For the first time in 20 years, orphaned children from the Chernobyl region of Belarus will not flying to Ireland this Christmas for their traditional “Santa Claus rest and recuperation holidays” with host families all around the country.
Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children International charity says it is with “deep sadness” that it has been forced to cancel the annual Santa Claus flights because of COVID19 lockdown and travel restrictions in Belarus and Ireland.
Each year between 50 and 60 children fly into Dublin and Shannon Airports to joyous scenes as they are met by host families with whom they have built up special relationships over many years.
“These have always been some of the most heart-warming scenes of the Christmas home-coming season in Ireland and have captured the heart of the nation but sadly we have been forced to cancel the annual airlift this year,” said Adi Roche. “It’s terribly disappointing for the children and the host families.”
Roche continued: “It has been a dreadful year for these children, with many living under a strict Lockdown regime for many months this year. Life in institutional care is difficult at the best of times and with the extra limitations imposed because of COVID19, it has been an especially trying time for the young residents of institutions. Their annual Christmas trip to Ireland means so much to the children and we are beyond devastated that they will not be with us this year.”
The Cox family from Castlebar, who have hosted Igor Shadzkou for several years, are one of the many who are feeling the sadness of this year’s annual trip not going ahead. Marie, Dermot, and their sons say it will be particularly poignant having an empty chair at their table this Christmas and not being able to share the spirit and the excitement of the season with Igor.
Marie said “We are all devastated that this year’s break will not be going ahead. Igor is our 5th son, and we cannot imagine what Christmas will be like without him this year. Our hearts are breaking, he will be so missed by us all. Even though his chair will be empty we are going to lay a place for him at the table on Christmas day, with his favourite Christmas crackers!”
However, CCI is determined that if the children cannot come to Ireland this Christmas that “Santa Claus” will visit their orphanages to deliver surprise presents to the children who would have travelled to Ireland and also to those who are too ill to leave the institutions. This week we are launching a special appeal for funds to send this “Irish Santa” to Belarus.
“We are calling it ‘Operation Santa Chernobyl 2020’, said Adi Roche, “we want to give these children the best possible alternative Christmas experience and we are hoping to get ‘Santa’ to our flagship institution in Vesnova in southern Belarus.”
CCI is also arranging for a container of basic medical supplies, nappies, food, and sanitary products and PPE which is currently being assembled in Kilkenny, to be delivered to the orphanages in time for the Russian Orthodox Christmas day.
Irish Senator Mary Seery Kearney, Seanad Spokesperson on Children, Disability, and Equality, who is supporting this special Santa Christmas Appeal, has said: “Let’s send Christmas to Children of Chernobyl this year. Children and adults with disabilities, especially those in institutions, are always the most vulnerable in times of uncertainty. Human Rights are for everyone, for we are all born free and equal but not all of us are free. CCI’s vital work continues to shine a light on the plight of those incarcerated in institutions in Belarus, ensuring they will not be forgotten in these challenging times.”