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.
Within this group of remarkable young people is 14-year-old Maryna Malinovskaya. Maryna lives in the CCI supported Vesnova Children’s Mental Asylum in Belarus. Maryna has been part of CCI’s Rest and Recuperation programme for 5 years and stays every year with her loving Fingal based hosts Trina Gilchriest and Peter Rooney who are part of CCI’s Dublin Outreach Group. Over the years they have developed a special bond, with Maryna who is considered one of the family.
This is a particularly special year for Maryna and her Irish family as her arrival comes just 11 days after host parents Trina and Peter get married! While Maryna was unable to fly to Ireland to spend the day with her Irish ‘mama and papa’, Trina and Peter were treated to a special video-message from Maryna that was arranged by Trina’s sister and fellow CCI volunteer, Sine.
“The day would not have been complete without Maryna being there in some way, so it was very important to us all to have this special message for Trina and Peter. There wasn’t a dry-eye in the house as kisses and messages of love were sent from 3,000kms away in Belarus.” Sine said.
Maryna was abandoned to an orphanage in Belarus as a baby. She has cerebral palsy and thanks to CCI’s intervention, there is hope that one-day Maryna will be able to leave the orphanage and live as an active part of the local community.
Maryna has been selected for a pioneering Life-Skills Programme, which was developed and established by CCI, that will provide her with a formal education and skill-building that will enable her to live independently once she reaches adulthood. Her visits to Ireland have given her many opportunities and most importantly it has given her the sense of family that Maryna had been missing.
Speaking about Maryna, host-mother Trina, who travels to Belarus up to 5 times a year to volunteer with the Cork-based charity, said;
“Maryna has been coming to visit us for the past 5 years, both at Christmas and Summertime. She is our ‘Belarusian daughter’. To have her with us for 6 weeks of the year is an absolute honour; we can’t imagine life without her. The most exciting times of the year is when Maryna comes to stay with us.”
Chernobyl Children International Voluntary CEO, Adi Roche, spoke ahead of the children’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.