With Berlarus out, Ukrainian kids visit

Ruth Williams didn?t get a visit this summer from the 8-year-old Belarusian girl who had come to call her husband dad.

Government officials in the former Soviet republic halted so-called respite trips from the Chernobyl region to the United States after last year?s fiasco involving a 16-year-old girl who refused for some time to leave her Petaluma host family.

But Williams still had company.

Rather than sponsoring a group from Belarus, she flew in a half-dozen kids, mostly orphans, from neighboring Ukraine. They spent about six weeks with host families, received dental checkups and bags of new clothes ? and went home. All of them.

?It was much lower key,? said Williams, president of the Chernobyl Children?s Project of Marin and Sonoma counties. ?It was a really neat group.?

A year ago this month, Williams? humanitarian association, which was founded in 1991, was at the center of an international firestorm over a girl named Tanya Kazyra.

At the end of her eighth summer with her host family, the teenager from the town of Borisov, near Minsk, announced she would remain, sparking outrage and charges of kidnapping from Belarusian officials.

For four months, she and her hosts, Manuel and Debra Zapata of Petaluma, waged a legal battle to keep her in the country, brushing off special envoys from the Belarus government and making headlines in Russian-language newspapers.

In response, the Belarusian government suspended all future trips, angering families nationwide who help children living in the aftermath of the 1986 nuclear disaster.

A week before Thanksgiving, Kazyra and the Zapatas finally gave in. Today, the girl is back with her grandmother finishing high school, Williams said.

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