SPECIALISTS GEOFFREY MOSELEY and Gary Buckles opened a lot of eyes when they spent time with 38 children from the Chernobyl area.

The customs MPs at the Mainz Army Depot also opened some hearts.

The children, ages 8-15, had never met an American solider before.

Moseley said that a translator told him, "We were brought up to believe that the American soldiers thought all Russians were bad, so in turn the Russians thought American soldiers were bad."

"When we showed up to help them it blew all that out of the water," Moseley said.

Moseley, Buckles and Daniel Wright, a worker at the Mainz Army Depot, organized an effort to collect toys and clothes for the children who were vacationing in nearby Bingerbruck.

Groups of children from areas around Chernobyl have been spending four to six weeks in Germany and other European countries to temporarily escape their radioactive environment.

"We cannot go anywhere else in the U.S.S.R. because the economy is so poor," said Helena Goreglad, an English teacher from Minsk who is a chaperone. "There are no jobs or food. The food and water we do have is contaminated, but at least it's there. If we didn't eat this, we would starve."

The trip to Germany, she said, was more for health reasons than pleasure.

The two soldiers and Wright saw to it that the kids had some fun, though. Through their efforts, servicemembers and civilians donated dolls and mechanical toys. Moseley and Buckles, who are parents, spent almost every evening with the children. One weekend they took the group to a disco and organized a cookout.

"We figured if President Bush can send aid over to the Soviet Union, we can help out these little Russian kids who have nothing," said Moseley, 24.

The men said it was easy to get attached to the children.

"They wanted us as friends," Moseley said. "We knew them all by their first names.''

The children tired easily. One Soviet escort said they don't really know the nature of their illnesses. Moseley said he was told one boy had cancer and was unlikely to live to be 15 years old.

"I didn't want to know any more about their health," he said. "I didn't want to find out if Olga has cancer or Katya has a tumor."

The children were grateful to their new friends.

"I don't miss my home, but I miss my mother," said Helena Kubyshko, 11. "I feel better here and I like the life here because it has no problems. We have good food, nice new clothes and toys."

Moseley said he invited the group over to his house in Mainz and made a video before they left. He is now using a Russian-English dictionary to write each child.

Saying goodbye was the hard part, he said.

"One of the men from the group said something I will never forget," he said. "He said, 'The picture may fade away, but memories will always stay.'"

"Before we left he said 'Friend forever' in English, and walked away. I thought I would be OK until I saw him wipe the tears from his eyes."

(Contributing to this report: Jennifer Hebert, Mainz Public Affairs.)

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