On April 26, 1986, the world changed. Ever since the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the Second World War, nuclear weapons have become a constant fear that people around the world had to learn to live with. But more than the advent of nuclear weapons, nuclear power itself quickly became widely used as an alternative to fossil fuels in many countries around the globe. And while the proponents of this new kind of energy have always been keen on saying that it is one of the cleanest ways to produce power, they often fail to mention the inherent danger that comes along with the production of nuclear energy.
Still, even with that lack of information, try to picture a politician attempting to tell his or her constituents that a nuclear power plant will be built near where they live. People would definitely go crazy. And the reason for that happened on that 1986 night in Chernobyl.
During a late-night safety test supposed to simulate a station blackout, a disaster occurred and a catastrophic nuclear accident ensued. Several factors played a part in the meltdown that would turn a thriving region of Ukraine into a wasteland. Still, what we’re here to talk about is not the accident itself, but the many consequences of the lingering radiation in the regions surrounding the Chernobyl area. Most specifically, we will speak of the children who, to this day, are still affected by the radiation that was released during that April meltdown more than three decades ago. Do not continue if you are not ready to be shocked because here are 15 disturbing cases of children affected by the Chernobyl disaster.
15 Before Birth
We will spend the rest of this list talking about children who were born and got to live in a world where they had to face the adversities caused by the effects of the remaining radiation that lingered on from the day of the disaster. These children are not located just in Ukraine, as the far-reaching consequences of the radiation affected babies in other countries like Belarus and other former Soviet states.
This first entry on our list, however, will be dedicated to those children who didn’t even get to take their first breath. One of the many terrifying effects of the radiation poisoning in the nearby regions was that mothers and their unborn fetuses were also affected. In this picture, we can see how deformed a couple of fetuses became while still growing inside their mothers’ womb. Most of the problems people in nearby areas had were related to diseases like cancer, but unfortunately for these fetuses and other small children, they had to face deformities as well as diseases.
The first child we will talk about is the young Yana. Her world differs greatly from our own, and it has been like that since her birth. When Yana was born, she was already blind and nonverbal. Unfortunately, her biological parents did not take too well to having a daughter with disabilities and placed her in a baby home. From there, the several conditions from which Yana suffers just kept increasing in number. From blindness and being nonverbal, she also developed issues like epilepsy and scoliosis, as well as a severe case of autism.
With disabilities and no hope of being adopted into a loving home, Yana spent her young days institutionalized and has developed behaviors linked to such a childhood, like hitting herself on the head, sticking fingers in her eyes, and consistently rocking back and forth.
A silver lining, in this case, is that after going through physiotherapy, Yana found the strength to walk on her own two feet.
13 Misha Kozlov
The biggest issue and most common disease that affects those who were born or who have lived in areas near the radiation waste from the Chernobyl disaster is cancer. One of the saddest examples of this reality is young Misha Kozlov.
Before he even turned five years old, Misha’s battle against cancer was already one that many adults would not have the will to survive through. At that young age, he had already completed several courses of chemotherapy, not to mention a massive tumor removed from his leg.
Misha lives in Belarus, one of the countries that were most affected by the radiation that came out of Chernobyl. Just in 2015, there was an increase of almost 20 percent in cancer cases involving children. And while the disaster happened nearly three decades before Misha was born, his mother is sure that radiation is the culprit behind her son’s suffering.
“I think Misha’s cancer is very probably caused by radiation. In our town, there are a lot of children who have cancer, and I think it is because of radiation, but what can you do.”
12 Yvgeny Retovitch
The Children’s Cancer Hospital in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, is a place that harbors a terrifying number of small children. These are kids who were born with cancer or have developed it early in their lives. Most of them are likely there because of the radiation.
Just a few doors down from Misha, who we talked about in the last entry, lives a young boy named Yvgeny. His case is as sad as Misha’s, as Yvgeny suffers from leukemia. His father is a factory worker named Dmitri. And like many other parents who stand by their children at the cancer hospital, Dmitri was born just a year after the Chernobyl accident.
Just like Misha’s mother, Dmitri is very suspicious that radiation is the cause of his son’s illness. And no one can fault him for that suspicion as looking through the corridors of the hospital every day, he sees how many children are facing a trial just like his son.
Although many of the children born in the areas that were most affected by the Chernobyl disaster don’t get to live very long, a young man named Nazar sure had a lot to celebrate when he turned 23 years old. Nazar is one of the many young ones who were aided by the Chernobyl Children’s Project that started in the United Kingdom.
Nazar was one of the lucky kids affected by the Chernobyl disaster who had the opportunity to travel away from his homeland and visit places like the United Kingdom. In the picture above, he’s in the town of New Mills in England, celebrating his birthday.
Nazar suffers from a condition called cerebral palsy. It is a congenital disorder of movement, muscle tone, or posture that affects 200,000 people every year in the United States alone. Sadly, this is a disease to which there is a treatment, but it is a condition that cannot yet be cured.
10 Anya Kastrova
One would expect a children’s cancer hospital in a region that is still affected by the radiation from the Chernobyl disaster to be a gloomy place full of despair. And yet, despite the many sad stories we can tell you about the Minsk Children’s Cancer Hospital, what people who have written about the kids living there relate the most are stories of people trying to make the most out of a bad situation.
Take little Anya Kastrova for example. Always accompanied by her mom, this young girl seems to always have a smile on her face despite the enormous challenge that lies in front of her. Anya was diagnosed with a rare cancer that develops in multiple parts of her body, called a sarcoma.
The treatments of this disease range from chemotherapy if it is discovered in early stages, to the harsh reality of amputations depending on how severe the case is.
9 Anya Malish
Another Anya on our list, Anya Malish is the daughter of a man named Alexander, who worked in Chernobyl before the disaster and served with the forces that aided in the relief after the catastrophe. Alexander was in the surrounding area with the teams that attempted to help decontaminate the region and had a disturbing tale to tell Politico last year.
He said that while they were working near the areas where the radiation was dangerous, he and his comrades received dosimeters, which were supposed to measure the radiation and alert them to when the levels reached alarming status. Nevertheless, Alexander believes that even with those measures, he received more radiation than it was safe. As a result, his daughter Anya was born with Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic condition that affects a person’s growth and, in Anya’s case, caused a mild heart defect. Not only that, the disease was also passed on genetically when Anya had a son of her own.
While some children of Chernobyl had to face their lives without the love and care of their biological parents, little Lida was fortunate enough to have a young mother who was willing to fight tooth and nail for her. As it happens with many children who are born with disabilities in the areas affected by the disaster, Lida was quickly taken away from her mother. Still, that did not stop the young Nadezha, who spent six years fighting to get her daughter back.
Today, after winning the long battle, Nadezha has to face another struggle, which is to care for her baby daughter. But this is a struggle she faces with a smile, even as she has to compress her daughter’s chest in order to suction out mucus every 20 minutes so Lida won’t suffocate. The next goal for this inspiring mother-daughter combo is to find a way to afford portable life-support equipment so Lida can finally see the outside world.
Another Belarus facility that receives a significant amount of children who bear the lingering effects of the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster is the Vesnova Home for Invalid Children in the city of Glusk. One of the more than 170 children and teenagers who live there is the young Katya.
Like many of the kids with whom she shares the facility, Katya suffers from several congenital disabilities. She has been diagnosed with microcephaly and has a convulsive syndrome. Another fact that separates Katya from most other children is that, although she was five years old in this picture, she was still about the size of a baby.
What is most surprising for people who look at such sad cases from far away is that despite the huge obstacles life has put in front of children like Katya, who were just unlucky enough to be born in the region they were born in, they still find the strength to smile and keep fighting.
Microcephaly is a disease that gained a lot of attention over the past few years mostly because of Brazil. With the 2016 Rio Olympics on the horizon, an increase in the number of microcephaly cases diagnosed in the country caught the eye of the international medical community. The culprit behind the rise in microcephaly cases was deemed to be the yellow fever mosquito.
This little insect was the link between pregnant women infected with the Zika virus and the subsequent development of microcephaly in their unborn fetuses. The world went wild with the alleged ties, and there was an outburst of people who decided not to go to the Olympics in fear of contracting the Zika virus and having their future children develop microcephaly.
But while the Brazilian problem was alarming, what many people don’t realize is that microcephaly has been a problem long before the mosquito was there. And the regions affected by the Chernobyl disaster harbor lots of children who suffer from microcephaly, which is the case of young Maria from Belarus.
5 Anna Gabriel
Another one of the few lucky children of Chernobyl was Anna Gabriel. Anna was born in Belarus and, very early in her life, she was set to go down a path you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. While she was only a child, Anna was nearly committed to an adult asylum in Belarus because of the physical difficulties she developed due to congenital disabilities.
But while she had to deal with her disabilities, Anna was lucky that a woman by the name Adi Roche heard her story and retold it to an Irish couple. After hearing Anna’s story, Robert and Helen Gabriel agreed to look after the three-year-old child from Belarus. It was a decision they never regretted as Anna has lived with them ever since.
Anna faces the difficulties she inherited from her birth, as she only has one kidney, six fingers in each hand, and suffered from hearing loss. Nevertheless, she faces all that adversity with impressive optimism. For example, she told the Irish Examiner that having six fingers is actually a perk because it makes her “a bit of a wizard at typing.”
Belarus was undoubtedly the former Soviet state that was most affected by the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. This is a picture that can portray how far the effects of the radiation can reach. This photo shows two generations of people who suffered the consequences of the accident. Oleg is a grown man who lived more than 50 years and was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the town of Minsk. Next to him, we have the young Dima, who was diagnosed with the same disease in his early teens. And the reasoning behind their diagnostics has the same culprit.
Apparently, Oleg was exposed to dangerous levels of radiation while he worked as a liquidator. Meanwhile, Dima’s thyroid cancer does not have an official cause. But if we are to believe his mother, what is behind her son’s disease is the nuclear fallout that remains from the Chernobyl disaster.
After talking so much about the people from Belarus who were affected by the nuclear catastrophe, we have to take some time to speak of the people from Ukraine who were affected by the disaster. Chernobyl was, in fact, in Ukrainian territory. And while Belarus might’ve been the nation hit the hardest by the fallout, Ukraine has its share of heartaches.
An example of that was the young Veronika who, by the age of five, was already being treated for leukemia at the Center for Radiation Medicine in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. Unlike several of the children we have talked about, Veronika was directly affected by the meltdown in a way. While most of the children we’ve mentioned had parents who lived in areas that were affected but were still far from Chernobyl, Veronika’s mother was four years old and lived in Chernigov when the accident happened. Chernigov is about 50 miles away from Chernobyl.
Every single story involving the children of Chernobyl is a sad one. But the story of Igor is especially painful, but not an exclusive tale. As a matter of fact, it is not rare for children who were born with disabilities in the areas that are still affected by the nuclear fallout to be abandoned by their parents.
Facing a life with disabilities is already enough of a challenge for people who have a family pillar behind to support them in whatever endeavors they want to strive for, but imagine having to face a life like this all by yourself. That is the prospect many children like Igor have to face as they are not lucky enough to be chosen by a family willing to adopt a child victim of the radiation fallout.
As of 2005, Igor was five years old and lived at a children’s mental asylum in the region of Vesnova in Belarus.
To finish this list, we would like to show you the smile of the young Karina. At just five years old, she was diagnosed with a disease called Dandy-Walker syndrome. This is a rare illness that comprises a group of congenital human brain malformations. Because of these malformations, Karina suffers from symptoms like deformed limbs, dysfunctional cognitive and motor skills, as well as an enlarged skull.
But the reason we chose Karina to end this list was because while she might very well have one of the most severe illnesses on this list, as Dandy-Walker syndrome does not have a cure, she still manages to show off a smile that could light up an entire room.
With all that in mind, we strongly encourage those of you who were touched by these children to look into ways to help them. The project we most came across while writing this article was the Chernobyl Children International Project. If you would like to read more on the subject just jump onto their page at: