Let Chernobyl children travel

By Barry Duggan

A YOUNG Belarusian woman, now studying full-time in Ireland after travelling here for more than 10 years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, said yesterday it is vital for the health of children from her country that they be allowed continue their trips here.

For years, thousands of Irish families have hosted children who were affected by the nuclear disaster and many continue to return to their Irish homes for extended breaks.

However, the government of Belarus has imposed a ban on all children leaving the country to the US and Europe after a 16-year-old girl said she would rather stay with her host family in California than return home.

Such a ban will affect children who travel to Ireland every year for medical treatment and recuperation.

Pelina Yanachkina (20) is studying industrial biochemistry in the University of Limerick (UL). She first came to Limerick in 1999 and returned every year since before enrolling in the university.

"I came here in 1999 when I was 10 years old with the Chernobyl Children's Project and stayed with John and Fiona Quaid in Limerick for a month and came back the following Christmas with my brother," she said.

"I loved it, it was a really good experience and the family asked me then would I like to come back for three months during the summer.

"Every summer I used to come for three months and again at Christmas for a month. When younger, I used to get throat infections and my thyroid glands were not too good. I had to take a lot of time off school because of my kidneys also.

"But when I came here first, it improved my health. I brought vitamins home and that built up my immune system," said the Belarusian native.

Pelina said it was not an easy decision to move to Ireland.

"It was hard at first to leave my family, brothers and friends behind, but I don't regret it. I really like it here and like what I am doing. Hopefully, I will be able to give something back at the end of it."

Tanya Kazyra (16) was on her ninth and final trip to California when she failed to return home last month. She said she would rather stay in the US than return home to Belarus.

Pelina said she was in favour of the girl's actions. "I could only say to her, she made the right decision. She will have more opportunities in America to do what she wants to do and help those closest to her and her parents.

"To be honest, I wouldn't really know why they (Belarusian government) made that decision, but they must have some kind of reason to stop the kids from coming over to Ireland and other countries."



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