England

Team doc: Chernobyl gave Petrov cancer

Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov has been diagnosed with acute leukemia
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Stiliyan Petrov is a victim of nuclear radiation from the Chernobyl disaster, a doctor for his national team claimed.

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The Aston Villa captain was just six when a toxic plume from the exploding Ukrainian energy plant fell over Bulgaria in 1986. Radiation in the northern area of Montana where he grew up was 1,000 to 1,300 times normal levels, according to Dr. Mihail Iliev, Bulgaria's team medic for 20 years.

But Iliev, 61, said leaders of the former Communist state did not tell the population about the danger as they harvested vegetables.

"It was in the late spring, the population was eating fresh radioactive vegetables and other foods. Many people who were kids back then suffered cancer because of this," he said. "We called them The Chernobyl Kids. Most were born in the same region as Stiliyan."

Petrov, 32, was diagnosed with acute leukemia after feeling tired during Villa's recent EPL defeat at Arsenal.

Iliev added, "There are no other cases of such illness in this family, that is why I think Stiliyan is a victim of the old communist regime's lack of information when the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded, and the radioactive cloud came to our country."

Chernobyl is just 650 miles from Bulgaria's capital Sofia. After the disaster, Bulgarians reported seeing "a strangely-colored sky of eerie shades." Radiation caused widespread genetic birth defects in the former Soviet Union.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said it will eventally cause 50,000 cancer cases, half of them fatal. Campaign group Greenpeace believes the cancer figure will be 200,000.

At the time, Bulgaria's leaders toed the Kremlin line and kept quiet, but shipped-in uncontaminated foreign food for their own families. After the fall of dictator Todor Zhivkov, a deputy health minister and former deputy PM were found guilty of criminal negligence in misleading the public and jailed for five years.

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