| 9.1°C Dublin

Chernobyl charity helpers honoured

Selfless volunteers dedicated to rebuilding the lives of young people caught in the aftermath of one of the world's worst disasters have been honoured.

President Mary McAleese paid tribute to men and women who supported Chernobyl Children's International over the last 25 years by bringing relief, comfort and hope to the tens of thousands of people.

Ms McAleese said the lives of people in the Ukraine and Belarus changed forever on April 26 1986, following a series of explosions at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

"Twenty-five years later their food and air remains contaminated and they and their children suffer from acute thyroid, respiratory and immune-system problems and other diseases that very probably emanate from that terrible day," she said.

"For them that day was not an event but the beginning of a process - one they do not have the luxury of forgetting for it is ever-present. And since they cannot forget, neither should we."

The President honoured the charity's top 25 volunteers at a Ceremony of Hope in Farmleigh. Aged from 17 to 80, some have saved lives through surgeries, others provided life-saving equipment and many opened their homes to children on rest and recuperation trips to Ireland.

Several also gave up their time year after year to raise funds or build and refurbish orphanages and institutions where sick children are nursed back to health.

Ms McAleese said the ceremony was also a time to reflect on one of the worst disasters to strike Europe since the Second World War.

"We all knew it was a catastrophe and most of us knew that the repercussions would be serious," she continued.

"But how many of us realised that, a quarter of a century later, the fallout would still be affecting the lives of so many people - so many of them not even born on that fatal spring day 25 years ago.

"This anniversary reminds us of the vulnerability of all countries, all humanity, to profound, sudden and fundamental change, some of nature's making, some of human nature's making.

"Recent tragic events in Japan have given us pause for thought again as we saw life change so emphatically and dramatically in just a few moments."