Nearly two dozen victims of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident are receiving one month of medical treatment and rest thanks to the Chernobyl Children's Project USA and the generosity of their host families.
Thirteen-year-old Yegor Semenuk and 12-year-old Gena Pazdnikov of Russia are experiencing things they never dreamed they would in their entire lifetime: a trip to the mall, a walk on the beach, fresh fruit, a McDonald's French fry.
They are simple things most Americans take for granted each day, but Yegor and Gena are savoring every bit.
"We love everything. We are very grateful," said the shy boys with the help of translators Irina Zubareva and Veronica Goncherenico.
The pair is among 22 victims of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident who are receiving one month of medical treatment and rest thanks to the Chernobyl Children's Project USA and the generosity of their host families in Taunton, Carver, Middleboro and Lakeville.
The children all live in the destitute regions of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine where the air, water and ground are contaminated with radioactive material and medical care is very limited. They came to the United States for diagnostic care and a chance to detoxify their bodies.
Since 1995, the organization has brought more than 1,300 children to the Boston area.
Much of their medical care is coordinated through the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts-New England Medical Center, where the files on each child are translated into Russian as a resource for when they go home.
The children may receive dental, eye and orthopedic care, among other treatments, while here.
The Rashid family of Carver has dedicated their summer to helping Yegor and Gena, who suffer from kidney and heart disease, thyroid-related illnesses and many other health problems.
"We're at doctors appointments just about every day," said Cathie Rashid. "I took the whole month off to make sure they have a good time and get what they need."
Lorna Brunelle, of Middleboro, community coordinator for the Chernobyl Children's Project USA, said the parents of the victims back home are eager to learn the status of their children's health.
"The parents wrote translated letters to the host families telling them what they're looking for," she said.
Brunelle became involved with group in August 2004 after she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She is now in remission.
"I watched an HBO documentary on Chernobyl Heart, which is what they call the heart disease that the children there have," she said. "I learned that thyroid cancer is the number one problem with the children of Chernobyl and, because I was suffering from that, it was a cause that was important to me."
Like the Rashids, this is the first year the Pietnik family of Taunton became involved with the organization. They are hosting Alina Samuylina, 12 and Yuliya Shkrabo, 11.
"They are both extremely appreciative and loving children," said Theresa Pietnik.
"We have two children Isabel, 7, and Claire 4. It is difficult to explain how normal it feels to have Alina and Yuliya in the house," she said. "My children refer to them as their Russian sisters."
The Pietniks said they became involved in the project for many reasons, including teaching their daughters lessons of charity and responsibility.
"At the risk of sounding like a cliche, we have received so much more from these girls than we have given," she said. "We did not expect to love them so much.
"I hope our involvement in this program provides a message of hope for the people in these contaminated areas."
For more information, visit www.CCPUSA.org.