By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST/KIEV (BosNewsLife)– Devoted Russian and Ukrainian Christians were among those commemorating the 25th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear disaster Tuesday, April 26, amid new warnings that the impact of the explosion at Ukraine’s Chernobyl plant is more serious than previously thought.
“Frankly, the true effects of Chernobyl are difficult to assess because the Soviet Union worked hard to cover up the disaster,” said mission group Russian Ministries, which is supporting a national church of survivors in Ivankov, a small town near Chernobyl.
Even decades later, the government of what is now independent Ukraine stands accused of not revealing the full extend of the explosion at Chernobyl’s fourth reactor on that fateful morning of April 26, 1986.
Ukrainian officials and the United Nation’s World Health Organization say that among the 600,000 people most heavily exposed to radiation, 4,000 more cancer deaths than average are expected to be eventually found.
Yet, the vice chairman of the Green Party in Ukraine, Pavlo Khazan, told BosNewsLife the situation is much more serious. “According to our calculation it is around 900,000 deaths from Chernobyl so far. Some governmental data try to decrease influence of Chernobyl and try to decrease contamination information,” he explained.
“Maybe it is above three- or four-million children who are suffering of the Chernobyl catastrophe,” which spewed a radio active cloud over much of Europe, Khazan added.
The blast forced hundreds of thousands from their homes in heavily hit areas in Ukraine, neighboring Belarus and western Russia. Among those suffering were Christians who now gather at the church supported by Russian Ministries.
“Church members have set up a room where people can come for clothing and other essentials,” Russian Ministries said in a report on its work. Survivors of Chernobyl are often frail and impoverished. They include clean-up workers who were among the 600,000 so-called “liquidators” sent from all over the Soviet Union to Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear-power plant soon after the explosion and fire there.
The workers were eventually promised relatively generous benefits as compensation for their unhealthy exposure to radiation. But recently they saw their monthly pensions reduced from just more than $200 to $150, barely enough to buy necessary medicines and food.
The government says it simply doesn’t have the money to pay them more.
Russian Ministries said its affiliate in Russia, known as the Association for Spiritual Renewal (ASR) is involved in provide humanitarian aid to the impoverished people in the Chernobyl area. “A staff member with ASR recently spoke with a woman, who expressed her deep gratefulness for the aid, which includes clothing and medical equipment.”
It said Christian relief will remain needed for some time to come. “Towns in the exclusion zone [near Chernobyl] such as Pripyat, Ukraine, resemble more ghost towns than working communities. And, though, the village of Stary Vshkov in Russia, is 177 kilometers (110 miles) from Chernobyl, the fallout still clings to residents like a cloak of gloom and despair.”
The then Soviet Union evacuated residents in a 10 kilometer (6.2 miles) zone surrounding the reactor, and eventually, that exclusion zone was extended. “But even five years ago, in 2006, some five million people in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus were living in areas where radiation levels are well above normal,” Russian Ministries stressed.
On Tuesday, April 26, Christians and mourners still living in these areas gathered for a candle-lit memorial service at a monument honoring those who already died in the Ukrainian town of Slavutich, near the devastated reactor.
Later the leaders of Ukraine and neighboring Russia traveled to Chernobyl, where Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged the world to work out unified guidelines to prevent accidents such as the Chernobyl disaster.
His Ukrainian counterpart Victor Yanukovich also urged the international community to help him raise $300 million still missing to cover up the plant, saying the recent nuclear disaster in Japan shows that “no country is able to deal with such a catastrophe alone.”
It was unclear whether the nation’s olichards, who enriched themselves with shaky business deals, would be asked to participate in donations. “A lot of money was spend on Chernobyl,” said Khazan, referring to the hunderds of millions of dollars in international support. However, “a lot of money was stolen. Now the issue of confinement over confinement [of Chernobyl] is also a business issue…
Because nobody knows how much radio active material is inside the reactor. There was never an independent investigation,” he added.
These words did little to ease the pain for those who lost friends and family members, including an elderly woman who mourned at a ceremony in Kiev. “We come here every year to remember our friends and family members who lived near the reactor during the disaster,” she said, without revealing her name. “This is very emotional for many people, because people still die due to the tragedy…”
Yet there was some signs of hope Tuesday, April 26. As people remembered those who died, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow was tolling 25 times a bell at the exact moment that Chernobyl’s reactor exploded, 25 years ago.
It was the first time a leader of the Russian Orthodox church attended the event in Ukraine in an effort to strengthen ties between Orthodox Christians — and governments — in the two nations.