Chernobyl children join Irish flying back home for Christmas
More than 30 children from Chernobyl with special needs touched down in Dublin yesterday to spend Christmas in Ireland.
Santa was on hand at the airport with a group of carol singers to welcome the children, who had travelled from an orphanage in Belarus.
Many of the children come from disturbed or violent backgrounds, while others have been abandoned by parents who were unable to cope with the youngsters' illnesses and disabilities.
Chernobyl Children International voluntary CEO Adi Roche said she was delighted to welcome the children to Ireland after months of planning.
"I don't care what happens to the turkey, the shopping or the Christmas pudding because this is the real story of Christmas," she said.
"It is about welcoming passers-by and opening our hearts and our homes," she added.
The trip marks the first time that 10-year-old Yana Bordorvskaya has left her orphanage. She spends up to 18 hours every day in a cot in her orphanage in Vesnova, 175km from Chernobyl.
"Yana is blind, non-verbal, has scoliosis, epilepsy and autism," said Ms Roche.
"Some of the ones from mental institutions are normally not given passports to travel but we have been fighting for that for years. It is very special for us to see the children with wheelchairs coming in because it is giving visibility to disability," she added.
Mark Hogan, from Dublin, met Yana at the airport yesterday and he said it was great she would be able to spend Christmas with his family.
"Because of her blindness, she has never been shown how to walk or how to stand up," he said.
"At every point of her life she has been presented with road blocks but this is about trying to give her an opportunity in the face of adversity."
Meanwhile, airports around the country were bustling as families welcomed loved ones home for the festive period.
More than 57,000 people will use Shannon Airport this Christmas, an increase of 4pc compared with last year.
It comes as Dublin Airport welcomed its one millionth connecting passenger this year. A 25pc increase in connecting passenger numbers in 2015 has resulted in the airport become a hub for many travellers.
Joanna Casey, from Dublin, was one of those using the airport yesterday as a group of friends and family greeted her after she made the trip home from Australia.
Overjoyed with excitement, she said it was the first time she had met her new nephew, Ben Wheeler.
"This is the first time I have been home for Christmas in five years and it is so exciting to be back," she said.
"It felt like a long journey because I travelled from Melbourne, but it was worth it," she added.