Families plead for ban on children leaving Belarus to be overturned


FOR the Quaid family in Limerick the decision of the government of Belarus to impose a ban on Chernobyl children travelling abroad is a bitter blow.

They are among 1,000 Irish families who host the Belarussian children who travel to Ireland every summer and at Christmas for medical assessment, treatment, rest and recuperation.

And for John and Fiona Quaid and their children Evan, 16, and Chloe, 13, the news that they may not be able to see 14-year-old Alesia Ivanchenk in Ireland again is devastating. She has been visiting the Quaid family for the last five years and they have developed a close bond.

"Obviously we are worried that we will not see her again. She has no access to email or phone. We get the odd letter. We write to her and she writes to us. We have not managed to contact her since the ban was announced," Mr Quaid said. "Alesia's health isn't too bad, although the radiation in her village is quite high. The big problem is that her personal family circumstances are not too good. Her father isn't there and she lives with her grandparents."

The ban was brought in after the controversy that blew up when a Belarussian girl refused to leave the US. Tanya Kazyra, 16, was on her ninth, and last, visit to a family in California when she failed to board the return flight from San Francisco on August 5. "I love my motherland and my grandmother. However, my life there is hard. And I have a family here," she told the Associated Press news agency. The government of Belarus then banned all children from travelling abroad.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin will meet representatives of Chernobyl Children's Project International (CCPI) tomorrow to discuss the situation. A spokesman for Mr Martin said the Irish Embassy in Moscow was talking to the Belarussian authorities. Adi Roche the CCPI chief executive said she would appeal to Mr Martin to intervene in the name of the children. "He has the power to seek an exemption for Ireland. We are begging the Minister to be the children's voice," she said. She said the delegation would tell Mr Martin that the visits from Chernobyl were "medically and scientifically proven to be of great benefit for high-risk children. There are currently 500,000 children categorised as high risk in Belarus alone."

Her group has brought more than 17,000 children to Ireland for treatment and recuperation since 1991

The Quaid family have been hosting children from Chernobyl for more than a decade. They ended up fostering one of the children who went on to do outstandingly well in her Leaving Certificate and is now studying for a degree at the University of Limerick.

That young woman, Palina Yanachkina, is 20 now but she first came to Ireland at age 10 as part of the Chernobyl Children's Project International Rest and Recouperation Programme.

Palina was fostered by the Quaids -- and still lives with them today. She secured 480 points in her Leaving Cert in Limerick in 2007 and has just completed her first year studying industrial biochemistry -- a move which will pave the way for a career in medical research, or maybe prove to be a stepping stone to a career as a doctor.

"She is very determined and further along the line she may go on to study medicine, but she feels that the course she is doing will help her do medical research so she can give something back to her country," saus Mr Quaid.

"While Palina lives with us we still host other children. Over the years we have hosted 10 or 11. Alesia was with us during the summer. There are other people who have taken children under the long-term care programme and they are wondering 'are we going to see these children again' and if are they going to have to travel to Belarus to see these children with whom they have built up a relationship."

"A lot of these people will not be able to cope well with not being able to have the children here in Ireland," Mr Quaid said.

"It is critical that Ireland gets some sort of agreement with the Belarussian government. I understand that Italy is not affected by this worldwide ban, as they seem to have some of inter-country agreement with Belarus.

"We can learn from the Italians. We need support from our own politicians. I know in the last 48 hours there's been a huge focus on this issue. The bottom line is that we have to help these children," he said.

John O'Riordan and his partner Moya Kenny from Cork have looked after two little girls for the month of June and at Christmas for the last four years. The two girls, Krystina Nikitsionak and Olya Mikitka from Vesnova Orphanage in Belarus, are both disabled.

Krystina has severe deformities and -- under the Belarussian system -- may have to have her legs amputated if she is to avoid being sent to a mental asylum when she reaches adulthood.

"We have just got to the stage where we are going to get medical treatment for both of them beginning this year. The ban has really put the whole thing up in the air," says Mr O'Riordan.

"There has been talk of some amputation for Krystina and the fitting of prosthetics and then surgery after that to help straighten some of her limbs. She has very limited use of her arms and legs. Olya needs relatively minor work. she has to have a rotation of her hip, as her leg is turned backwards. She would need between three and six months of recovery after the operation, including physio."

"I know there is a huge move to get this ban lifted, but at the same time it has taken us three years to get permission to do these operations. If we don't act on it we could lose our slot. It could have very serious consequences for the children," Mr O'Riordan added.

The Irish Ambassador to Belarus, James Sharkey, will travel to Minsk this week to try and persuade authorities there to lift the worldwide ban.

On Friday, Mr Martin said in France that the CCPI had been an outstanding example of how Ireland could have an impact on the world stage in terms of people from this country volunteering their hard work, time and effort to help less fortunate people in other parts of the world.



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