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By Christina Ling
23 April 2000
KIEV (Reuters) -- About 1,500 Ukrainian survivors of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and their families marched through Kiev on Sunday to mark the 14th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident.
Umbrellas bobbed in drizzling rain among the orange and blue flags of activist groups, as marchers protesting against diminishing government compensation payments waved black banners, one of which read "Revising Chernobyl laws is genocide of the people."
"This year's budget is offensive to the invalids, widows and orphans of Chernobyl," the head of the Chernobyl Union Yuri Andreyev told Reuters, referring to the cash-strapped government's tight fiscal plan for 2000.
"We all know it will finish with a complete end to the Chernobyl program of social security."
Health officials said this week the April 26, 1986 fire and explosion at the plant's fourth reactor was still blighting the lives and health of Ukrainians, with some 3.5 million people sickened by radioactive contamination.
Over a third of that number were children. United Nations data show millions of people still live on contaminated land in Belarus, which bore the brunt of the disaster, and in Russia. Some parts of Western Europe were also polluted.
The U.N. has called for the international community, whose efforts so far have concentrated on trying to close the last remaining reactor at Chernobyl, to raise $9.5 million for health and ecological projects in the impoverished region.
"The health of people affected by the Chernobyl accident is getting worse and worse every year," Deputy Ukrainian Health Minister Olha Bobyleva told a news conference this week.
UKRAINE PROMISES CHERNOBYL CLOSURE THIS YEAR
Ukraine has promised the international community, fearing a repeat disaster if the Soviet-era station keeps working, to close Chernobyl by the end of this year but has set no date.
It says foreign partners have not stumped up promised funds to help close the station -- a complex and lengthy process -- and complete new reactors at other atomic stations to replace capacity lost at Chernobyl.
Ukraine's five nuclear power plants produce about half the nation's supply of electricity, which is in any case erratic across most of the country due to payment arrears and aging infrastructure.
The Group of Seven leading industrial nations says Ukraine must make good on its closure promises first.
Closure also puts a large question mark over the fate of roughly 6,000 workers who keep the station running.
"Of course I am for closing Chernobyl but it should have been done long ago. It's not so simple, and God forbid there should be any accident when they shut it down," said Nadezhda Matyash, head of a group of mothers of children with cancer.
"Closing it takes a lot of money which we don't have, and our foreign partners promise and promise but don't give funds."