Emotions run high at airport as Chernobyl children leave
AT arrivals, there were shy smiles and hugs.
But in the departures lounge in Shannon Airport yesterday, there were lots of tears and lingering embraces.
Emotions ran high as children and young adults from the contaminated Chernobyl zone both left and arrived into the country.
Belarussian children who have spent the last month living in Irish homes prepared to fly home, just as another 130 arrived on a flight from Minsk.
A total of 500 people -- the vast majority of whom are young children -- will spend at least a month in Ireland this summer as part of Chernobyl Children International (CCI) annual airlift of children.
Eileen Morrissey from Kilkenny said she was very sad to see Vaissilli Lyskavets (21) leaving.
"He had his 21st birthday party with us last Sunday and got 21 kisses from all the girls. He did very well for himself and we had a great night," Ms Morrissey said. "He is a pleasure to have. We are very fond of him. He is always smiling -- he smiles in his sleep," she added.
Vaissilli spent his holidays following the Kilkenny hurlers and was given a present of a sliotar to bring home with him.
"I'm coming back for Christmas," he said before hugging Eileen at the departure gates.
At the arrivals hall, Ann Coleman of Castlebar Outreach Group was waiting on six diabetic children from the Gomel region of Belarus -- a highly contaminated area after the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant.
It is the first time that diabetic children have stayed with host families here and they were accompanied by their medic, Dr Halina Panasiuk.
"I went out to an orphanage in Vesnova for the first time in 2005 and have been there 18 times since," Ms Coleman said.
While on a trip to Vesnova, Ms Coleman first met Misha Runtsevich. Yesterday, Misha (32) made his third return trip to Mayo to the Coleman family. "He had a cleft palet when he was younger and had the operation, but is doing great now," Ms Coleman added.
Over 22,000 children have been brought to Ireland since 1991. Adi Roche, who is chief executive of CCI, said that while the accident happened over a quarter of a century ago the consequences will last to infinity. "Despite the recession, Irish families continue to thrust their hands out to the children of Chernobyl. This is an extraordinary achievement made possible by the unwavering commitment of these families," Ms Roche said.