Sussex

Gatwick disruption: Chernobyl children land in time for Christmas

Host families waited at Gatwick airport on Friday to welcome the slightly delayed group of children Image copyright Sue Platts
Image caption Host families waited at Gatwick airport on Friday to welcome the slightly delayed group of children

A group of children affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster have defied the Gatwick chaos and landed in the UK in time for Christmas.

Host families were at the airport to welcome 30 children, who live in areas of Belarus contaminated with radiation.

The children, aged between seven and 12, will now enjoy two weeks of respite and play, thanks to the Friends of Chernobyl's Children charity.

They feared it might be scrapped when drone activity closed the airport.

Image copyright Sue Platts
Image caption The children travelled to Minsk airport on Friday morning, hoping their flight would not be cancelled

Volunteer Sue Platts said: "Anya, the little girl I'm hosting, is so excited to put the Christmas tree up. She's been waiting since August to do it. It would have been heartbreaking it they missed this break,"

Ms Platts began to worry on Wednesday that the flight from Minsk, in Belarus, would be cancelled as hundreds of flights were affected.

But when Gatwick re-opened on Friday morning, Ms Platts and other families gathered in Santa hats in the arrivals lounge to welcome the children just a few hours after their original scheduled arrival time.

"These children have been coming to us for five years or more, so we have strong bonds with them," Ms Platts said.

Image copyright Sue Platts
Image caption Anya, 11, lives in Mogilev, Belarus, with her grandparents

The trips, which take place in summer and at Christmas, give 300-350 children living in areas suffering the economic and social impact of the nuclear disaster the chance to have a holiday abroad.

"Many have no running water or proper sanitation at home, living in wooden homes or high-rise flats with several generations in a couple of rooms," Ms Platts added. "One of the most exciting things for them is having a hot bath."

The Christmas visit is funded by volunteers, who pay for flights and visas, after the children visit in the summer for English lessons, dental treatment - paid for by the dentists themselves - and fun activities, such as going to the zoo.

While in the UK, they enjoy clean air, fresh water and a good diet in contrast with their food at home, which might be contaminated.

Image copyright Sue Platts
Image caption Sue, with Anya (left) and Katrina, who is on the same programme

"For them, it means two weeks of creature comforts of living at home. And it's Christmas - every child loves a party."

Around 200,000 sq km (77,000 sq miles) of land - 71% of which are in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine - were contaminated with radiation after a series of explosions in one of the reactors at the nuclear plant.

Some new-borns in a region close to Ukraine's border still have serious deformities, while an unusually high rate of people have rare forms of cancer, according to charity Bridges to Belarus.

Acts of kindness

There were other heart-warming stories among the thousands of tales of disrupted or cancelled journeys.

University student Rebecca Bradley, 20, was comforted by home-made mince pies offered by a pilot when her flight home from Canada was diverted to Glasgow.

Image copyright Rebecca Bradley
Image caption The annoyance of a long wait was alleviated by a pilot's offer of mince pies

"He said to take a few because I might get hungry while waiting," she said. "We wished each other good luck on our travels and a happy Christmas. The mince pies were fruity and spicy with crumbly pastry - delicious," Ms Bradley added.

Three tickets to see musical Matilda were donated by Leonie Lachlan to a family affected by the Gatwick shutdown after she advertised them on Twitter.

And one private jet company advertised on Twitter a free flight from Madrid to Blackbushe airport, Hampshire, for anyone trying to get home for Christmas.

By Georgina Rannard, UGC & Social news