Chernobyl survivor in Ireland fears war will end plans to meet her birth family

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Chernobyl Survivor In Ireland Fears War Will End Plans To Meet Her Birth Family
Raisa Carolan was adopted by a Co Meath couple and recently located her birth family after a search of many years
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Louise Walsh

A survivor of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, who was later adopted by a Co Meath couple, has described her fears of another catastrophe caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine which would also end her plans to visit her newly-found birth family.

Raisa Carolan said she is concerned following reports of higher-than-usual gamma radiation levels detected in the area near the decommissioned nuclear plant taken over by Russian forces.

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Ukraine's nuclear energy regulatory agency attributed the rise on Friday to a "disturbance of the topsoil due to the movement of a large amount of heavy military equipment through the exclusion zone and the release of contaminated radioactive dust into the air."

The 29-year-old ambassador for Chernobyl Children's International has experienced first-hand the horror of nuclear effects, and dreads the thought of radiation being unleashed on a large scale on the world again.

Ms Carolan has undergone 25 operations to treat the health issues she was born with as a result of the radiation from the disaster. These included a cleft palate and eventual limb amputation as she was born with webbed legs and a club foot.

The young woman, who now has a masters in criminology, calls herself a 'Meath woman' after being adopted by Tom and the late Ann Carolan in Trim where she has lived since she was 10 years old.

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There are a lot of people buried in the exclusion zone who gave their lives in order to close down the reactor and save others, and this invasion is... disturbing those graves

In the last year, she has tracked down her birth family after a search of many years and has been in regular contact with them in Belarus by email since January.

The Russian invasion means she is worried for their safety and any dreams of meeting them soon may now be scuppered.

"I am very fearful of the consequences if the reactor is activated again or sealed radiation is emitted on a large scale over the region, and indeed into wider European territories. The results could be catastrophic," she said.

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"There are also a lot of people buried in the exclusion zone who gave their lives in order to close down the reactor and save others, and this invasion is trespassing on that exclusion zone and disturbing those graves."

Birth family

After surviving an orphanage in Belarus and undergoing numerous painful operations to improve her health, Ms Carolan undertook a search for her family which lasted many years before finally tracing her parents and brother with the help of Adi Roche.

"In the last year I have found my family, my mother and father and brother, all of whom are still living in Belarus," she said.

"I have been emailing my brother regularly and I had hoped that I would meet them soon, but I don't think that is now going to happen for a long time and I fear for their safety as no one can guess how this conflict will play out or escalate.

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"I've already been through a Chernobyl nuclear disaster as a child and I've seen the devastation it has caused to both the physical and mental health of children who have been left with defects and disregarded and abused in orphanages."

Ms Carolan has no good memories of her harsh orphanage life, where she was physically abused and "left to one side" and does not want these experiences to be revisited by anyone again.

"You are treated as nothing and not worth the time to teach how to eat or talk.  I was left in my cot in the same clothes for days.

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"I was punished if I stepped out of line with a belt buckle or nettles from the nearby woods.

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"There was a room in the orphanage full of toys - everything a child could dream of. But it was all for show for visitors. When they'd arrive, we'd be allowed to play there, to pretend everything was great.  When the visitors left, the toys were taken from us and the room was locked again. I was lucky to be helped by Adi and I was incredibly blessed to find my Irish mother Ann.

"Even on Valentine's Day, Adi and the Chernobyl Children's International helped to stage heart operations on 30 babies suffering from defects due to the fallout from Chernobyl. The horror from 1986 is still going on and we don't want a new band of radiation to cause even more suffering.

"I don't ever want to see another Chernobyl and hope from the bottom of my heart that this will not be the case."

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