Chernobyl victim who recently learned to read fulfils dream of addressing president

Sasha Godalev (29) wants ‘to give a voice to the voiceless’ and be an ambassador for victims

Orphaned children with disabilities from the worst affected area of Chernobyl visited President Michael D Higgins as they arrived with their Irish families for the Christmas period.

 

A Chernobyl victim who learned to read and write two years ago thanks to an Irish-sponsered school in Belarus, today fulfilled a dream of addressing the Irish president.

Sasha Godalev (29) who was abandoned in a segregated asylum because of his disabilities said he wants to “give a voice to the voiceless” and be an ambassador for Chernobyl’s victims.

He was among 40 Chernobyl children and adults were welcomed today by the Michael D Higgins to Áras an Uachtaráin, 32 years after the world’s worst nuclear accident.

Chernobyl Children International has connected Irish families with over 25,500 orphaned children affected by the nuclear disaster of 1986.

Mr Higgins thanked the Irish families whose generosity enables these young people to enjoy valuable time in a “nuclear free country, greatly benefitting their health.”

“The can be no doubt that the 26th April 1986 was a day that cast a dark shadow across human history, a shadow that has profoundly shaded the lives of many of you in the room today.

“Those of us who can recall that day recall the horror that we all felt, the terrible understanding that this was a catastrophe that would have very serious consequences indeed.”

The President commended the “strong and enduring link” sewn between Ireland and Ukraine, with Ireland becoming “one of the first countries to respond to the humanitarian crisis.”

“Across three generations, Chernobyl Children International has maintained this role through the extraordinary work of its tens of thousands of volunteers.”

He gave thanks to the “many Irish families who have opened their doors, welcomed to their hearth the children of Chernobyl.”

Svetlana Ruhan (28) and Natasha Huenka (36) have been coming to Ireland for the last six Christmases.

“I’ve known Natasha for 22 years,” said her host mother, Isobel Sanromas. “I tried to adopt her, but she is a ward of the state, even now at age 36.

“The highlight of their visit is our St Stephen’s Day swim where we raise money for the charity.”

Maryna Malinovskaya is spending her sixth Christmas and 11th stay in Northtown, Dublin.

“She’s been coming so long now she is part of the family,” said host mother, Trina Rooney, who travels to Chernobyl up to five times a year to volunteer at the institutions.

“It’s hard to describe how much you get out of it, but it’s tenfold to what you put in. It’s a joy and a privilege to be able to do.

Volunteer chief executive of the charity, Adi Roach said: “We are seeing vast improvements in terms of the health, social and economic impact of our work.”

In the charity’s 18 year lifespan, it has established 30 Homes for Hope with 10 children living in each.

Passionately against Belarus’s segregated institutions, Ms Roche said she is proud the charity has managed to close down two orphanages.

“I’m a firm believer in the saying ‘small is beautiful’. It’s one institution at a time, one child at a time.”

“The message to these young people is that they matter, they are loved, and Ireland will never forget them.”

Ambassador of Belarus to UK and Ireland, Sergei Aleinik, said: “I want the people of Ireland to know we are extremely grateful for their support. We have a very good relationship with Ireland which goes back to 1991 when Adi Roach came. This is two years before any political relations were established. This 28 year human link is very important to us.”

The failure of Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant continues to reap its effects today, with over one million children living in contaminated zones,