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UNICEF response to the Chernobyl disaster

© UNICEF/SWZK00922/Gordeichik
“A boy suffering from cancer. When he saw a digital camera, he got interested – it is like a new toy!” says young photographer Anton Gordeichik from Belarus explaining his photo.

Across the affected region ...

The Chernobyl disaster continues to have an impact on the well-being of children and families in contaminated areas and remains a focus of our work.

Pushing for universal salt iodisation …

UNICEF is supporting the push for universal salt iodisation in the three affected countries: Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

Why? Because iodine helps protect children against the thyroid cancer to which they are so vulnerable after a nuclear spill. And because iodising salt is the best and cheapest way to protect children against iodine deficiency disorders -- the world's greatest cause of preventable mental retardation. The populations living in the areas affected by the Chernobyl disaster did not have adequate levels of iodine in their diet before the tragedy, and they do not have adequate iodine in their diet today. We are pushing for legislation that would make it compulsory to iodise all salt for domestic consumption.

Getting the facts …

At the request of the three governments, UNDP and UNICEF in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus jointly commissioned a study of the economic, health and environmental issues in the area that was released to the media in February 2002. Entitled 'The Human Consequences of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident: A Strategy for Recovery', the study was presented to the Chernobyl Inter-Agency Task Force in December. The study has led, in UNICEF’s case, to a greater focus on programmes in Chernobyl-affected areas.

Promoting healthy lifestyles …

Social and economic factors, personal attitudes to health, environmental risks and poor nutrition mean progressively worsening child health. UNICEF and its partners support healthy lifestyles education in Belarus to boost the health and development of children and adolescents in 10 pilot schools in contaminated areas.

A task force of trained teachers and schoolchildren has been created in each of these schools to help pupils make informed choices about their own health and development. There are sessions on the prevention of substance abuse, personal hygiene and good nutrition, as well as on radiation safety. The scheme is raising the awareness of pupils and parents about the importance of healthy lifestyles to ease the impact of environmental risks.
In 2005 UNICEF provided sports equipment for schools in Chernobyl affected areas to improve children’s physical fitness and supported the opening of a Youth-Friendly Clinic in Chernihiv, Ukraine, the largest urban area affected by Chernobyl. The clinic is designed to provide medical, social and psychological support for young people and will reach around 1,000 adolescents each year.

Giving young people a voice …

From 2-7 March 2006, UNICEF held a photo workshop for children aged 12 to 17 from each of the three countries hardest hit by the disaster: Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Renowned photographer Giacomo Pirozzi worked with the 12 children – four from each country – who were all from Chernobyl-affected families. After an introduction to photographic techniques, the children went on location in Belarus to capture images of life after Chernobyl. Those from the Russian Federation and Ukraine subsequently went on location in their own countries. The photos taken by the children form an exhibition for the International Conference on Chernobyl in Belarus, April 19-21 and will feature as a photo essay on the UNICEF website for CEE/CIS.

In addition, the four children from the Russian Federation shared their personal stories with journalist John Varoli – these will also be shared by UNICEF to mark the 20th anniversary.

For more information:

Angela Hawke, Communication Officer, UNICEF CEE/CIS
Tel: +4122 909 5433





Related pages

Chernobyl Anniversary

Press release: UNICEF says iodine could have spared many children from thyroid cancer

Russian version

Background note: UNICEF response to the Chernobyl disaster

General story on Chernobyl           



Sergei Kravchenko, 14

Elena Kovaleva, 15

Viktoria Prishep, 17

Vitaly Sigaev, 13


Protecting Children from the Impact of Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Statement by Mr. Kul C. Gautam, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF

From 2-7 March 2006, UNICEF held a photo workshop for children aged 12-17 from the three countries hardest hit by the disaster: Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.


Iodine Deficiency in CEE/CIS: The Issue

IDD resource package

The proof of the pudding…
UNICEF’s study tour to Switzerland convinced Moldovan delegates to use iodized salt in processed food.



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