Chernobyl child reunited with adopt-bid couple
IT was the best Christmas present they could possibly have wished for.
Nearly a decade after a couple first tried to adopt a little girl from Chernobyl, they finally managed to spend Christmas together.
Mary Sugrue, a dental nurse, and her husband George, from Tralee, Co Kerry, first came upon Marharyta Marozava in 2000 as part of a team involved in the Chernobyl Children's Project. She was disabled, believed to be an orphan and being sent to a mental institution.
The only way to save her was to adopt her. They brought the then four-year-old -- who suffers from a number of conditions including club foot -- home to Tralee where they put in place a rigorous programme of physiotherapy, administered by Mary herself, and constant medical help from Kerry General Hospital.
"She wasn't able to walk when she came to us, but when she returned to Belarus three years later she was able to run," Mary recalled, as Marharyta was preparing to return to Minsk after her Christmas in Ireland.
The couple had been confident of being able to adopt her and went through all the protocols. However as the final stages were being completed in late 2002, Marharyta's mother came forward and would not allow the adoption to go ahead.
The Sugrues fought desperately to keep her, but they had to hand the child over to her natural mother in Minsk.
Still involved in the Chernobyl Children's project, the Sugrues have stayed in close touch, bringing her to Ireland annually during the summer and footing medical care and clothing bills.
Deprived of the constant medical attention she received in Ireland, Marharyta's condition regressed in Belarus.
Now 14, she has fluent English, is extremely bright and a whiz at computers.
"It was the most heartbreaking situation I have ever had to face," Mary said of handing the little girl she had cared for back.
"We adore her to bits -- we can't wait until June when she'll return. No Christmas present would compare."