When seven year old Milana Stasheuskaya arrived on the first plane full of children from the affected regions of Chernobyl in the country on 22nd June as part of Chernobyl Children International annual airlift of children, it turned back the clock for one west Limerick family.

Milana was arriving to spend a month with Michael and Catherine Kiely and their family in Templeglantine and was retracing the footsteps of her mother who in the past paid many visits to the Kiely family as part of the annual airlift.

Michael and Catherine Kiely have opened their home to children from the affected regions of Chernobyl in Belarus since 1996. Michael has been to Belarus on a number of occasions as part of the human aid convoy and has seen at first hand the human devastation in that country.

In 2000 Michael arrived with a convoy at an orphanage in a town called Rechista in southern Belarus. “The first thing I saw when I drove in the gates was all the children working and while they all looked normal, none of them were speaking only using sign language. We were delivering potatoes to the orphanage and what transpired that day has since become a very important part of our lives and our home,” Michael explained. “Before I left, a director from Chernobyl Children International and an interpreter informed me that they had two children in the orphanage that did not have anywhere to go that summer. They were the only two of one hundred and seventy six children, all the rest of whom had a place to go and all suffering from hearing and speech impairment. I volunteered to take the two children that summer a boy and a girl, Youlia and Vadim. They arrived in June of that year at the Devon Inn and they were a little wary coming to a strange place in a strange country and being unable to speak and understand us. It was a traumatic time in our household as my father in law died during their stay. The following year in the summer of 2001 we brought them over again, this time for three months in the summer and for a month later that year at Christmas. Vadim who lived in Rechista with his invalided father could not come all the time but Youlia, who was an orphan, became a huge part of our family, so much so that she named herself Youlia Kiely”.

Youlia kept coming to the Kiely family until she was too old to be part of the Chernobyl Children International and that was 2005.

Michael continued to travel to Belarus on the human aid conveys and was able to visit Youlia and take much needed provisions to her. In 2006 Youlia moved from Rechista to Gomel, the second biggest town in Belarus. “She had met a boyfriend who also has hearing and speech impairment and she informed us that she was expecting her first baby. I remember my wife Catherine saying to me at the time that it would be lovely if we could bring Youlia’s child to Ireland some day and that is what happened on the 22nd June when Milana, Youlia’s beautiful daughter, arrived”.

Milana’s hearing and speech unlike her parents is perfect. Michael and Catherine, who have three sons and one daughter, are delighted to have Youlia’s daughter. “it means a huge lot, we are proud of her and proud of her mother and the way she has been brought up”

Youlia is happily married and Milana has two brothers, the youngest who was born last November. “She is happy that she knows the home that her daughter is in and Milana is in the same room that her mother occupied on her visits to Ireland and is enjoying going through old photographs of her mother’s visits,” Michael said.

Youlia has not been to Ireland since 2005 but Michael and Catherine have visited her in Belarus. There earnest hope is that this is just the first of many stays Milana will have in their home.

The arrival of this summer’s children brings the total number of children who have benefitted under the scheme to over 24,700 children since the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. A month in Ireland with clean air and food can add up to two years to the life of a child.