Ukraine and Belarus appealed to the world
on Friday not to forget Chernobyl and its victims who still
need help 16 years after the world's worst nuclear disaster
spewed clouds of radioactivity across much of Europe.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Prime Minister Anatoly
Kinakh and other officials laid flowers at a symbolic burial
mound in the capital Kiev, paying tribute to those who died
after Chernobyl's reactor four exploded on April 26, 1986.
An unknown relative of firefighter Leonid Toptunov, who perished in the Chernobyl catastrophe, places flowers at Mitino cemetery in Moscow, Friday, April 26, 2002. Hundreds of people came to Mitino cemetery where firefighters who died in the Chernobyl catastrophe are buried, to pay tribute to loved ones who perished in the world's worst nuclear accident 16 years ago. (AP Photo/Maxim Marmur)
Carrying flowers, officials lit candles for the dead at a
church built to commemorate the accident. Hours earlier
hundreds of Ukrainians gathered there with their heads bowed as
bells tolled just after one in the morning--the time of the
"The Chernobyl catastrophe should never be wiped from human
memory," the government said in a state newspaper. It urged
human and financial support for the people involved in the
clean-up--so-called liquidators--and other victims. "We call
upon voluntary organizations, funds, every concerned citizen to
show understanding and help heal the painful problems of the
liquidators...those who were evacuated from their birthplaces,
invalids and families who lost breadwinners as a result of the
accident at Chernobyl."
The Chernobyl explosion, which killed just over 30
firefighters at the time, has been blamed for thousands of
deaths due to radiation-linked illness and for a huge increase
in thyroid cancer.
Dozens of women laid red carnations at the burial mound,
silent and thoughtful as yet another year passes with Ukraine,
neighboring Belarus and Russia unable to overcome the
consequences of the accident.
In Belarus, thousands gathered near the center of the
capital Minsk to call for government and international help to
heal the scars of the fall-out, demanding an end to food output
from miles of land contaminated with radioactive debris.
Struck by poverty, many in Ukraine and Belarus pick
mushrooms and berries with high levels of radioactivity.
Health specialists have advised that genetic mutations and
contaminated food could lead to a new generation of Chernobyl
victims and prolong the tragedy for years to come.
One academic, Dmitry Hrodzinsky, also said he believed the
concrete tomb now encasing the ruined reactor was unsafe,
allowing radioactive dust to seep into the environment--a
statement denied by officials.
Officials at the plant agree the reactor needs another
covering, dubbed a second shelter, but say radiation levels are
decreasing and the ruined reactor poses little threat.
"Today the situation at the station is stable," said
Volodymyr Kholoshcha, head of the Chernobyl zone's
Ukraine's government said it would strive to make the
reactor safe, improve the lives of the accident's victims and
revive contaminated lands, but that it needed funds promised by
the West when Chernobyl was shut down in 2000.
"We hope that the 16th anniversary of this dreadful
event...will attract the attention of the world community to
the global problem of...protecting the world from future
(industrial and ecological) disasters," the government said.
"We believe our appeal will reach the hearts of those who
understand others' sorrow."
Copyright 2002 Reuters Ltd