Seeking health and adventure in Sequim

Twelve children from Belarus and Ukraine mixed with dozens of Sequimites June 22 for a very American afternoon filled with hot dogs, barbecue and backyard games.

The children and their host families gathered for a welcome party at the Sequim Prairie Grange Hall, where the Eastern European children easily mingled with the American ones.

“It’s so nice here, there are nice people,” said Assol Khanzhynava, a 12-year-old from Belarus who has visited Sequim for the past five years and stayed with Global Family Alliance president Sherry Smith and her family each time.

Although some of the students had visited Sequim before through other organizations, GFA began bringing children here in 2003. The children, all of whom have been affected medically by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, receive full health checks while in Sequim, including dental, vision and hearing. The students also receive a lesson on dental care.

“A lot of the families can still be affected by (Chernobyl). These health screenings are an opportunity for (early detection).”

According to host father Julian Lukins, the community has rallied to provide both medical services and fun outings for the children. Ten area dentists have donated their time, Olympic Medical Center has offered its service if any child requires emergency room care, and Peninsula Children’s Clinic and Olympic Medical Physicians have offered to see the children free of charge. If any prescriptions are needed, Frick Drug has offered to provide them for free. Olympic Game Farm has a free day planned for the visitors and Sequim Prairie Grange donated the use of its hall for the welcome party.

“You can see how generous the community can be,” said Lukins. “For people to give like this is really a wonderful thing.”

The students arrived for their six-week stay on July 16, flying from Kiev, Ukraine, to Seattle via New York City. The children’s backgrounds are varied. According to Lukins, some are orphans, many are living with family members and guardians.

Lukins said his exchange student, 10-year-old Yuliya Leonchuk of Ukraine, speaks limited English and the family communicates with her mostly in sign language.

“It’s very much a learning thing for us,” Lukins said of himself, his wife, Becky, and daughters Isabel, 12, and Samantha, 8. “The children are around the same age and get along.” Twelve-year-old Belarusian Katya Khankishyeva is in Sequim for the first time and is looking forward to an upcoming trip to Disneyland with her host family.

“I like everything,” Katya said through an interpreter. “(Everyone) is friendly and loving and I really feel the family spirit.”

Some of those helping the visiting children have full medical care and fun adventures include Dr. Todd Irwin, Dr. Brian Hughes, Dr. Larry Temres, Dr. Brian Juel, Dr. Melissa Marr, Dr. Scott van Dyken, Dr. Stig Osterberg, Dr. David Chance, Dr. Todd Haworth, Oral Health Center/OlyCAP, Olympic Medical Center, Olympic Medical Physicians, Peninsula Children’s Clinic, Frick Drug, the Sequim-Prairie Grange, Olympic Game Farm and all the host families.

The Chernobyl disaster

An April 1986 nuclear reactor accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine still affects residents in three countries more than 20 years later. Known as the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history, it released a high amount of radioactivity into the environment. While the actual explosion killed 30 people, thousands of Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian residents have been affected since then, including many who were not yet born in 1986. Many cancers and birth defects of people in the area have been linked to the disaster.

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