By Michael Buchanan
Experts say holidays abroad can extend the children's lives
Charities who help children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster are urging the government to allow youngsters from Ukraine to enter the UK without paying visa fees.
Children from neighbouring Belarus are allowed in for nothing, but each Ukrainian child has to pay a £70 visa fee.
The charities say the money could be better spent helping the children.
The cost of bringing in the youngsters from northern Ukraine came to light earlier this year when charities were forced to temporarily turn their attention away from Belarus due to new conditions demanded by the government in Minsk.
Several charities discovered that in certain areas of Ukraine - within a few miles of the Chernobyl reactor - there were thousands of children whose lives were being affected by living in a highly radioactive environment.
The Chernobyl explosion in 1986 is considered the world's worst nuclear accident.
It was caused by an explosion at one of the reactors, resulting in a massive release of radiation.
The effects were felt as far away as the UK, but the worst-hit areas, which are still experiencing the consequences, are in Ukraine and Belarus.
A dozen Ukrainian youngsters - aged between 10 and 12 - and their interpreter are currently on a recuperative holiday in Lincoln.
The Chernobyl explosion released huge amounts of radiation
They were brought over by the Chernobyl Children's Project which had to pay £910 in visa fees to get them here.
The charity plans to bring a total of 1,200 children over to stay with British families this year, which will cost them a total of £84,000 in visa fees.
Dennis Vystavkin, from Chernobyl Children's Lifeline, says: "These are funds that could have been used to benefit more children.
"We could have brought more children over, we could have helped them with medical help at home in the Ukraine. But instead the money is being used for bureaucracy, for buying visas."
The young Ukrainians will spend a month in Britain, away from their home-town of Ivankiv, which lies 34 miles (55km) from the Chernobyl reactor.
Such recuperative holidays, studies suggest, can add up to two years to the life of a child.
Twelve-year-old Zhenya Tolochyn, a big Manchester United fan, says most of his own family is suffering as a consequence of the Chernobyl disaster.
"Most of my relatives are ill because of the radiation," he says. "Very often I catch colds myself because my immune system is weak, but I still score lots of goals!"
His friend, Anton Mayevsky, says: "The Chernobyl catastrophe affects all people, but especially children. The radiation continues to affect us and our health needs improving."
The UK Border Agency has defended its decision to charge the Ukrainian children.
In a statement, it said that as the disaster had a disproportionate impact on Belarus, with 70% of the fall-out hitting that country, they had taken the decision in 1995 to only offer free visas to Belarusian children.
But that argument receives short shrift from Dunfermline and West Fife MP Willie Rennie.
He is hoping to get a meeting with the Home Secretary Alan Johnson to push for the fees to be waived.
"I think it's disgraceful for the government to come up with spurious reasons as to why they should not allow children from Ukraine to come for free," he says.
"The government has played a great part over the last 20 years in contributing to the Belarusian children benefitting from recuperative holidays.
"They should also join in the benefits that the Ukrainian children could receive as well."