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Reopen Chernobyl, 8,000 protesters cry

©Associated Press
December 18, 2002

KIEV, Ukraine -- Braving freezing weather, thousands of Ukrainians rallied Tuesday to call for the reopening of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and to demand funding promised when the plant closed two years ago.

Some 8,000 to 10,000 people, including hundreds of pensioners and children who suffered health damage from the Chernobyl accident, came to Kiev's central Sofia Square.

Protesters demanded that Ukraine and Western governments restore benefits to 3.3-million people affected by the accident or that the plant be partially reopened to provide electricity and jobs. They waved banners reading "Give Chernobyl a second life" and "No money, no safety."

Chernobyl was the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986, when one of its reactors exploded, sending a radioactive cloud over much of Europe.

"We want to restore everything that has been taken from these kids' lives -- medicine is not provided, there's no rehabilitation, no food. Everything has been taken from the children," said Nadezhda Matyesh, director of the Chernobyl Children's Fund for Survival.

After the one-hour protest, demonstrators broke into groups to picket the embassies of the Group of Seven richest nations, demanding their governments finance programs to meet Ukraine's energy needs.

Ukraine's government has been unable to meet its Soviet-era obligations to provide social protections for accident survivors.

The Canadian Embassy said the G-7 countries and the European Union never agreed to provide funds to cover the social effects of Chernobyl's closure, adding that they have pledged $200-million more for technical work than was originally agreed in 1995.

Ukraine shuttered Chernobyl's last reactor in December 2000.

Yuriy Andreyev, president of the advocacy group Ukrainian Union of Chernobyl, said one reactor at the Chernobyl plant could be restarted in two to three weeks "if the West refuses to keep its promises."

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