Chernobyl Exchange Teen Demands to Stay in US
Furious Belarus officials call California host family 'kidnappers'
By Jess Kilby,  Newser User
Posted Sep 8, 2008 8:25 AM CDT
Exchange participant Tanya Kazyra, right, of Belarus poses with her host family, the Zapatas, outside their home in Petaluma, Calif.   (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
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(Newser) – A Chernobyl exchange teen who doesn’t want to leave her host California family has infuriated Belarus officials, who are demanding her return. Tanya Kazyra, 16, has spent the last nine summers with a Petaluma family as part of a humanitarian exchange health program for children suffering the effects of living in the Chernobyl region. Her host family is standing behind her. "I love her like a daughter," said her California "mom."

The girl’s refusal to leave at the end of last month has prompted the Belarus government to brand her hosts as kidnappers and threaten to shut down the program, reports the Los Angeles Times. Kazyra insists that her grandmother, with whom she lives in Belarus, has encouraged her to stay, and her alcoholic parents lost custody of her long ago. Her immigration lawyer has applied for an extension of her tourist visa, which expires in December.