Jack Quann
Jack Quann

09.22 19 Dec 2019


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A woman who was adopted from Belarus as a child says her Irish family saved her from a mental asylum.

Anna Gabriel, who is now aged 25, arrived in Ireland in January 1986 and has been living in Co Cork ever since.

It comes as a group of 30 special needs children from the Chernobyl region of Belarus arrive in Ireland for the Christmas holidays.

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The children - some orphaned, some abandoned by parents who were unable to cope with their illnesses and disabilities - live in an orphanage in a remote village, 175 kilometres from Chernobyl.

The orphanage was discovered by Irish volunteers working with the Adi Roche Chernobyl Children International (CCI) charity in the early 1990s.

Since then it has been transformed into a world class child care centre - and each year scores of its residents come to Ireland for Christmas and summer rest and recuperation holidays.

CCI Voluntary CEO Adi Roche said: "This makes our Christmas. There is nothing more magical than this moment for us in CCI.

"This is the true meaning of Christmas: it's about family and giving - the family we gather round us and hold close at this time of year and the giving of our time with open hearts, open arms and open homes.

"It is the most wondrous and heart-warming moment of the year for me."

CCI delivered €107m worth of humanitarian and medical aid to impoverished communities and children across Belarus, Ukraine and Western Russia since 1986.

More than 26,500 children from Belarus - the country most affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster - have come to Ireland for life-prolonging holidays during the summer and at Christmas time.

Anna Gabriel told Newstalk Breakfast she was born in 1982 with physical disabilities.

"I was put into an orphanage straight away because of my physical disabilities - over in Belarus they don't have the resources to care for a disability child.

"At the age of three, doctors and nurses were talking to Adi Roche and said at the age of four that I would put into a mental asylum which would not be in a very good condition and that I would not have survived at all whatsoever."

"So between the doctors and nurses in the orphanage and Adi Roche, they got me out and brought me to Ireland on a medical visa ground".

She said the Gabriel family welcomed her with "open arms" and "sorted out all my disabilities".

Anna had no hearing, one kidney, two deformed legs and an extra thumb on each hand.

She said her family got her a hearing aid, which meant she was able to learn the language, go to school and get speech therapy.

She was confined to a wheelchair until the age of 13, until she met a prosthetic expert who fitted her with two mechanical legs.

"I really made a life out for myself just because Adi Roche and the family here in Bandon, Co Cork have given me a new life".

She said the biannual visits are very important: "The kids that are coming on the two weeks programme: they're going to come in to the airport with expectation of loads of love, loads of tender loving care that they never got back at home.

"They're going to see laughter, they're going to be seeing crying - but it's a good crying.

"They get to see Santa, they get to see the lights - if you can get over the weather at the moment - their experience is what every children should be experiencing.

"Even just to get a hug and say ' look you're OK, we'll look after you'".

Woman adopted from Belarus says Cork family gave her "new life"

00:00:00 / 00:00:00

Main image: After the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, thousands of Soviet soldiers assist with the cleanup in May 1986 | Image: UN Photo/Oleg Veklenko


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Adi Roche Anna Gabriel Bandon Belarus Chernobyl Chernobyl Children International Christmas Holiday Co. Cork Nuclear Disaster

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