WHEN Raisa Carolan arrived in Ireland from her native Belarus at the age of six, she was unable to walk or even to eat properly.
Born with a number of deformities as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, she spent her early childhood at the No 3 orphanage for disabled children, 100km outside Minsk.
Her childhood was "very challenging", she admitted. She was put under general anaesthetic 20 times for operations that included a limb amputation because of being born with webbed legs, and a cleft palette correction.
After four years in an orphanage, Raisa used to get flashbacks but the 18-year-old, who was adopted by a loving Irish family in Trim, Co Meath, has "every hope" for her future. She is able to walk and is in fourth year at Scoil Mhuire in Trim.
She still remembers clearly the "great kindness" she was shown here while awaiting adoption -- with a week-long holiday at Aras an Uachtarain with President Mary McAleese just one of the treats.
At a ceremony in Farmleigh yesterday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the disaster and to celebrate the work of Chernobyl Children International (CCI) volunteers, the young woman profusely apologised to the President's aide-de-camp for "keeping him awake at night" by constantly riding the lift at the Aras.
Mrs McAleese praised the work of the CCI volunteers, adding that Adi Roche had been an inspiration. Awards were given to 25 volunteers, including surgeons, fundraisers, nurses and trades people, who had dedicated their lives to improving the lives of children across the Chernobyl region.
Amongst them was renowned plastic surgeon Michael Earley, of Temple Street Hospital, who said his own life had been greatly enriched by his Chernobyl patients.
An award was also given posthumously to Raisa's adoptive mother, Ann Carolan, a CCI volunteer who died last year.
Raisa thanked her mother, saying she was sure she was looking down on them all. Meanwhile, she pleaded with the authorities for the resumption of adoptions from her native country, saying "so many children are waiting for loving parents".
Ms Roche, chief executive of Chernobyl Children International, said there was new hope for Irish families wishing to adopt orphans from Belarus. Adoptions from Belarus were suspended in 2004 and since then progress has been slow on a bilateral agreement that would allow adoptions to take place once again.
Ms Roche said she had a meeting last month with the Belarus authorities and that they "are open" to the resumption of talks.