Local group hopes that ‘Chernobyl’ mini-series encourages more people to become host families

A group which helps those affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster hope that a recent Sky and HBO mini-series will encourage more local people to become host families for children from the area.

Friday, 19th July 2019, 12:54 pm
The Mayor, Councillor Michaela Boyle pictured with children from Chernobyl and host familes when she hosted a recent reception in the Guildhall. Included is Alderman Ryan McCready. DER2919-140KM

Foyle and Inishowen Chernobyl Children’s International bring children from Belarus and Ukraine to the north west for a month on an annual basis.

Earlier this week the children were the special guests at a reception with the Mayor of Derry and Strabane Michaela Boyle.

She welcomed them on behalf of the council and presented each of the children, who are due to return home on Sunday, with a gift.

The Mayor, Councillor Michaela Boyle pictured with, from left, Angelina Martinkevich, Annette Smith and Marlen Bezheleva, when she hosted a reception in the Guildhall for Chernobyl children and their host familes. DER2919-141KM

Annette Smith has been a host for the last 15 years and said the trip has huge health benefits for the children.

“For every month they spend in Ireland it adds two years to their lives. It is so important to get these children over here and give them fresh air, fresh food and big hugs.

“We need more families to become hosts to get as many children out as possible. This year we have had 11 children in Derry and Inishowen, but ideally we would like to bring 20 over each year.”

Annette said that anyone can become a host family on either side of the border.

“You don’t have to have children of your own. All you have to do is open your door and open your heart. It is such a rewarding thing to do and you form such close bonds with the children. By the time they leave you can see how big an impact the trip has had on them.

“Once they go home on Sunday we start organising and fundraising for next year’s trip. It costs £1000 per child and the host families do a lot of the fundraising themselves, for example I do the Christmas Day swim at Fahan each year.”

Annette said she hopes the critically acclaimed and Emmy Award-nominated miniseries ‘Chernobyl’ has raised awareness about the conditions the children live in and that it encourages more families to become hosts.

“People have said they are more aware and educated after watching the programme and we hope more local people consider becoming hosts.

“Ireland really has been at the forefront of bringing children here for the last 20 years to improve their quality of life.”

A local representative who spent time in Chernobyl impressed the host families when he gave a speech in Ukranian at the reception in the Guildhall.

Alderman Ryan McCready later revealed he picked up the language when he spent eight months working in Kiev three years ago.

The Dup Alderman said that he visited the nuclear reactor site and the town of Pripyat.

“It was eerily quiet and I found it quite shocking,” the Alderman told the ‘Journal’.

“We met one lady who never left the area, was completely self-sufficient eating off the land and lived to the age of 90, although I believe she has since passed away.”

He said the impact of the nuclear explosion on second and third generations is ‘quite horrible’ and their trip to the north west ‘adds onto their life’.

Other host parents present at the event Majella McLaughlin and Martina McDaid both spoke of how rewarding it is to open their homes to the children. Martina said it is ‘such a worthwhile thing to do and you get as much enjoyment out of it as the children do’.

“We hope that more people become host families, because being part of the group is great,” Majella added. “There is a social aspect for the hosts throughout the year and it really does bring out the best in people.”

While they are in the north west the children receive free dental care and eye tests and local businesses are very generous providing them with free days out.

Computershare has chosen the group as the charity of the year and provided each of the children with clothes.