21 years since the Chernobyl Disaster

Ceremonies are taking place today in Ukraine and in other countries in memory of the victims of the terrible disaster.

President Yushchenko called on the authorities and society to make every effort to revive the Chernobyl zone. In a statement to mark the anniversary circulated by the press service, the President stated:  “As the Head of State I insist that all State bodies should give priority to developing the polluted territory, to social rehabilitation of the people there and to creating favourable conditions for their active life”.

He added that the areas affected by the accident needed a contemporary system of healthcare, and that programmes for economic development and attracting investment needed to be drawn up and implemented. “Chernobyl for Ukraine cannot be in the past tense. Post-Chernobyl regeneration was and remains our most important task … It is our shared duty to care for the people whom the Chernobyl disaster affected”.

On behalf of Ukraine, the President expressed gratitude to international partners who have actively provided assistance to regions affected by the disaster.

On Thursday the Secretary-General of the United Nations stated:

“Science has shown that, after two decades, a return to normal life is a realistic prospect for people living in the Chernobyl-affected regions. To achieve this aim, what these areas need most now is sustainable social and economic development, new jobs, fresh investment and the restoration of a sense of community self-sufficiency. Great progress has been achieved, but international assistance remains essential.  …The communities affected by Chernobyl have shown great resilience in coping with a disaster of tremendous magnitude. The Secretary-General calls on the international community to do its part in helping them to bring a region so rich in history and potential fully back to life”.

In Kyiv during the night there was a Memorial Service and ceremony of wreath-laying at the Memorial to the Heroes of Chernobyl. At one o’clock in the morning, at a small choice on the left bank of the Dnipro River, the President, leader of the Opposition Yulia Tymoshenko and Mayor of Kyiv Leonid Chernovetsky laid flowers in silence at the Memorial.  There were no meetings or addresses this year.

At the site of a new Memorial Plaque to the victims of the catastrophe “Chernobyl Bell” in Bila Tserkva, the President stressed that the problem of Chernobyl was one for the entire country and that the zone needed development.

The explosion in the Fourth Block of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in the early hours of 26 April 1986 spread radiation over Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and to a lesser extent a number of other European countries.

The communist authorities in Moscow and in Kyiv concealed the extent of the disaster for two weeks and the population was not warned of the danger to their health. The authorities gave the International Atomic Energy Agency wrong information about the release into the atmosphere of radioactive substances, claiming 3%, whereas the real extent was between 60 and 80%.

It was only in April 1990 that the Supreme Soviet of the USSR officially acknowledged that the previous information about the scale of the catastrophe had been the result of lies and an incorrect assessment of the real extent.

According to official figures, between 1986 and 1987 around 600 thousand people took part in work to eliminate the consequences of the catastrophe. 200 thousand received excessive amounts of radiation. In all, over 5 million people suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster, over half of that number in Ukraine.

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station was closed on 15 December 2000.

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