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Sunday 4 June 2023 Dublin: 18°C
# 30 Years On
'The sister and daughter we never had': Welcoming a child affected by Chernobyl into the family
The Chernobyl explosion was the biggest nuclear catastrophe of the 20th century.

Sharon and Danny Lynch welcome Nastya 'home'  Christmas 2015 Nastya with Sharon and Danny

SHE’S PART OF our family now and we love her to bits.

Those are the words of Sharon Lynch, one of many Irish people who take in children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster – which took place 30 years ago last week.

She is speaking about Nastya, the young girl who has been visiting her home since 2008.

Sharon and her husband Danny joined Chernobyl Children International (CCI) in 2007 as a host family. They live just outside Mallow in Co Cork with their three sons and are part of the Lee Valley Outreach Group.

Nastya, who is from Belarus, was eight years old when she first visited Ireland. She has just turned 16.

Sharon met Nastya when she visited Vesnova Children’s Mental Asylum. She said Nastya, who was abandoned as a child, had no language skills at the time and did not make eye contact with people, but the pair developed a relationship while she was there.

Sharon & Danny Lynch welcome Nastia at Shannon Airport Credit Brian ArthurPress 22

I thought I could help with her, even if it was just to take her home and cuddle her for the week … She’s part of the family now and we wouldn’t change it for the world.

Sharon said her sons, aged 17, 15 and nine, all have a great relationship with Nastya, describing her as the “sister and the daughter we never had”.

One of Sharon’s sons has autism and she said some of the techniques the family have used to help him have also helped Nastya to make progress, noting: “She’s so bright and intelligent.”

Nastya started school at the age of 12 and is currently learning to read and write.

She visits Ireland every summer and Christmas, and Sharon visits the asylum in Belarus about twice a year.

xmas CCI / YouTube Visiting for Christmas CCI / YouTube / YouTube

The family is concerned about what will happen Nastya when she turns 18. The likelihood is that she will be moved to an adult mental asylum.

Sharon said such a scenario could undo all the progress Nastya has achieved in recent years. She said it’s an “absolutely heartbreaking” prospect as Nastya might not get to bring her wheelchair with her and could end up bed-bound.

A spokesperson for CCI said adult mental institutions are “extremely difficult places for children like Nastya”.

CCI launched its independent living programme in 2009 for teenagers who had spent most of their lives in Vesnova Children’s Mental Asylum. Young people involved in the initiative are helped to lived independently of institutional care.

© Clare Keogh

Six new homes were built for young male adults at the time, and in October 2011 CCI opened a new female unit on the grounds of the asylum.

“Our hope for Nastya is that funding will enable us to keep her in one of the girls’ independent living units long-term when she is 18,” the spokesperson said.

Three decades on from the disaster, more than one million children continue to live in contaminated zones.

“The children’s needs are ongoing and we wouldn’t be able to continue without the support of Irish people, even in terms of my family and friends who look after my own kids when I visit Nastya,” Sharon said.

If you’re interested in getting involved with CCI or making a donation, more information can be read here.

“Anybody with a heart and that has time can do it,” Sharon added.

All images c/o CCI

Read: 30 years on: The impact of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster

Read: Ukrainian baby Maxim will have life-saving surgery thanks to Irish generosity

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