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Irish family 'heartbroken' after cancellation of annual Christmas visit by Chernobyl children

An Irish family have spoken of their heartbreak over not being able to host one of the children f...
Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

14.10 11 Dec 2020


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Irish family 'heartbroken' aft...

Irish family 'heartbroken' after cancellation of annual Christmas visit by Chernobyl children

Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

14.10 11 Dec 2020


Share this article


An Irish family have spoken of their heartbreak over not being able to host one of the children from Chernobyl this Christmas.

For the first time in 20 years, children from the region will not be flying to Ireland this Christmas for their traditional “Santa Claus rest and recuperation holidays” with host families all around the country.

Each year between 50 and 60 children, many of whom are orphans with complex medical conditions, fly into Dublin and Shannon Airports to meet their host families for a Christmas break.

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Trina Gilchrest has been hosting one girl, Marina, from an orphanage in Chernobyl for the past seven years and said she is like a daughter.

She told Lunchtime Live how she and her husband first got involved with the Chernobyl Children International programme ten years ago after seeing media coverage of host families welcoming the kids.

She said: "We thought it would just be a lovely thing to give a Christmas to a child like we would our own children and to just have that experience."

She first welcomed Marina in 2013 and she has been visiting the family every summer and Christmas since then.

Marina, who has cerebral palsy, has become "part of the family now", Trina said, and her visit is "the be-all and end-all" of their year.

Trina added: "She's our daughter now and a sister to the rest of the family."

Irish family 'heartbroken' after cancellation of annual Christmas visit by Chernobyl children

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At Christmas, the Gilchrests try to continue on with the education provided by CCI by teaching Marina how to be more independent.

This includes washing her teeth, making her bead and tying her shoelaces.

Trina said: "We have seen such a change in Marina since she started coming to us.

"I suppose it's what one to one care can do because there's a limited amount of staff to a huge amount of children over there, there are 170 children in the orphanage."

'We're so worried about the kids'

She added that the impact of the children not leaving the orphanage this Christmas means they may forget some of the life skills they have learned already.

She said: "We have such a fear of regression now, the children have no contact with the outside world at all, no visitors are allowed in bar the staff.

"All of the regular work we have been doing with them on a regular basis to improve them, this needs to be done on a daily or weekly basis, and the fact they've gone nine months now without any of their education classes, without any of the families going over helping with their socialisation skills, the regression will be actually huge when we get back in.

"There's a terrible fear that we're going to be starting from day one again with the kids again, so it's heartbreaking to think that.

"I know all the families and the volunteers that go over are just so worried about all the kids."

Trina added that when she started putting up Christmas decorations this week, it really hit home that Marina will not be spending the festive season with them this year.

She said: "It's just very hard to think there's going to be an empty chair."

CCI are organising a Santa visit to the orphanage this Christmas so that the children don't feel abandoned, Trina said.

People can find out more information on donating to Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children International charity or becoming involved with the organisation by visiting their website.

Main image: Children from Chernobyl arriving at Dublin Airport last Christmas. Credit: Brian McEvoy

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