1 Février 2017
Video from NHK, January 28, 2017
Learning from Chernobyl children
A Japanese woman has received a prestigious award for supporting children who suffered from what's considered the worst nuclear disaster in history.
She's using the recognition to send a message to people in her own country.
The Ukrainian embassy honored Mari Sasaki for the work her organization, the Chernobyl Children's Fund Japan, has done for the past 26 years.
"With our utmost love and respect, on behalf of the whole nation of Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko gives the most prestigious decoration to you. I wish your honored activities continue."
"We've supported children suffering from diseases caused by the Chernobyl disaster for a long time. I feel you've recognized our efforts," Sasaki responds.
In 1986, a reactor in the former USSR exploded, sending huge amount of radioactive substances into the air and contaminating wide areas. It had severe repercussions on residents' health.
The Chernobyl Children's Fund started 5 years later when it was clear kids were still physically suffering.
Sasaki jointed in 1998, volunteering at hospices, and introducing Japanese culture to children undergoing operations.
The organization donated tons of relief supplies and equipment -- even an ambulance. It has supported almost 12,000 Ukrainian and Belarussian kids.
One of the main ways it has done that is by finding people in Japan to act as sponsors.
"I think we have a strong bond. My sponsor child can't use his hands properly, but he tries so hard to write. It makes me so happy,” says one of the foster parents.
Sasaki visits Belarus and Ukraine every year to check in on the children.
One of them was Inna Polischuku. She underwent a thyroid operation at age 7. But it created complications. She later married and had a daughter, but died at the age of 24.
"They suffer from not just thyroid cancer, but brain cancer, liver cancer, or various diseases when they are still so young. The situation has continued for 31 years, and no one knows when it will end," explains Sasaki.
She says it shouldn't be an issue if their diseases aren't directly related to the accident. She says if there's even a slight possibility of a connection, they should be looked after.
After the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, the group decided to use their experience to offer support in Japan. They've been monitoring children's health and giving families information.
Sasaki feels most people in Japan are moving past concerns about the accident, but she warns it's too soon for that.
"People need to know that 3 decades after Chernobyl, the damage is still being felt. In Japan, we have to remember that we still don't know the full extent of the fallout even though it's already been 6 years. We need to keep watching the situation. "
Sasaki says the victims of the disasters need to be continually cared for, and she hopes the medal will serve as a reminder that the work will never end.