Rita’s long hug for Alesya says it all

Tears of joy, laughter and bear hugs of happiness were on view at the Aspect Hotel, Kilkenny on Thursday when 43 children from Belarus arrived for a month of relaxation and recuperation thanks to the Chernobyl Children’s International Group with the parents and volunteers who take them into their homes and hearts.

Tears of joy, laughter and bear hugs of happiness were on view at the Aspect Hotel, Kilkenny on Thursday when 43 children from Belarus arrived for a month of relaxation and recuperation thanks to the Chernobyl Children’s International Group with the parents and volunteers who take them into their homes and hearts.

The children arrived Shannon Airport and travelled to Kilkenny by bus driven by Jim Kavanagh, a man who has long led the Kilkenny Chernobyl Outreach Group.

Some of the children are returning to be reunited with loved ones, feeling completely at home. Others looked a little bewildered as they arrived for the first time.

Rita Cullen and her husband Pierce have for several years welcomed a young girl, Alesya Ahremchik now 12, into their home with their children Lorna and Simon as well as family pet, Sasha. The hug which they shared as they met again seemed to go on forever and as soon as the Belarusian youngster got back to her ‘Irish home’ she had all her cuddly toys out in the bedroom and was settling in to watch a marathon session of Scooby Doo cartoons recorded lovingly by her ‘Papa P’ during the months she is away. This year the couple have taken in another young child, a seven year old boy, Genia who suffers from Scoliosis. Genia is wheelchair bound but has already won over the Cullen’s own son, Simon. Genia was abandoned at birth due to his disabilities but stole Rita’s heart when she met him at Vesnova Orphanage. This is his first time to leave the confines of the orphanage and every day brings new excitement for him. It is hoped during his visit he can avail of physical Therapy to improve his posture he spends many hours sitting in a brace which is no longer suitable.