THE Chernobyl nuclear disaster brought a nine-year-old Chester boy closer to Mother Russia and its people.
Now aged 21, Dave Bamford, of Westminster Park, is studying Russian at university and recently returned from a trip to St Petersburg.
It was in the aftermath of the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe that a group of youngsters and their teachers from a region near Chernobyl visited Chester to breathe fresh air and eat uncontaminated food.
One of the teachers stayed at Dave’s home and she sparked an interest in him to learn Russian.
Dave explained: “It was about 1996 when this group of children from near Chernobyl, one of the regions in Belarus hit by the Chernobyl disaster, came over for a month when I was about nine at the time. Each family looked after a different kid.
“We had a Russian teacher stay at our house. She spoke very good English and I expressed an interest in learning the language.
“She helped me out with that and the next year we had another teacher and we have done that for a few years now.”
Dave explained that some of the children were terminally-ill, having been exposed to dangerously high levels of radioactivity.
“Coming over here for a month gives them an extra year of life,” he said.
At the age of 13, Dave joined his dad Peter, a local studies librarian at the Duke Street records office, in taking a GCSE in Russian at West Cheshire College and today he is reading Russian and philosophy at Sheffield University.
As part of his studies, Dave visited the town of Yaroslavl last September which is about four hours from Moscow.
“It was a relatively small town and not a lot there but it was really good for my language,” said Dave, who communicated with his landlady using sign language until he became more confident in Russian.
“The food was different. They ate a lot of meat and everything was covered in oil and butter.”
Dave is just back from St Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, which is often described as the most Western European styled city of Russia.
“It is such a vibrant culture and so different,” said Dave, who added that locals tended to quite guarded at first but friendly once they felt comfortable with you.
Dave recounted socialising with locals on last year’s trip to celebrate his landlady’s son’s birthday which involved far too much vodka.
“It’s considered rude to refuse alcohol unless you have a health problem like a heart condition,” said Dave, who has vowed never to repeat the experience.