The Children of Chernobyl: Ireland’s Unlikely Guests
If you’ve ever seen the hit Irish TV comedy Derry Girls, you might remember an episode where a number of teens from Chernobyl come to stay in Derry with some foster families. For younger Irish people, this episode must have been pretty confusing, but it did indeed happen. Towards the tail end of Ireland’s very own hardships in 1991, the Chernobyl Children's Project International was established by Irish activist Adi Roche with the principle goal of aiding the children of Ukraine and Belarus affected by the fallout of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Despite occurring in 1986, the effects of the Chernobyl disaster lasted well into the 90s and to some extent are still felt today, particularly in the widely known ‘zone of alienation’ in the surrounding area of the blast site. The collapse of the USSR and subsequent economic ruin of the constituent republics stalled many of the clean-up efforts headed by the state at the time and led to a delayed crisis in 1991. It was at this time that Adi Roche received a fax from Belarusian doctors requesting aid, a desperate plea just to evacuate the stricken children while efforts were made back home.
From a humble bedroom in her native Cork, Adi contacted willing families around Ireland who would be willing to act as temporary foster parents for the stricken children, finding significant and growing success. Before long, the institute had inspired those in America to follow in its footsteps, leading to the institute being renamed Chernobyl Children International. With this extra flood of support and subsequent funding, the program was able to expand far beyond its initial intentions. Surgical teams are sent into Ukraine to train local doctors and perform surgeries, community centers and nursing programs were established, hospices and humanitarian aid were provided to Belarus, homes were purchased to ease the pressure on overfilled orphanages and, of course, ‘Rest and Recuperation programs’ were sponsored to bring Chernobyl’s children to Ireland for summer and winter holidays.
Since the project’s inception in 1991, over 25,000 children have spent brief periods in Ireland to escape the harm of Chernobyl’s fallout. According to some doctors, just three weeks away from the area can reduce radiation in the body by over 40%, giving their bodies a better opportunity to develop their immune systems and function properly. This is also why the project is so children-focused, as younger people are more at risk of built-up radiation affecting their bodies, most notably the heart, which radiation can subject to a degenerative condition known locally as ‘Chernobyl Heart’. According to one BBC article, it’s been estimated that four weeks outside of the zone can add up to two years to the expected lifespan of a person born and living in the region.
Being both a wonderful charity and a wonderful cultural exchange, it’s humbling to know that just as we may choose to go to Chernobyl to see the lasting effects of a decades-old disaster, those lasting effects are coming to our shores in much the same manner. To this day, children are traveling to Ireland every year to escape the harmful impact of such an infamous disaster.
Article by Dominic Perry.
If you’d like to learn more about the institute, the 2003 documentary Chernobyl Heart focuses on them and was the recipient of that years Academy Award for best documentary (short subject). Or maybe visit their website and consider donating! https://www.chernobyl-international.com/
If you’d like to learn more about Chernobyl itself, why not consider joining us in in April 2020! Checkout the itineratry for our next Chernobyl Tour right here