On Tuesday 19 December, at 14.05 Santa Claus will provide a special through the night sleigh-ride escort to Dublin Airport from the Chernobyl affected regions of Belarus for a group of children with special needs who will begin a 2-week long Christmas Rest and Recuperation stay in counties across Ireland.
Host families from 9 counties will welcome the children for the start of their life-prolonging respite holiday, during which time radiation levels in the children drop by nearly 50 per cent and up to two years is added to their life expectancy. The trip code named “Operation Sleigh Ride” has been organised by the Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children International (CCI) charity which has brought more than 25,500 children to Ireland to stay with host families since 1991.
Accompanying this group of remarkable children are Sasha Levkin and Sasha Holdyau, known as the ‘Two Sashas’, who will be staying with the Meaney family in both Bray and Gorey, Co Wexford. Both boys are confined to wheelchairs – one is painstakingly working on writing an autobiography; the other hopes one day to become an artist and paints with his mouth and his toes. The ‘Two Sashas’ live in a CCI pioneered Independent Living Unit which offers them the opportunity to break away from institutional care and to have a home of their own, with assistance from CCI’s specialised staff.
On the morning of December 19, ‘The Two Sasha’s’ closest friend and hosting ‘Papa’, Damien Meaney from Bray, will fly in especially from Haiti where he works with Haven Partnership empowering Haitians to build strong and sustainable livelihoods. Damien will be waiting excitedly to see the Sashas, who will spend Christmas and New Year in Gorey and also a specially adapted apartment built by the especially for them by the Meaney family at their family home in Bray.
The Meaney’s have taken the boys plight to their hearts since the moment they first met over 15 years ago. Damien’s parents, his sisters and his brothers have spent hundreds of volunteer hours refurbishing an institution called Vesnova, where the ‘Two Sashas’ spent their early lives. Damien will be bringing the boys back to their ‘second home’ in Bray where there will be a heroes’ welcome for them.
Chernobyl Children International Voluntary CEO, Adi Roche, spoke ahead of the group’s arrival;
“For many of these children, nothing as magical as this will ever have happened in their lives. This is the true meaning of Christmas – it’s about family and sharing. Some of the host families at Dublin airport will have hosted children of Chernobyl many times before, and they will be the first to tell you how these children truly become part of the family and an integral part of Christmas traditions. The positive impact these stays have on the children is a testament to three generations of truly remarkable Irish volunteers.”
With so much to celebrate and be appreciative of this year, it is sure to be a Christmas that Maryna and her ‘Irish family’ will never forget.