Thursday 18 July 2019

'Think before taking selfies at Chernobyl' - disaster 'orphan' hits out at TV tourism

Determined: Raisa Carolan at her home in Trim, Co Meath, where she has built a new life after her early years in a Minsk orphanage. Photo: Seamus Farrelly
Determined: Raisa Carolan at her home in Trim, Co Meath, where she has built a new life after her early years in a Minsk orphanage. Photo: Seamus Farrelly

Louise Walsh

A woman who was abandoned in a Russian orphanage after being born with defects as a result of the Chernobyl disaster has described the new wave of tourism to the radiation zone as "disrespectful and dangerous".

Raisa Carolan (26), an ambassador for Chernobyl Children's International, was given the chance of a new life after she was adopted by Tom and the late Ann Carolan from Trim, Co Meath.

The brave and determined young woman has undergone 25 operations to treat the many physical deformities she was born with as a result of the radiation from the disaster.

These included a cleft palate and eventual limb amputation because of being born with webbed legs and a club foot.

Having been abandoned at birth, she started her life in Number Three Orphanage in Minsk, where she was left alone in her cot for days and whipped with belt buckles and nettles.

However she now calls herself a "Meath woman", and has lived in Trim since she was 10 years old.

The new HBO and Sky TV drama 'Chernobyl', detailing the devastating explosion at the nuclear power plant in 1986, has attracted critical acclaim and huge audiences.

It has also given a boost to the relatively new phenomenon of Chernobyl tourism.

However, Raisa is aghast that people are now treating Chernobyl as a tourist destination.

"I think it's in some way disrespectful to all the people who died and who sacrificed themselves so others could live," she said.

"It's also very dangerous as there are still high levels of radiation there.

"The area is a ghost town for a reason, because it's not safe, and people need to think before they decide to go to take selfies."

Raisa, who saw the drama recently, described it as "mind-blowing, chilling and not for the faint-hearted".

"Not very many people knew the real truth behind it, and I think this documentary has really shed a light on the truth," she said.

"It's not been lost on me that a disaster of such magnitude has led to my life becoming like it is today."

Raisa has no good memories of her harsh orphanage life, where she was physically abused and "left to one side".

"You are treated as nothing and not worth the time to teach how to eat or talk," she said.

"I was left in my cot in the same clothes for days.

"I was punished if I stepped out of line, with a belt buckle or nettles from the nearby woods."

"There was a room in the orphanage full of toys - everything a child could dream of. But it was all for show for visitors.

"When they'd arrive, we'd be allowed to play there, to pretend everything was great.

"When the visitors left, the toys were taken from us and the room was locked again."

Raisa, who has earned a Masters in criminology, plans to return to Chernobyl to try to find her birth parents.

Irish Independent

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