Renton help for the children of Chernobyl

Interpreter Natalia Gurinovich (left to right) sits with Skyler Brazeal, Nikita Kazachuk and Elizabeth Tennison, vice president of HOPE for Chernobyl’s Child at The Landing - Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter
Interpreter Natalia Gurinovich (left to right) sits with Skyler Brazeal, Nikita Kazachuk and Elizabeth Tennison, vice president of HOPE for Chernobyl’s Child at The Landing
— image credit: Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter

When Elizabeth Tennison started her humanitarian work, she was already a mother to a blended family of 11 children. Twenty years later, she would call herself a mother to nine more children. How did this happen?

Sitting in church one day, she and her husband, Bill, saw an announcement to sponsor children from the area affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.

“We just felt that the Lord called us to do this and that these kids live in an area where succeeding disasters around the world have superseded it,” she said.

Tennison is the vice president of Renton-based Hope for Chernobyl’s Child, a non-profit organization that hosts children’s respite visits from Belarus to the United States as well as sponsorships in their own country. After participating in similar projects through Highlands Community Church, Tennison and some of her group members decided to break off and form their own non-profit to do similar work in 2008.

Since then, Hope for Chernobyl’s Child has hosted 40 children and sponsored 120 in Belarus, which is still feeling the effects from the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in what was then the Soviet Union.

The agency reports that 70 percent of the radioactive fallout from the disaster, involving the explosion of a nuclear reactor in northern Ukraine, fell on Belarus. Still today the children and people there suffer from constant bombardment of low-level radioactivity. In addition the standard of living isn’t very high, with limited employment, low wages and rampant inflation.

“One in five kids there, according to statistics, still is born with some sort of birth defect,” said Tennison. “And it wasn’t until 2005 that doctors thought – from the University of Washington – did a study in cooperation with those in the Chernobyl area that linked the Chernobyl accident radiation with the increase of disease in Belarus and the surrounding area as a result of the Chernobyl accident.”

The radiation in the soil and trees there isn’t expected to reach its half life before 2086.

“Typically the kids who come, in comparison to our own, are shorter and smaller, partly as a result of the nutrition they get there,” Tennison said.

The children from Belarus visit Washington for a six-week respite, getting medical exams and some basic treatment during their stay as well as fun outings and time with their host families. There is one translator for every 10 kids and when not available they use iPads, charades and the kids speak their own language to each other.

Eleven-year-old Nikita Kazachuk is enjoying the “many” things he’s done on his summer vacation so far including visit Wild Waves and the Museum of Flight.

“Of course it’s very nice for them to come here for some duration or respite because they live very close to the territory where the catastrophe happened and after that it’s the next generation,” said Natalia Gurinovich, the interpreter.

Organizers say that the host families get as much out of the experiences than the host child does, if not more.

Hope for Chernobyl’s Child sponsors children who aren’t medically fit to travel for their program. The cost to sponsor a child is $450 a year.

“Partly as a result, in terms of their status in their village and in their school… they’re kind of the low man on the totem pole,” said Tennison. “But when we’re able to share with them a sponsor who is able to write to them and interact with them that way, their status in the community is considerably heightened. Therefore their feelings of self-confidence and worth and ability to do something, accomplish something in their own lives and their community and their world comes up a great deal.”

Hope for Chernobyl’s Child is accepting donations for child sponsorship, the summer hosting program and general funds. For more information visit,

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