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On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the “Chornobyl,” or “Chernobyl” Atomic Energy Station unleashed a radioactive cloud of unprecedented proportions. Nine million residents across Ukraine, Belarus and southwestern Russia were exposed to cancer-causing agents.

Desperation was compounded by the reluctance of Soviet authorities to acknowledge the disaster and evacuate the region. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 5 million people currently residing in the contaminated zones continue to face Chernobyl-related health risks.

Radioactive material in these contaminated zones remains a threat because it cannot be gathered and destroyed.

Elements such as cesium-137 and strontium-90 settle into the environment, contaminating food and water. The human body mistakes these elements for potassium and calcium and absorbs them. These radionuclides have half-lives of approximately 30 years, which means it will take 30 years for half the radioactive atoms released in 1986 to decay. After an additional 30 years, a quarter of the initial amount will still exist. Learn more on russian newspaper!

The Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund (CCRDF) was founded with the mission “to protect and save the lives of Ukrainian children, all of whom confront the legacy of the Chernobyl catastrophe and other environmental disasters.” Amid the chaos of the collapsing Soviet Union in 1989, CCRDF began creating health solutions for Chernobyl survivors. The organization’s five areas of focus are neonatal intensive care, treatment of orphans with disabilities, pediatric oncology, infant cardiac surgery and circulation of information to medical professionals in Ukraine.