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Ali Hewson, Dr Tanya Malachenko and Adi Roche.

News: 16 Apr 2024

My Chernobyl story – Dr Tanya Malachenko

16 Apr 2024

Ladies and Gentlemen

My name is Tanya Malachenko and I am 26 years old. I stand here before you to share my story as a child of Chernobyl, and how the people of Ireland saved my life.

Growing up, I didn’t know anything about Chernobyl. Yet, I learned the hard way that this accident that happened long before my birth would overshadow my life. Chernobyl beats in my heart, it runs in my veins.

I was born in a small village – one of the most highly polluted areas from Chernobyl. My village was in the direct path of the wind that carried the radioactive particles. Research shows that children from my region have genetic damage directly as a result of Chernobyl. I am one of those children.

At two years old, I fell ill and was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in my spine, which was a result of exposure to radiation. I spent most of my childhood confined to the walls of hospitals, in pain and frightened.

At first, there was surgical treatment with the removal of the tumor, but then came chemotherapy and painful radiation. It was only later in life that I learned the surgery was not a complete success…half of the tumour remained in my body as I grew. It stayed there for many years and though the tumour was in my spine, I also suffered nerve damage in my bladder, intestines and legs. This meant I had no control of my bladder and my bowels.

I remember as a young child, I had to catheterise myself in the shared bathroom in school. We often couldn’t afford the nappies or the catheters because we were very poor and I was afraid to drink water because I didn’t want to soil myself. I often had to reuse dirty equipment which gave me very dangerous infections, and unfortunately it gave me Hepatitis B. There were so many challenges that it was often overwhelming. No-one should have to go through so much pain and suffering at such as young age.

Everything changed for me when I was 7 years old. I remember foreigners came to visit us, my mother told me that these people were from Ireland. I had no idea where Ireland was but I would soon learn how special the people of Ireland would become to me. Among them, I remembered the name Marcy. Marcy and the volunteers brought us food, clothes and medical supplies – particularly catheters and sanitary supplies for me, which were so difficult to get.

The following Summer Chernobyl Children International invited me to Ireland for a health-boosting stay, away from the radioactive environment.

I was nervous, but excited. The volunteers brought me to the home of my Irish family, the Murrays. The Murrays had never intended to become a host family, but because the mother Helen was a nurse, they were asked to host me to help me to manage my conditions. The first day I arrived I was welcomed with open arms, and surrounded by love, and that has continued to this day. I had no English, but I learned very quickly that love doesn’t depend on words, it is shown through actions. I like to think that it was fate that brought us together.

I came to Ireland many times over the following years, though much of this time was spent in Irish hospitals, as part of CCI’s Medical Programme. Despite this, it was the highlight of my childhood. I had Irish Christmasses and attended Irish weddings, and I gained two new Irish siblings and a new Irish ‘mama’ and ‘papa’. I experienced things I never would have had the chance to, and to be honest, I might not have survived long enough to experience either.

Chernobyl Children International and the volunteers not only funded my travel to Ireland, but funded my medical treatment here and even sent me to the Great Ormond Street in London to see specialists.

When I was 14 years old, my condition took a very dangerous turn and I almost died in Belarus. I was fighting infections that were battling my weakened body and needed emergency surgery to remove my bladder and reconstruct my bowel.

Even to this day, I struggle with complications. I have to manually drain my bladder every 2-3 hours or it will burst. I am at very high risk of infection because of my damaged immune system and I am hospitalised 2-3 times each year. I often have relapses in my health, but the people of Ireland have always been there to support me, even funding medical supplies right into my adulthood, so that I could focus on my studies.

Growing up, I just wanted to be like those kind people who helped me. I was so lucky that I was given so much help so I decided that I want to spend the rest of my life helping others. So, during those long painful days in the hospitals, I started to study. I was determined to help others like the Irish people helped me. I would mind the babies who shared hospital rooms with me, just because I wanted to help. I guess part of my character was formed thanks to Irish people, and now I am who I am, with a piece of Ireland inside.

After many ups and downs, painful days and happy memories, I am proud to stand here today as a Medical Doctor who is now working in Belarus to help so many people who are still living with the effects of Chernobyl.

Throughout all these years, my Irish family and the charity has been by my side in all the difficult moments of my life. I stand here today because of them. They gave my family hope that things could be better, and even the practical support to help us improve our lives at home. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like if I had not met the volunteers all those years ago. I now do my work as a Doctor, helping children just like me, in their honour.

Thank you to the people of Ireland for giving the gift of my life, and helping me to become the woman I am today.