THERE was Christmas cheer, hugs and smiles all around yesterday as Santa welcomed 60 orphans from Chernobyl.
Wearing reindeer antlers, the delighted children, whose average age is 10, were greeted at Dublin Airport by host families from across the country.
The project is designed to give the youngsters -- who come from the areas of Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia most devastated by the 1986 nuclear accident -- a special period of rest and recuperation in Ireland.
The children suffer from physical and intellectual disabilities and will be here until January 7.
Ali Hewson of Chernobyl Children International, which organises and funds the visit, said the children benefited extraordinarily from the visit. "I would like to say a huge thank you to the people of Ireland, despite the economic challenges here at home," she said.
Among the group is Sasha Levkin, who is hoping to advance plans for his autobiography by securing a publisher. It will be the first published memoir by a survivor of the austere orphanages that raised thousands of abandoned children with severe disabilities following the disaster.