1 July 2010 - Maria Sharapova, tennis star and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Goodwill Ambassador, has touched down in Belarus to visit children living in areas affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
The family of Ms. Sharapova, 23, fled the Belarusian city of Gomel a year before she was born because of radiation concerns in the wake of the accident, which exposed more than 8 million people in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia to radiation.
Arriving in Belarus yesterday from the United Kingdom, where she competed in the Wimbledon tournament, the three-time Grand Slam champion first visited the town of Chechersk.
At a hospital there, she stopped at the so-called Fairy Tale Room where children are treated through interactive games and psychotherapeutic sessions.
It is one of the initiatives supported by the three-time Grand Slam champion's Maria Sharapova Foundation, which, in partnership with UNDP, supports seven youth-oriented projects and a scholarship programme in areas affected by the Chernobyl accident.
Ms. Sharapova today made a personal contribution of $250,000 to further expand the UNDP-supported activities.
She also visited the "Ecology of the Soul" scheme, another project funded by the foundation, which works with young people to give public spaces a facelift. All of the children clamoured to have their photographs taken with the Russian tennis ace.
"They are definitely a good example of how local communities can overcome the 'victim syndrome,' take greater control over their lives and build productive futures for themselves," Ms. Sharapova said.
Today, she visited a tennis centre in Gomel, where she met the 2010 winners of a five-year scholarship for youth from Belarus' Chernobyl-affected areas.
"I've seen progress in Gomel and kids with a great potential to do even more. What they need is to work hard and believe in themselves. Having supported health and education initiatives, I am very happy to start contributing on sports and physical activities that promote healthy lifestyles," Ms. Sharapova said.
The project - a joint collaboration between her foundation and UNDP - seeks to help talented students access high-quality education in the country's top universities.
"Maria Sharapova's work in this region will convey a message of optimism to young people, in a once-blighted region, where a return to normal life is now a realistic project," said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.