At the invitation of UEFA President Michel Platini, 150 Ukrainian and Belarusian children from the Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund in Ukraine and the children's rehabilitation centre Nadezhda were given the football thrill of a lifetime when they attended last night's UEFA EURO 2012 Group D match between Sweden and France at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv.
The consequences of the Chornobyl nuclear accident in 1986 were mostly felt by the people of Ukraine and adjacent territories of Belarus, and affected the health of an entire generation of children.
"It is very important for UEFA to remember the Chornobyl incident, so we decided to invite the representative group of children still affected today by this nuclear accident in 1986," said UEFA senior manager for football and social responsibility Patrick Gasser at an event in Kyiv to mark the children's visit. "This invitation for a UEFA EURO 2012 match is a part of UEFA's Respect project."
Before visiting the stadium, a group of the children met with the renowned Ukrainian rock band S.K.A.Y., whose members handed the boys and girls gifts. "It's an honour for us to be a part of this event," said S.K.A.Y's frontman Oleg Sobchuk. "We are very happy to give presents to young fans, and we hope that our visit and the gifts will continue bringing the children lots of smiles in the future."
All of the children had the opportunity to take pictures of the musicians and have them signed, and their joy knew no bounds. "I don't show my emotions but there is a real storm in my soul, because I got the chance to meet members of one of my favourite bands,” said 17-year old Oleksiy.
Victor, who is 16, fulfilled a wish. "When I found out that the European Championship would be held in Ukraine, I set a goal – to see at least one match in the tournament. Now I can say that my dream came true. It's just unbelievable."
It was also a special moment for the girls among the 150 lucky fans, 17-year-old Lilia reflecting the mood when she said: "I'm extremely happy to go to the match. I love to watch, and even play football."
In the stadium further surprises awaited the children at half-time, as they were introduced to UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino and Croatian legend Davor Šuker – one of European football's most renowned strikers. Both answered questions from the enthusiastic youngsters, whose big day was rewarded with another entertaining 90 minutes of action as Sweden beat France 2-0.
The country director of the Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund in Ukraine, Alexa Milanytch, stressed the importance of such experiences for the children. "Working with the orphans and the children in remission from cancer, I know that this is an amazing adventure for them. Many of them are coming from outside Kyiv, and for them this is a wonderful opportunity to participate in the game's communal spirit and focus on the match.
"Memories last a lifetime, and they will not only benefit emotionally – an experience like this can also have a positive physical effect. I thank UEFA for hosting us and recognising the Chornobyl effects by using the power of football to engage and inspire the children."
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