herald

Monday 16 July 2018

Opening hearts and homes to brave children of Chernobyl

Sharon and Graham Lynch with Adi Roche, Nastia Sivakova and Santa
Sharon and Graham Lynch with Adi Roche, Nastia Sivakova and Santa

Cheers and tears greeted 30 young people with special needs as their journey from Belarus to Ireland ended at Dublin Airport.

Irish families rushed forward to embrace the young arrivals who will celebrate Christmas in their homes throughout the country.

"This is what Christmas is all about - opening hearts and homes to these wonderful young people," said Adi Roche, chief executive of the Chernobyl Children International charity.

"In Ireland people are sometimes supercritical of problems in society, but they can be proud that Ireland has never forgotten the children of Chernobyl. This is love in action," she said.

The young people live in institutions in Belarus, but are taken in by Irish families for a greatly-needed break at Christmas and in the summer time.

Trina Gilchriest and Peter Rooney, who live on their family farm at Oldtown, north county Dublin, welcomed Maryna Malinovskaya (14) back to Ireland. She has been coming to visit the couple for the past five years.

Trina (45) volunteers regularly to travel to Belarus with the charity to lead teams in helping care for children confined to institutions. "Maryna captured my heart when I first met her. She so looks forward to coming to Ireland and each Christmas she looks forward to getting a baby doll," said Trina.

Maryna had been abandoned to an orphanage as a baby.

She has cerebral palsy and thanks to Chernobyl Children International's intervention, it is hoped she will be able to live an active life in the community.

Also waiting at the airport was Damien Meaney (38), from Bray, Co Wicklow, who works full time leading the work of the Haven Partnership charity in Haiti, which assists and empowers Haitians to build strong and sustainable livelihoods.

He has always come home at Christmas and the summer to host two young men in wheelchairs who look forward to coming to Ireland.

Mr Meaney's extended family, including his parents David (74) and Kathleen (72), were at the airport to give the two young men, both named Sasha, a warm Irish welcome.

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The two Sashas come to Bray every year and are well-known and popular among locals in the seaside town.

The Meaney family and their friends ensure they have a wonderful holiday in Ireland before returning to home.

The young visitors come from a region contaminated by nuclear radiation following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. The effects of the meltdown at the power station are still felt to this day.

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