AN Irish family are spending their eighth Christmas hosting victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in a specially built apartment at the end of their garden.
The Meaney family from Bray, Co Wicklow, are hosting Sasha Leukin and Sasha Haldayeu in an apartment they built for the pair with the help of friends at an estimated cost of around €30,000.
The Meaneys first met the two young men -- aged 25 and 26 -- while performing volunteer reconstruction work at a Belarusian orphanage for victims of the 1986 accident.
Damien Meaney described the conditions in the orphanage as "inhuman".
He and his parents, brothers and sisters spent hundreds of hours refurbishing the institution. "We worked there repairing the orphanage wing-by-wing, and that's where I first met the 'Two Sashas'.
"Over the years of going back and forth, I decided I wanted to bring them home one summer, and they've been coming back for Christmas ever since."
Both men are confined to wheelchairs -- but that hasn't stopped one from painstakingly working on an autobiography documenting his early life in Belarus. The other hopes to one day become an artist, and paints with his mouth and toes.
The two were dealt a blow last June when their independent living home in Belarus was struck by a freak lightning accident and caught fire. The home, which Chernobyl Children International (CCI) spent €250,000 to build, had to be destroyed.
After a public appeal on RTE's 'Nationwide', CCI raised €42,000 towards rebuilding the Sashas' home. Adi Roche said:"They have come to Ireland to say a personal thank-you."