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.
?She?s called a few times,? said Williams. ?She said she would like to come back for a visit someday, but she is not interested in staying permanently. I think she was just overwhelmed and confused.?
Belarus has not lifted the travel ban, but Williams is optimistic it might. She said relations between the United States and Belarus have been warming and respite programs were conducted this summer in Ireland and Italy.
For some American families, there is much urgency because they have become attached to children who lose their eligibility to participate after 16.
Williams said she receives several e-mails a week from the Belarusian child she met last year who became a part of her family.
?A lot of families had a hard time,? said Williams, a Petaluma teacher with three children of her own. ?They had been hosting their children for 6, 7, 8 years. Some kids are in their last year of eligibility. They were devastated.?
In the meantime, Williams has turned to children in the Ukraine. Four girls and two boys ages 7 to 14 came with a teacher chaperone, enjoying the summer at amusement parks and on camping trips.
Experts say time away from the fallout zone where millions have suffered disease from radioactivity helps rebuild immune systems. It also gives children a break from grinding poverty. Williams said the group that returned Aug. 1 was among the poorest the group had seen.
She hosted a 14-year-old girl whose mother was in prison. ?When they got off that plane, they had nothing. Not a bag. Not a change of underwear,? Williams said.