As the world marks the 26th anniversary of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor explosion, Chabad's Children of Chernobyl (CCOC) continues the work of saving the disaster's youngest victims, having just completed its 97th rescue mission bringing 26 more children to safety and commemorating the 26 years since the Chernobyl disaster. To date, CCOC has helped 2,822 children escape the contaminated living conditions surrounding Chernobyl, which remain a grave danger to residents of the surrounding region -- especially for children, who are most susceptible to the radiation. As the rate of cancer and other radiation-related diseases continues to soar in the contaminated areas, CCOC's goal is to airlift as many children to safety as quickly as possible.
"On this significant anniversary, thousands of children every day are still feeling the tragic consequences of the Chernobyl disaster," said Nancy Spielberg, Founding Board Member of CCOC and sister of famed director Steven Spielberg. "They are facing devastating illnesses from radiation contamination -- radiation that will be with us for thousands of years. As we've seen from the recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, the impact from this kind of radioactivity is as devastating today as it was 26 years ago."
On April 26, 1986, Chernobyl nuclear reactor four exploded, the result of a test gone dreadfully wrong. As the children of the Chernobyl region began to mature, the radiation's harmful effects became increasingly apparent. To this day, thousands of children living in range of the reactor show signs of health issues including thyroid cancer, leukemia and heart maladies. 14-year-old Sergei of Kiev was born with a life-threatening condition known as "Chernobyl Heart" as a result of his exposure to the radiation in utero. His father died after the Chernobyl explosion while his mother was subsequently institutionalized. Two months ago, Sergei required emergency heart surgery. CCOC quickly organized an emergency fundraiser, securing support to cover the procedure.
"Sergei was born more than a decade after the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor explosion and nevertheless became gravely ill because of it," said CCOC Executive Director Esti Herman. "Children living within 75 miles of where the disaster occurred will either get sick or give birth to sick children. People have to be aware that the radiation does not dissipate nor go away and that these children need to be relocated immediately so that they are no longer exposed to Chernobyl's life-threatening conditions."
According to the World Health Organization, the rate of thyroid cancer in the contaminated areas surrounding Chernobyl is more than 200 times the world norm. In some of those areas the rate is even higher. CCOC brings at risk children to Israel, providing housing, clothing, education, and medical treatment. The cost of evacuating and taking care of a child for one year is $18,000. The group also helps those who cannot leave by airlifting medicine, medical equipment, therapeutic aids, and other needed items into the contaminated areas to help those who remain there. Additionally, CCOC has trained local physicians to specialize in radiation-induced illnesses and has built a mammography clinic to help combat the artificially high rates of breast cancer in the area.
On April 19th, CCOC completed its 97th rescue mission, airlifting 26 more children to safety. All CCOC programs are funded exclusively by donations. For more information about the organization and its programs, visit www.ccoc.net