The Clonmel-born voluntary CEO of the Chernobyl Children International (CCI) charity thanked the city council and described being recognised by her “favourite city” as one of her proudest moments. It is a “great honour and privilege”, said Ms Roche, who is in war-torn eastern Ukraine, where she is co-ordinating CCI’s 35th Flying Doctors’ Cardiac Mission.
“I will be proud to accept the freedom of the city on behalf of myself and all our wonderful volunteers, staff, and donors and on behalf of all the innocent victims of Chernobyl, especially the children,” she said.
“In this the 30th anniversary of the catastrophic nuclear accident at Chernobyl and in this the 100th year anniversary of the emergence of our great nation there could be no greater honour.”
She said she would convey the news to the people of Chernobyl today.
“I will tell them that they are not forgotten, not by the people of Cork, not by the people of Ireland,” she said.
Ms Roche was speaking after city councillors voted 25 for, two against, with one abstention, in favour of Lord Mayor Chris O’Leary’s proposal to confer her with the freedom honour, with the ceremony most likely to take place in late May.
Mr O’Leary, who visited the Ukraine and Belarus this year with council chief executive Ann Doherty to see, first-hand, CCI’s work, said Ms Roche was a worthy recipient of the honour, given that her humanitarian work has made CCI the largest global contributor to victims of the 1986 nuclear disaster.
He also said he was delighted to receive near unanimous support for his proposal.
Former lord mayor, Councillor Terry Shannon (FF), who did not confer a freedom award during his mayorality, voted against the proposal, along with party colleague Councillor Sean Martin. Mr Shannon said he had nothing against Ms Roche personally, but believes the honour has been devalued by being conferred too often.
Councillor John Buttimer (FG), who conferred the freedom of the city on three people during his term as lord mayor, abstained.
However, Councillor Kieran McCarthy (Ind), described Ms Roche as an ideal candidate for the honour, given her international standing.
Ms Roche has received several international awards for her work, including the European Woman Laureate Award, the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award, the World of Children Health Award, and the 2015 Princess Grace Humanitarian Award.
Meanwhile, Cork athletes Rob Heffernan and Olive Loughnane are to be accorded a joint civic reception to mark their recent Olympic medal wins following the disqualification of drug cheats.
Award tinged with sadness for Roche
Just hours after being nominated to receive the Freedom of Cork, Adi Roche was back dealing with the harsh realities of life — and death — after Chernobyl.
The campaigner was mourning the death last night of inspirational Belarussian grandmother, Nadezhda Pribysh, who spent the last decade fighting to keep her severely disabled granddaughter, Nastya, out of state care, opting instead to care for her at home.
Her death leaves Nastya facing an uncertain future — another innocent victim of the Chernobyl disaster 30 years ago.
Nadezhda, or “granny” as she was affectionately known to Chernobyl Children International (CCI) volunteers, was part of the charity’s community care and hospice programme.
CCI had been helping “granny” and Nastya for over a decade with medical and practical care needs, ranging from providing them with food parcels, medical supplies, and equipment such as a walker, as well as medical and therapeutic services for Nastya.
Volunteer building teams also installed new windows and insulation in their house to keep it warm in the harsh Belarussian winters.
I stood in the front room of that house just weeks ago and listened to granny’s heartbreaking story of how despite her own ill-health, she was determined to care for Nastya at home, saving her from a life in a state-run institution.
The devoted grandmother, Nastya’s sole carer, told us that while there was ‘breath in my body she won’t go to one of those places’.
But word came through from Belarus yesterday that granny died suddenly at the weekend.
Tragically, she died soon after presenting at a hospital for routine medical tests that would have allowed her to become Nastya’s legal guardian, removing the worry of Nastya ever being placed in state care.
While granny was in the hospital, doctors discovered she had kidney failure. She died a short time later. She was just 66. She looked 20 years older — grinding poverty and years of relentless stress had taken its toll.
Heartbroken Ms Roche paid a moving tribute to her last night. “The love, dedication and care that granny showed Nastya will stay with Nastya forever and with us as a true testament to the strength of the human heart,” she said. “Despite the heavy worries this women carried, she shouldered it with uncommon compassion and kindness. Those who knew her knew a woman of tremendous resilience and strength and the heart and soul of an angel.”
Ms Roche, who is in the Ukraine, is working frantically with CCI staff on the ground to place Nastya in their Vesnova Children’s Home — a model of care in the region.