Ukraine's 350,000 Children Forced To Eat Tainted Food Laced With Radioactive Material -- Chernobyl Disaster Still Haunting After 30 Years

Ukraine's children are now forced to eat food that's still contaminated by fallout from the world's worst nuclear accident. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion may have occurred three decades ago, but it continues to haunt the future generations with genetic defects and life-threatening diseases like cancer.

Ever since the Ukrainian government canceled the local school lunch program, over 350,000 children in the country have been forced to rely on local produce cultivated on land that's still contaminated from the nuclear fallout. Huge swathes of land were severely exposed to heavy doses of nuclear radiation during the Chernobyl disaster almost three decades ago.

Citing cash problems, schools in villages near Chernobyl have ceased to offer food to children. Needless to say, it was government-sponsored agencies like schools that were the only source of clean food. Without the lunch program, rural families who cannot afford to procure expensive pre-packed food have been forced to feed their children milk and produce from land that is still contaminated by the fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, lamented Natalya Stepanchuk, a teacher in one of the villages.

"Hot meals in the schools were the only clean food, which was tested for radiation, for the children. Now the children have gone over to the local food, over which there is absolutely no control."

It is apparent that the land isn't completely fit for inhabitation or cultivation, and the signs are pretty obvious. Children in the area neighboring Chernobyl, the epicenter of the nuclear disaster, regularly suffer from abnormally enlarged glands or have suspicious swelling on their internal organs. A common condition routinely observed in rural children is an abnormally enlarged thyroid, which has been strongly linked to exposure to radioactive materials or nuclear waste. Despite the clear and present danger, village folk have no other choice than milk the cows and feed their children with mushrooms and berries that have been growing in the nearby forests.

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion occurred on April 26, 1986. The most severely affected areas in Ukraine were classified into four zones based on the quantum and intensity of exposure. Residents from three of the zones were either evacuated or offered resettlement, which was voluntary but encouraged. However, the fourth zone didn't qualify for evacuation or resettlement, because the government opinioned it wasn't contaminated enough. Villages like Zalyshany which lies 32 miles southwest of the destroyed reactor, falls under the fourth zone. Such settlements are eligible for subsidies meant to assist with the health issues that are simply unavoidable.

After a recent round of testing, Ukraine's Institute of Agricultural Radiology confirmed that radiation levels of wild-grown food such as nuts, berries, and mushrooms were two to five times higher than what is considered safe, reported the Portland Press Herald.

Why has the Ukrainian government stopped the school lunch program? Ukraine's economy has spiraled in recent times. A separatist war in its eastern industrial heartland and acute corruption have significantly weakened the country's economic backbone. However, the most severe blow was dealt by Russia. Annexation of Crimea has been devastating to Ukraine.

Riddled with mounting debt from the U.S., the European Union, and the World Bank, Ukraine decided to cut off paying for school lunches in Zone 4. Moreover, the country halted the monitoring of radioactive contamination of food and soil in Zone 4, reported the Washington Times. To make matters worse, the state has ceased the supply of Ferocin, also known as Prussian Blue, a substance farmers could give their cattle to hasten the elimination of the cesium-137 isotope, a radioactive material that spread to adjacent areas after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, reported the Chronicle Herald.

The school lunch program cost Ukraine about $50 million annually. Has the state failed its children in Zone 4 by stopping the food program and forcing them to eat tainted food laced with radioactive material?

[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]