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‘Why I could never have given up my fragile Chernobyl child’

Sixteen years ago Chrissie McCaffrey took in a boy from Belarus. It was to give him just a few months respite from the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

But Chrissie and her husband Matt could not bear to lose Igor and he never went back.

The fragile 11-year-old is now 27 and a British citizen with a promising future.

Chrissie, of Kirklinton, has spoken to The Cumberland News about him to raise awareness of the ongoing situation and illness caused by the fallout of the explosion.

Belarus and Ukraine suffered the most – 23 years later the air, food and water is still contaminated by radiation.

Each year thousands of children in these former Soviet Union states are either born with cancer or develop it an early age.

In December, children from Ukraine will be coming to Carlisle for a month.

Some are recovering from cancer, others are frail from ravaged immune systems, all are living in poverty.

Igor had health problems when he arrived in England and Chrissie does not have to think hard to conjure up the moment she first saw him.

She said: “He was very thin, painfully thin, but he was gorgeous. I just fell in love with him on sight.

“He’d had a tough life, he was brought up by his grandmother and it was more a case of him looking after her rather than the other way round.

“They weren’t able to get much food and when he went to church he prayed that one day he would come to England.”

Although Chrissie and Matt were unable to officially adopt Igor because of international legal issues, the lack of paperwork has never made a difference to the way they feel.

Chrissie said: “He is our son in absolutely every sense. He started calling us moma and papa almost from the start.”

Quiet at first, when Igor settled in his personality began to shine through.

“He’s got a fantastic sense of humour. When he became a teenager he really put on his Russian accent in front of girls to chat them up – he still does!”

When Igor was 16 the Government tried to deport him because his case had been handed over to an official who had not been given all the right information.

Chrissie moved quickly to protect Igor and managed to explain to officials that he had permission to live with them.

In the process she discovered that the community wanted him to stay too.

“It was an awful time, just terrible, but the support we received was unbelievable.”

Chrissie and Matt have two other sons and four foster children.

They have acted as hosts for children making a brief escape from Chernobyl several times. Chrissie added: “You get so much out of it, even after a month you can see them flourish and blossom. It’s a fantastic feeling.”

Chrissie is organising December’s visit on behalf of Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline, the youngsters need to be housed in twos and Chrissie is looking for more host families.

Even though they will spend just a few weeks in the county, the benefits will be invaluable.

Tests prove that even a few weeks away from the radiation can bring about remarkable improvements to their immune systems as well as giving them a rare chance to act their age and have fun.

Chrissie can be contacted on 07873303516 or at



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