Helping the Children of Chernobyl

Walla Walla College staff and community residents host children
from Ukraine affected by a nuclear reactor site explosion.

BY KRISTI SPURGEON, media relations coordinator of Walla Walla College

six weeks can make all the difference in the world—especially for a group of 15 children from Belarus.

On April 26, 1986, a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl, Ukraine, exploded, and, according to government agencies, released more than 200 times the radiation that affected Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Studies in that region indicate that winds blew 70 percent of the radioactive material into Belarus, polluting 25 percent of their land. The aftermath of that disaster continues to have a devastating effect on the 2 million people still in that region, particularly the children. In response to the disaster, Walla Walla College, an Adventist institution located in College Place, Washington, is hosting some of these children.

HEALTH SCREENING DAY: Children from Belarus and their host families wait at health stations to be seen by volunteer doctors and nurses for medical exams.
A program called Children of Chernobyl, Walla Walla, was organized by two local couples—John and Elizabeth Yeater and Greg and Julie Lorren—along with help and support from several of the college’s faculty and staff. The program’s stated mission is “to offer care, compassion, relief, and hope to the Chernobyl region, especially the children,” so they hosted 15 children from Belarus from July 1 until August 13, 2005.

“We got involved after we found out that thyroid cancer is so prevalent there,” says Julie Lorren, secretary of the Walla Walla College English department. “That has affected our family too, so we have something in common.”

Research indicates that as a result of the radiation buildup in their system, the children face many serious health problems, including trouble with their teeth, heart, thyroid, and ears, as well as an increased risk for nutritional deficiency, heavy metal poisoning, and cancer. Leaving the contaminated area for just 45 days clears at least 85 percent of that buildup out of their soft body tissue and improves their immune systems. Studies have shown that the children go home better able to fight off illness and are absent from school three times less often the following year.

“It makes a remarkable difference,” says Lorren. “The kids were tired and pale at first, but after three weeks they had already perked up. Their faces were full of happiness, and they were running around with all the other kids.”

While the children were in Washington they underwent eye, dental, and medical exams, along with some basic treatments donated by area health-care providers.

IT WON’T HURT A BIT: One of the children from Belarus, Diana, patiently watches as blood is drawn for testing during Health Screening Day.
The young girl who stayed with the Lorren family, Diana Khavatava, doesn’t have some of the serious health problems that are affecting the others, but she still enjoyed the rest. Born in Belarus, Diana turned 10 on July 30. She speaks some English and was continually inviting her host family to Belarus to visit with her parents and 18-year-old brother, who recently joined a professional soccer team.

There were 16 host families in the Walla Walla area, one for each child and one for the chaperone/translator. The host families arranged for health screenings and treatments for the children but also entertained them with trips to the zoo, the coast, Vacation Bible School, and a local theme park. But what the kids appeared to enjoy most was swimming.

“About all they wanted to do was swim,” laughs Lorren. “They talked about the pool, the river, boating. They don’t have many opportunities to swim at home.”

The cost of sponsoring one child in the program was about $1,200. Children of Chernobyl, Walla Walla, is a not-for-profit organization and not sponsored by any specific church or organization. According to Lorren, it took support from the entire community to make this work.

“God made this opportunity possible for all of us,” says Lorren. “It wouldn’t have happened without good, compassionate people who want to make a difference in the world.”

MAKING A NEW FRIEND: Diana, age 10, from Belarus makes a new friend—a 10-year-old blue-and-gold macaw named Rascal—in her host city of College Place, Washington.
Adds Elizabeth Yeater, president of the Children of Chernobyl, Walla Walla, program, “This is a wonderful organization only because we have a wonderful God who is willing to work through ordinary people.”

“We thought we were blessing these children by bringing them here. But they just warmed our hearts, and we couldn’t help but feel blessed by them,” says Lorren. “They were incredibly brave to leave their homes at such a young age and fly 30 hours away to eat new foods, speak a foreign language, and live with strangers.”

Lorren is excited about future possibilities for Walla Walla College’s involvement with the program. “We had such a response from people in the valley—dentists and doctors who gave their time, the host families, people who donated money, and other support. This is the first year [that we’ve done this]. Now that we know more, I expect we’ll be able to double the number of children we sponsor next year.”

For more information about the Children of Chernobyl, Walla Walla, program, go to To read more about the nuclear reactor site explosion in Chernobyl, Ukraine, and its aftermath, go to

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