Tears of joy as Chernobyl children arrive for Christmas with host families

Wed, Dec 21, 2011, 00:00

HAVING MARYNA Tsitve (10) and Nastya Zaitsava (8) safe and sound in Kilkenny for Christmas had Andrea Keogh “over the moon” yesterday.

Kissing Maryna’s forehead and kissing her again at Dublin airport arrivals, she said it was “just so lovely” to see them again.

The two girls, from Belarus, were among 60 children and young adults who arrived to applause and tearful welcomes from the families across the State with whom they will be staying.

The young people are drawn from some of the areas worst affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, and their stay here has been organised by the Chernobyl Children International charity.

Ms Keogh, who works in PR and event management, said she first came in contact with the charity through a friend of her mother’s, and she volunteered to go out to help its work in Belarus.

“I was just drawn to these girls. I go out to see them a few times a year and they have been here.”

Maryna had cerebral palsy and lived in an orphanage, she said, while Nastya lived with her family. “In a lot of ways her life is tougher. Her family has a very difficult life. Neither of the parents works and they live off the welfare paid to her three-year-old sister, which is €20 per month.

“It means the world now to have them here. I never thought I’d be doing this five or six years ago, but we have built up a very special bond.”

Damian Meaney, from Bray, Co Wicklow, was welcoming Alaksandra Levkin and Alaksandra Haladayen, whom he met nine years ago while working with the then Chernobyl Children’s Project, renovating the orphanage where the two were living.

“The conditions in the orphanage were just horrible. I got to know them while I was there and built up a relationship with them. This is their seventh visit.”

Mr Levkin (22) is writing his life story, and an extract was given to media yesterday. Of the mental asylum where he was abandoned as a child, he writes: “Children were sitting on a frozen dirty floor, many tied to radiators. You could see their legs were blue of cold and they were permanently sick and dying. There was not enough food and everyone was hungry. It was terrible. Small children and big boys and girls altogether locked up. I couldn’t understand what was happening. Nobody cared or loved us.”

Donations to Chernobyl Children Internationa are down 50 per cent this year compared with 2010.

More details at chernobyl-international.com