Maria Sharapova did more than just visit the site of the Chernobyl nuclear accident recently. She made a personal contribution of an impressive $250,000 to expand a UNDP-supported program that provides sports and physical activities for youth in the area affected by the disaster.

As a UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Goodwill Ambassador, she has also set up a charitable foundation to help fund a number of UNDP youth-focused projects. She supports no less than seven youth-oriented projects in areas of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine which were affected by the 1986 Chernobyl accident, which led to her parents fleeing the area and settling in Siberia. Maria also funds a five-year scholarship program for students coming from the contaminated regions.

Although a report from the 2005 Chernobyl Forum found that the health-related effects of the disaster have cleared up, poverty and diseases related to alcohol, smoking, stress and poor diets remain serious threats to people living in the region.

"I've seen progress and kids with a great potential to do even more," said Sharapova. "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."

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