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Children From Russia Spend Summers in California

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Original Title: Children of Chernobyl Enjoy Summer Fun in Nevada County

Nine year-old Natasha Meisacheek has spent her entire life living in the shadow of the worst nuclear disaster in human history. But thanks to a Nevada County humanitarian aid group, Natasha and 26 other children from the former Soviet republic of Belarus are enjoying six weeks in the United States this summer, six weeks to recuperate far away from the specter of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

The effects of the April 26, 1986 explosion and meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet-controlled Ukraine persist 20 years later. Contaminated soil and the lingering fallout from the explosion's radioactive cloud continue to spawn serious health concerns across several western former Soviet states like Belarus, where experts estimate more than 60 percent of Chernobyl's nuclear fallout settled.

Today, 2.2 million people, including 800,000 children, still live in dangerously contaminated areas. And while only 56 deaths are directly linked to the disaster, cases of childhood thyroid cancer in the Chernobyl zone are more than 200 times above world average and instances of birth defects have more than doubled since 1986, according to the World Health Organization.

For 11 years, the non-profit Nevada County Chernobyl Children's Project have been raising money to bring dozens of Belarusian children to the U.S. each summer.

"The radiation is highest in the summertime, so it's the best time to get the children out of the country," NCCCP Director Laura Christofferson said.

This year, the group raised the nearly $1,500 per child needed to bring 28 kids ages 8 to 16 to Nevada County for six weeks of clean air, uncontaminated food and outdoor fun.

"I thought, I have six children of my own and this sounds wierd, but it just struck me as something I should do," Traci Beitz of Auburn said. Beitz and her family sponsored Natasha, who arrived last month and spent the past six weeks boating, bowling and enjoying her foreign adventure.

"I like America," Natasha said. Beyond the fun, Christofferson said the children's health benefits greatly from their time away from home. She said the kids sponsored by the group have been absent from school three times less than the previous year.

(This story was provided by News10 KXTV Sacramento.)

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