Tributes paid to Dungannon girl adopted following Chernobyl disaster

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Tributes have been paid to a young Dungannon woman adopted following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Yuliya McKenna (23) was brought to Ireland from a Belarus orphanage by Dungannon couple Carmel and Martin McKenna when she was 11.

Sinn Féin assembly member Michelle Gildernew, a family friend, said the couple had “just fallen in love with her” when she first came to visit them, aged eight, as part of a scheme run by Chernobyl Children Appeal NI.

Born in Belarus several years after the 1986 nuclear disaster, she had been kept in an orphanage until she was adopted.

Yuliya had suffered ill-health since childhood and had a heart condition which was not discovered until she first came to the north.

It is understood she fell ill suddenly and died in hospital on Wednesday.

Ms Gildernew said Yuliya was a “very special girl”.

“She was a great girl, so charming and so witty,” she said. “Everyone was just in love with her.”

She added that Yuliya and the McKennas, who have four sons, were a “perfect fit”.

Chernobyl had a devastating affect on Belarus, with around two million people still living in contaminated zones.

Chernobyl Children Appeal NI has hosted thousands of children living in contaminated areas since 1994.

Funeral Mass was celebrated at St Patrick’s Church in Dungannon on Friday followed by burial at Carland Road Cemetery.