Updated at 21:48,17-09-2020

Families welcome children from home in Chernobyl region

Elaine Edwards, The Irish Times

Disabled people from Belarus orphanage to spend Christmas and new year here

Even the hardest of hearts melted in Dublin Airport as 31 young children with special needs arrived on Sunday from their orphanage in Belarus to spend Christmas with their “Irish families”.

Little faces lit up as they were greeted in a packed arrivals hall with carols, hugs and a few tears after flights from Minsk and Frankfurt for their 2½-week holiday.

From a remote, Irish-run orphanage in the forest village of Vesnova, 175km from Chernobyl, many come from disturbed and violent backgrounds and have been abandoned by parents unable to cope with their illnesses and disabilities.

The orphanage was discovered by Irish volunteers working with the Adi Roche Chernobyl Children International charity in the early 1990s.

Welcoming the children at Dublin Airport, the charity’s voluntary chief executive Ms Roche said some €2.5 million of funding from Irish donations had been put into the orphanage, transforming it into a “world class” childcare centre.

Scores of its residents come to Ireland for Christmas and summer rest and recuperation holidays every year.

Yana, a 10-year-old girl who is blind and has severe intellectual disabilities, was among the children who arrived in Dublin on Sunday.

She will stay with Mark Hogan, who works for Hot Press magazine and who met her when he went to work as a volunteer at the orphanage.

Fifth visit

Trina Gilchriest from Oldtown welcomed a beaming 12-year-old Maryna Malinouskaya for her fifth Christmas visit to the north Dublin family.

“This is her fifth trip over to our family and she’s like an extended member of the family now. She has cerebral palsy and problems with her walking and her speech, but she has the most fantastic little personality.”

Rita Cullen from Kilkenny welcomed Zhenia (11) on his sixth visit after a long trip via Frankfurt.

“He just loves being around people and his ‘mama’. I’m his favourite. Hopefully he won’t be sick. He’s had pneumonia twice when he’s been here. I’ve sent him out some nutritional drinks for the past few months, so hopefully that will benefit him.”

Ms Roche said Sunday’s welcome for the children was “our Christmas Day”.

“Irish families from all over the country unite here every Christmas to show love to abandoned and orphaned children who live with huge physical and intellectual disabilities.”

“If a child has to live in a segregated situation, we want it to be the best it can be. But the long-term objective is deinstitutionalisation and to seek legislative change for the rights of these children to no longer be the property of the state but to be their own human beings with the right to travel, the right to work and the right to live independently.”

In the almost 30 years since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the charity has delivered €100 million worth of humanitarian and medical aid to impoverished communities and children across Belarus, Ukraine and western Russia.

Ms Roche said donations to the charity fell by 60 per cent in a very short period of time during the recession.

“I almost thought we would not survive it,” she said.