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London: fifteenth anniversary of Chernobyl remembered

 Tomorrow, 26 April, marks the 15th anniversary of Chernobyl. At 2pm a vigil is being held on the steps of St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, London. This will be followed by the laying of flowers on the Innocent Victims Memorial at Westminster Abbey. The world's worst ever environmental disaster took place 15 years ago tomorrow, when there was a massive explosion at a nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, on the border between the Ukraine and Belarus. Tons of radioactive material was thrown into the air. Some of this was blown around the world. Even today in parts of Cumbria and Wales, lambs cannot be marketed because their meat is not safe to eat, due to contamination from Chernobyl. But 70 per cent of the radioactive substances fell over the population of Belorus, poisoning a quarter of the country's best farmlands and forests. Hundreds of towns and villages have been evacuated, but two million people still live on contaminated land. In Southern Belarus, thyroid cancer in children has increased by more than one hundred times, due to the large amounts of radioactive iodine they ingested at the time of the accident. There have been rises in many other types of cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems, ailments of the digestive system and birth defects. 90 per cent of children in the region have health problems and some are now born with leukaemia. Hospitals are desperately short of drugs and equipment. Even the basic essentials like bandages, scalpels, surgical gloves, anaesthetics, antibiotics and pain killers, are in very short supply. The stress of living in a radioactive environment has led to a dramatic rise in suicides and marriage breakdowns, leaving thousands of children living with grandparents or in orphanages. In the summer, when the dust causes radiation levels to rise, it is important for as many children as possible to leave their contaminated homeland for a few weeks of fresh air and clean food. Doctors in Belorus say that this boosts children's immune systems for at least two years, helping them to resist, or recover from serious illness. It can also reduce the amount of radioactive Caesium which has built up in a child's body. The Chernobyl Children's Project (registered charity number: 1059832) is one charity in the UK which provides holidays for children from Chernobyl. Some youngsters come when they have just completed a course of treatment for cancer. They are usually accompanied by their mothers. Others come from the most contaminated parts of the country a few miles from the disaster site. They may not be ill yet, but they face a bleak future if they continue to live in such a highly radioactive environment. A happy healthy holiday in England may give them a better chance of survival. The Project also delivers ambulances, medical aid, school equipment, toys, toiletries and bedding to schools, hospitals and childrens homes in the affected region. They work closely with orphanages for children with disabilities. If you would like to help - send donations to: Chernobyl Children's Project, Kinder House, Fitzalan Street, Glossop, Derbyshire SK13 7DL. For more information e-mail: linda@ccprojectuk.fsnet.co.uk