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2008 Arts Alive Banner "Thoughts about Africa," created and donated by Nastya Chernik, sponsored by Danny Salzhandler from the Artists' Colony
2008 Arts Alive Banner "Sea World," created and donated by Nastya Chernik, sponsored by Danny Salzhandler from the Artists' Colony
Palina Zaleskaya attended the Minsk School of Art since age 6. She currently attends the Minsk University of Art. Palina lives with her mother and her brother, Nikita. She has a sister, Ekaterina. She contributed the paintings "Just a Cat," "King of the Wood," and her winning piece, "Serenity" in 2006 when she was 16. She has continued to contribute additional paintings over the past 2 years, and her 2008 "Still Life" series show her amazing talent with watercolor, which is her preferred medium She also enjoys music, reading, traveling, and designing clothes.

read about all of the artists...
maria sharapova provides inspiration, hope, and sponsorship to children from the chernobyl region.

How did the Children of Chernobyl Foundation come to be established? What was the driving force behind it?

Children of Chernobyl Foundation is one of the hundreds of world wide organizations dedicated to helping the victims of the world's worst environmental accident--the explosion of the Chernobyl Nuclear power plant. Because of the prevailing winds at the time, approximately 70% of the nuclear fallout landed on Belarus, heavily in the southern regions. The strip of land between Belarus and Ukraine has been deemed uninhabitable. The aftermath of this catastrophe continues to have devastating effects on the people living in Ukraine and Belarus. Contaminated soil and waterways have contributed to poor nutrition and weakened immune systems of these people, especially the children. One of the most predominant effects of the disaster is the profound increase (over 100%) of thyroid cancer, a disease rarely found amongst children elsewhere in the world. The corrupt political regime, poor economy, and compromised state of medical and dental facilities add to feelings of depression and despair to the people living in these regions. Bringing the children out of this environment provides travel that would otherwise be impossible for them. Besides providing a healthy environment to offset potential health problems, our program offers a unique cultural exchange for both Belarusians and Americans. But the most important gift we give to these children is Hope: hope for a better future.

Our organization began in 1994, under the auspices of a local church, the First Unitarian Universalist church of San Diego. With our partner organization, Medicine and Chernobyl (located in Minsk, Belarus), a small group of children came to San Diego for a summer respite. They were accompanied by the late Olga Valmianskaya, Professor of English at the Minsk Medical School, who acted as chaperone and translator. The children stayed with volunteer host families in the San Diego area. Olga and her husband, Emanuil Valmianski, were instrumental in starting the San Diego and the Petaluma programs. Working tirelessly until all hours of the night, they worked to compile a list of the most needy, at-risk children from the town of Mozyr, Belarus, which is about 1 hour's drive from the Chernobyl plant. In conjunction with local social workers, Olga travelled to Mozyr to personally meet and select the children who would best benefit from the summer program. This involved innumerable hours of paperwork in order to obtain VISA's and approval from the minister of education, the health department, and the US Embassy.

In 2000, our organization left the Unitarian Church and became an official 501C3 non profit organization, renamed the Children of Chernobyl Foundation, San Diego. We continued to be an all-volunteer organization whose mission was to make a difference in the lives of children.

About how many children attended the summer respite in SD? Per year? What activities did the children participate in?

We brought between 15 and 30 children to San Diego each summer for 5 wk homestays. Our organization assumed100% of the costs of travel from Belarus to San Diego, which included airfare, Visa, health insurance and miscellaneous fees. Between 1994 and 2008, approximately 300-350 children and teens came over. During their visit, children visited local dentists and ophthalmologists who performed exams and treatment pro-bono. Many of them needed extensive dental work. Having 10-15 cavities filled was not unusual. Many needed glasses which were provided at no cost. Children were treated to complimentary trips to Sea World, The Zoo, Legoland, The Aquarium, and Pageant of the Masters. We hosted pool parties, barbeques, beach get-togethers, and horseback riding events.

How did the children's artwork fit in with the hosting program?

Our partner organization established a relationship with the Minsk School of Art early on. Talented young artists, aged 9-17, created and donated artwork to our program. Paintings were brought over each summer, framed, and then shown and sold during the year at various venues. Reproductions of paintings were done in the form of art cards which were also sold. Proceeds from the sales of artwork funded costs of bringing at-risk children the following summer. One artist was chosen each year as best artist of artwork submitted, and allowed an expense-paid trip to accompany the children from the Chernobyl area.

Why did the hosting program end?

In 2008, a teenage girl from a partner program in Petaluma, CA refused to return with her group. This caused the already-strained political relationship between the USA and Belarus to worsen, and eventually turned into an international debacle, in which Belarus shut down all hosting programs in 22 countries as a punitive measure. Eventually, most countries were able to forge an agreement with Belarus to resume hosting programs. Despite multiple attempts, the USA was unable to do so. Sadly, 2008 was the last year that well children were allowed to come for respite visits. There are a few programs in the USA that host sick or disabled children, that have been allowed to continue.

What has CCF been involved in since the hosting program ended?

CCF has done in-country work in Belarus (2009-2013), helping a Chernobyl resettlement orphanage for several years as well as a "Baby Home" (orphanage for under 5-year olds) near the Chernobyl zone,. Projects included supplying the orphanage with 75 bicycles, supplying the baby home with an entire storeroom of diapers (desperately needed--the government only allows one diaper per child per day), and building playground equipment at the baby home. Due to difficulties with the government of Belarus after 2013 including getting a Visa to visit the country, CCF decided to partner with a needy town in northern Ukraine near the Chernobyl area. In 2016, board members visited and brought much needed medical supplies, and continue to further this working partnership.

chernobyl reactor no. 4 after the accident showing the extensive damage to the main reactor hall
(photo credit unknown)
although the chernobyl disaster does not currently occupy the headlines as it did when the nuclear reactor exploded in the soviet ukraine on april 26, 1986, the aftermath of this catastrophe continues to have devastating effects on the people living in ukraine and belarus. contaminated soil and waterways have contributed to poor nutrition and weakened immune systems in people living in the areas around chernobyl, especially the children. one of the most predominant physical effects of the chernobyl radiation on children is the profound increase (over 100%) in thyroid cancer, a disease rarely found amongst children elsewhere in the world. the corrupt political regime, poor economy, and compromised state of medical and dental facilities add to feelings of depression and despair amongst the people living in this region. the current economic situation of the region makes it nearly impossible for these people to relocate.

read more about our program...
learn about becoming a host family...
view the children's artwork for sale...
help support our sponsors...

children of chernobyl foundation, san diego, is one of many world-wide children of chernobyl organizations who are committed to helping the young victims who continue to suffer from the effects of the 1986 chernobyl nuclear accident. in 2007, 38,000 children from the chernobyl region were removed from their environment to go abroad for summer respite vacations. participating countries include western europe, the uk, canada, japan, israel, and many cities within the usa. get more information about the numerous domestic and international organizations who are making a difference in the lives of these children...
new - permanent artwork venue announcement

children of chernobyl is pleased to anounce its recent partnership with the hasenstab and associates law firm, who has generously donated their spacious new downtown office to exhibit the belarusian students' artwork. approximately 35-40 paintings, of varying media and themes, will be on permanent display at 1230 columbia street, suite 1120, san diego, ca 92101 (map). sales of paintings goes towards bringing needy children from the contaminated chernobyl region to san diego for summer respite vacations.

visits to the law office to view the paintings will be by appointment only. please call 619 814-3790 and ask for heather, if you are interested. meanwhile, many of the paintings will continue to be exhibited at various venues in san diego country throughout the year.

children of chernobyl art sales
2008 artwork
just added!
2007 artwork
2006 artwork
2005 artwork
sponsor a child - it costs $1,650 to bring a single child over for the summer. it is as a result of your tax deductible donation that many deserving kids will be able to come to san diego to rest and to receive much needed medical attention. please contact us for more details.

be a host-family - your warm generosity as a host-family for a visiting child from belarus would provide a boost to the health and spirits of not only the child, but also to their family, friends and community who worked hard to get their young one into our respite program. to become a host family, please complete the host family application. for more information, please visit our host family guide.

and there are more ways to help
the film “chernobyl heart" won the 2004 oscar for best documentary. this documentary moved many of us by putting faces to a tragedy that we thought of as “in the past. here is a brief update on one of the “chernobyl heart" kids...

the boy with the terrible skin condition on his hands and feet... is named sasha nesterenko. sasha, aged 13 when he was filmed (although he looks much younger), suffered terribly from severe malnutrition, and a severely compromised immune system which complicated a rare, contageous skin condition called "norwegian encrusted scabies." we brought him to tralee general hospital in ireland, where he was treated successfully, and was returned to his home in the vesnova asylum. his health is closely monitored by our nurses, who are trained, supervised, and paid by ccpi. he is doing great. you can read more about our work at the vesnova asylum.