brings children affected by Chernobyl to Aberdeen working to support families in Ukraine

Charity CEO Dennis Vystavkin. spoke about the families sheltering from the ongoing conflict. Photo: AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka.
Charity CEO Dennis Vystavkin. spoke about the families sheltering from the ongoing conflict. Photo: AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka.

A UK-based children’s charity is working with partners on the ground in Ukraine to offer people the support they need as the conflict in their country continues.

Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline (CCLL) has supported families in Belarus and northern Ukraine for decades through its charity links across the UK, including the north and north-east of Scotland.

Before the pandemic, they brought 65,000 children affected by the fallout of the Chernobyl disaster on trips to the UK to stay with volunteer host families.

These have regularly included visits to Aberdeen, with young children enjoying trips to the beach, Codonas and Dons games. There were also host families in Inverness, but those links ceased in 2016 due to a lack of funds.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, CCLL has been in communication with people directly impacted to find out what they urgently need – with past host families also reaching out to offer their support.

Children visiting Aberdeen through Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline . Aberdeen back in 2019. DCT Media. 

‘Hoped it would never come true’

Chief executive Dennis Vystavkin shared how those in Ukraine have become like members of the host’s own families over the years.

“They kept inviting them back to the UK, they went to visit them. They’ve seen their homes, their schools, their gardens. Our volunteers and host families are worried sick about their families over there – that’s what they call them,” he said.

“Many of these families have been going to bed fully dressed for weeks, and have been packed and prepared in case they need to leave home in haste.

“They’ve taken bags with basic medication and documents outside in case their house was ruined, leaving them in a stack of hay or in a pile of firewood.

“They were kind of on alert with a lot of hope that it would never come true. But it did.”

For the past two years, CCLL has been supporting families in Belarus and Ukraine through the “devastation” of Covid.

Dusk in the streets of Pripyat. Chernobyl exclusion zone, Kupuvate, Ukraine

How to help

Despite the country still being in a peak of the pandemic, the charity has had to move its efforts to the invasion crisis.

“We are now concentrating on several things – it is important to not make decisions in haste,” Mr Vystavkin added.

“We’ve got a well-established system of partnerships and we have people on the ground – local charities, social workers, local and regional authorities. We all help the people and their children.

“We’re trying to identify specific areas of need instead of collecting general aid. We’re always cooperating with them and asking what is most needed now.”

The charity plans to supply necessary items of care, including high protein and non-perishable foods They will also deliver emergency medical supplies as they know many children in the area suffer from Type 1 diabetes.

The charity has partnered with text-based service Donate to raise funds for people in Ukraine. People can choose to donate £3, £5 or £10 at a time.

Donations can also be made to CCLL through their website.

Hearing from those in Ukraine

People take shelter at a building basement while the sirens sound announcing new attacks in the city of Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti.

Some of the charity’s connections have been using their poor internet service to send photos to their past host families and the CCLL volunteers – showing the true devastation of the conflict.

“These places look nothing like they did before,” Mr Vystavkin said.

He shared a message he received from a mother in Ukraine who has been hiding out in a cellar with her young family. He keeps it in front of him while the charity works on its plans to remind him of what it is all about.

He read: ““I’m a simple woman. A widow for six years. I have four kids, two of whom have serious health problems. I’ll soon be 41. I’m sitting in this dark, cold cellar with my kids and my elderly mother who has heart problems.

“There are explosions outside. We are simple people; we work our land, collect berries and pick up mushrooms. I don’t know where I’m going to spend next night. It’s cold and dark outside.

“We suffered from Chernobyl. We suffered from low income. We suffered from Covid and now the war. I’m thinking what have I done in life to deserve what is happening around us? What have my children done to deserve this all?

“We were just got born here and we don’t get to choose our parents or the place we are born in.”

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