I was one of lucky ones -- Chernobyl's Anna Gabriel
SHE was one of Chernobyl's forgotten children.
But yesterday Anna Gabriel stood with her godmother, Ali Hewson, wife of U2 frontman Bono, to reveal how Irish generosity changed her life.
Anna (18) was the first child brought to Ireland following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster as part of a joint Irish-Belarusian adoption agreement in 1998.
She had been found in an abandoned babies home in Belarus, suffering from physical disabilities and missing a kidney.
However, once she reached Ireland she was taken in by a loving family in Cork as well as under the wing of Ms Hewson, a director of Chernobyl Children International.
Yesterday, at the launch of a programme of events to mark the 25th anniversary of the disaster, Anna spoke of how lucky she felt to escape the tragedy.
She called on Irish people to help others who were left behind.
"I was one of the lucky ones. Ireland gave me a second chance at life and I would never be able to enjoy all the things I do on a daily basis if I had not come to live here," she said.
Anna battled multiple health complications and physical disabilities, including legs that had not developed normally.
For years she was confined to a wheelchair and later walked with the help of crutches.
"Unfortunately, there are thousands of children today in the Chernobyl area just like I was 15 years ago," she said yesterday.
"I just hope and pray that the incredible generosity of the Irish people to these children continues."
Explosions and a fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986, sent a plume of highly radioactive smoke into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area. Thousands of cancer cases and other health problems have been linked to the accident.
Ms Hewson said: "Chernobyl is still one of the world's worst ongoing humanitarian disasters. There is a message of hope, however, and Anna Gabriel is a brilliant symbol of that.
"As many as 80pc of children in the region are affected by Chernobyl, across a vast range of problems from immune system breakdowns to profound heart defects known as 'Chernobyl heart'."
Chernobyl Children International, which has already raised over €90m in aid, has called on the Irish public to donate €25 to care for those still dealing with the fallout from the disaster.
The charity, which was established by Adi Roche in 1986, is planning to attend a high-level briefing with government representatives on the date of the Chernobyl anniversary in Iveagh House on April 26.
It will outline its strategy for the next five years at the event, which will also feature a briefing from leading Belarusian scientist Alexei Nesternko.
The event will follow a special commemoration on April 21 in Farmleigh House by President Mary McAleese, who will honour 25 volunteers for their heroic work.
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