Saturday 18 January 2020

'If we got out of line, we’d be punished for it' - two women orphaned by Chernobyl disaster look back on trauma

Anna Gabriel, who was brought up in Bandon, Cork.
Anna Gabriel, who was brought up in Bandon, Cork.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Two women who were orphaned by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster have described how they made new lives for themselves when they were adopted by Irish families.

On the thirtieth anniversary of the disaster, two survivors - Raisa Carolan and Anna Gabriel – joined campaigners Adi Roche and Ali Hewson to tell their story.

Since her adoption by the Carolan family in Co Meath four years ago, Raisa has had over 30 surgeries including a limb amputation and a cleft palette operation.

The student of criminology told RTE’s Ryan Tubridy tonight that she hopes to eventually intern with Interpol or the UN.

She recalled life in the orphanage in Belarus where she and the other orphans would be beaten with belt buckles.

“If we got out of line, we’d be punished for it,” she told Tubridy. “It took a long time to get over those experiences.”

“If anyone was coming to visit the orphanage, you’d be dressed to the nines and brought into that room [with the toys]. But as soon as they left, you’d be changed back into your normal clothes again.”

Raisa said she does not know her biological parents’ circumstances, but she said she could only assume that they couldn’t take care of her financially because she needed medical attention.

“I was very small when I was born,” she said.

Raisa hasn’t looked back after her leg was amputated here in Ireland when 12 years old, she said.

“Ever since that I’ve been able to do anything I can do now.”

Anna Gabriel, who’s godmother is Ali Hewson, was saved from the possibility of being brought to a mental institution when she was brought to Ireland.

Anna had was born with no hearing, one kidney and her legs were deformed.

“I arrived in Shannon airport and came down the step… on one blistery wintery day…  and I just said ‘Hi my name is Anna, help me,’ and I never left since,” the bubbly woman joked.

Anna, who works at the Irish Cattle Breeding Foundation, has been studying at night in DIT to become an accounts technician.

Adi Roche and Ali Hewson joined the girls on the show and paid tribute to the volunteers and families who have adopted children with the help of Chernobyl Children International.

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