BY AISLING MEATH
THIRTY years ago, on April 26th, 1986, an explosion took place at a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl. It ranks as one of the most devastating nuclear disasters on the planet, alongside the 2011 accident at the Fukushima power plant in Japan.
In 1991 Adi Roche founded Chernobyl Children International to restore hope and alleviate suffering brought on by the aftermath of the disaster in the region. A Rest and Recuperation programme was established offering respite to sick children from the radioactive environment.
Since then, many Irish families continue to welcome these children into their homes and hearts.
‘The care and affection given by Irish families over the years to these children helps their physical emotional and cognitive development. What they provide is truly priceless,’ said Adi Roche, voluntary CEO of Chernobyl Children’s International.
Vesnova Children’s mental asylum is in a remote region of Belarus, an area badly affected by the disaster. Many of the children were found living there in desperate conditions when they were discovered by volunteers with the Chernobyl charity in the 1990s. Some had been abandoned by parents unable to cope with the burden of their illnesses and disabilities.
The recent arrival of 39 of these children from Belarus to Dublin was a scene of great joy at Dublin airport as host families travelled from all parts of the country to collect the children for their Irish Christmas holiday.
One of the group Nastya, 18, has been part of the Chernobyl Children Ireland Rest and Recuperation programme for the past nine years. She spends each summer and Christmas with Sharon and Danny Lynch and their three sons, aged 18, 15 and 10, at their home in Carrigadrohid, Macroom, and has developed a special bond with them over the years.
Nastya was an abandoned baby, and suffers cerebral palsy. For many years she could not leave the institution, as she didn’t have a wheelchair. Her visits to Ireland have helped her blossom, improved her language skills and spending time with the Lynch’s has given her a sense of family life that she never before experienced.
This year is an extra special one for Nastya as it is the first time her best friend Luda, 16, has accompanied her. ‘Luda is amazed by everything,’ says Sharon, ‘Even when she arrived at the airport she was fascinated with how the doors open there. The girls are having a ball and Nastya has been doing a great job translating for her.
‘The two weeks are too short, but I am so happy to have Nastya back with us again and Luda with her,’ she says. Her extra duties of care for the girls do not faze her one bit: ‘Sure all the lads are used to self-service around here,’ she laughs.
Sharon, as part of the Lee Valley Outreach group, has previously visited the girls multiple times on Chernobyl Children International’s monthly medical trips.
‘The Lynch family, and the entire Lee Valley Outreach group are truly incredible. They have never forgotten that Chernobyl is an unfolding tragedy, which is so important, especially in this 30th anniversary year,’ Adi Roche told The Southern Star.
‘Without their year-long dedication to the children of Chernobyl the Christmas rest and recuperation programme would not be possible. Their enthusiasm and passion never falters. Volunteering is the bedrock belief of our organisation.
‘We are founded by volunteers, led by volunteers, and while we are cash poor, we are certainly people rich! We wouldn’t exist without our volunteers. They are the blood that runs through the veins of our organisation, and families like the Lynch’s are the manifestation of this spirit of volunteerism – “love in action”!’ she said.