By Lydia O’Kane
An orphanage in Belarus is battling an outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.
The Vesnova orphanage is home to over 170 vulnerable children and young adults with severe disabilities, genetic disorders and weakened immune systems. Around 13 children were diagnosed with the virus last week but cases since then have trebled.
The orphanage is supported by Irish charity, Chernobyl Children International.
Its founder and Voluntary CEO, Adi Roche, said the news has been shattering.
Aiding the most vulnerable
“I’m still stunned by a phone call I got last Wednesday from some staff members in a children’s institution which we founded over twenty years ago which is full of children affected by Chernobyl. … We got the phone call begging for help…”
She told Vatican News that there are no painkillers, cough bottles or sanitizers, and the children’s institution is in the middle of nowhere.
The Vesnova orphanage is just one of the institutions in Belarus where the charity is working to support children. The aim is to help them regain their right to a family life and to end the institutionalisation of children, in conjunction with authorities in Belarus.
The CEO said that the state has now responded to the outbreak, and has sent 20 experts who are now helping the institution. The charity itself is also sending aid including PPE equipment.
Amid this dramatic situation, the Irish charity is joining with other disability organisations in Belarus to call for proper social distancing measures to be put in place at these institutions in order to halt the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
They are also proposing that children who are mobile be transferred to summer camps where social distancing will be easier to maintain.
“We cannot abandon the children,” Ms Roche said. “We’re here for the long haul… We’ve been involved with the children of Chernobyl and the children of Belarus and Ukraine since 1986 and no matter how bad the rest of the world is at the moment we are not going to turn our backs (on them).”
The outbreak of the coronavirus came just days before the 34th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster which was observed on the 26th April as United Nations Chernobyl Remembrance Day.
“The nature of the virus and the nature of radioactivity are actually really, really very similar. It’s this invisible enemy that recognizes no boundaries…and it goes on doing its damage. The only difference I hope and pray is that once we get the antidote to the virus that will be the end, whereas unfortunately, the consequences of Chernobyl go on into infinity”, Ms Roche said.
The effects of forest fires
Another situation which has also impacted the lives of children in the region are the recent forest fires which began following an unusually dry weather spell on April 3rd.
At one stage the blaze was just one kilometre away from the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Ms Roche said that, as a result of these fires, eight villages in Ukraine were burned to the ground in radiation zones.
These people are now homeless, and there are six to seven hundred children who are without a roof over their heads. They have been left standing in the clothes they were wearing at the time of the fires.
“Before we even got the Covid bad news we’d been spending time raising funds and getting clothes, shoes and basic medicines together”, the Voluntary CEO said, “We need to move those children but we can’t because of the pandemic. Covid-19 means that these children have to stay where they are with their families. In a sense, were fighting on two fronts with both the virus and the effects of the recent forest fires,” she said.