Distinguished members of the Commission,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to start with expressing my deep appreciation to you Mr. Chairman and members of the Commission for convening these hearings and inviting me to testify at them. I feel extremely honored to address the US Helsinki Commission – a body recognized internationally for being a distinct, respected and reliable voice in defense of human rights.
On the eve of Commission’s 30th anniversary let me commend you on the excellent work you and your predecessors have been doing in defending and promoting justice and democracy in our turbulent world.
Ukraine’s relations with the Commission go back to the years when independent Ukraine was still absent from the global political map and my nation was denied possibility to speak with its proper voice to express its centuries-long desire to establish a sovereign and democratic state. As Ukrainian Ambassador I would like to thank the Commission for the valuable and unswerving support you have rendered to Ukraine in its quest for independence and genuine democracy. I would like to address special words of gratitude to the staff members of the Commission – people who have been always conscious of the true meaning of the developments in Ukraine and have never given the hope up.
Commemoration of the 30 years of the United States Helsinki Commission and 20 years of the Chornobyl disaster nearly coincide in time putting into focus two inseparable dimensions of human existence: freedom and the right to life. Chornobyl was not only a “maximum credible accident” and the greatest man-made technological disaster. There is much more about Chornobyl catastrophe: this has become a frightening reminder of the awesome human cost – measured in lives and life-threatening health problems – of the lack of freedom, democratic procedures, civic control and transparency.
The plain and awful fact is that the biggest nuclear catastrophe in human history was kept secret from ordinary citizens, who were massively exposed to radiation exceeding the maximum acceptable level by hundred times.
During the critical period after explosion, while evacuating the local population from direct neighborhood of the nuclear power station, the Soviet government let millions of people in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia conduct their daily life as usual – unaware, unwarned, unprotected. On May 1st, four days after the disaster, people in Kyiv and dozens of other cities were urged to go outdoors to celebrate May Day, an official holiday in the Soviet Union. In those moments when radioactive cloud was reaching Sweden, when West Europeans were called to restrain from buying fruit and letting children play outside, in Ukraine parents carried their kids to the festivities.
It was only days later, that people of Ukraine came to know the full extent of what had happened to them, their families, their land.
By early May millions of people, including children, received unthinkable amounts of radiation as the volume of radioactive materials released into atmosphere exceeded Hiroshima by 400 times.
As a representative of the Ukrainian Government I am asking you to join people of Ukraine in commemorating one of the saddest anniversaries in my country’s history by, first and foremost, paying tribute to the victims of Chornobyl – both civilians and those heroes who unselfishly sacrificed their lives to tame the nuclear monster.
Scores of people were doomed and suffered a painful death in the following days, months and years. Many more are still struggling with the health problems rooted in those tragic events, including such serious ones as thyroid and breast cancer, and other tumors. Lives of millions are put at risk. Experts and humankind are yet to comprehend and assess the full scope of the hazardous consequences of the nuclear devastation, including continuous exposure to radiation of such magnitude.
About 5 million people were directly affected by explosion. As of January 2006, 2.6 mln. of Ukrainians have had the status of those affected by consequences of the Chornobyl accident. Over 570 thousand children officially registered as affected by the disaster continue to live in Ukraine.
Over half a million inhabitants of Ukraine who were affected by the Chornobyl accident died in 1987-2004. 35 thousand of them are the so called liquidators, those brave men and women who paid with their health and eventually lives to put out the fire in the erupted unit #4 of the station, evacuate local personnel and their families, bury the radioactive waste, and create what we call now Shelter-1 or Sarcophagus over Chornobyl’s “ground zero”.
6,769 children died of horrible diseases caused by the calamity including thyroid and other cancers.
Tens thousand square kilometers of once fertile and flourishing land remains radiation-polluted, as well as 2218 Ukrainian townships and settlements.
Since 1986 the Chornobyl payments have stood atop of the Ukrainian budget as a separate item used primarily to guarantee Chornobyl survivors a minimal level of medical treatment and social aid. By 2015 the financial expenditures of the Ukrainian Government in coping with the Chornobyl-related problems will amount to 170 billion dollars, an enormous sum for a country with the current annual budget around 20 billion.
Forty five thousand families of Chornobyl victims still remain on the waiting list for government-subsidized apartments, including 10,5 thousands handicapped people.
The burden of the Chornobyl expenses is enormous. Situation, however, can further deteriorate as a new problem is acquiring the utmost urgency. This is the problem that may have European and even global repercussions as the current confinement or “Shelter-1” over the ill-fated Reactor #4 can not hold it out for much longer. It has to be replaced by a more solid and safer construction without any further delay.
What we are facing is a stark reality of 200 tons of highly radioactive and melting substances separated from the rest of the world by the precarious construction which deserves the label “Deadly hazard” to be hammered down on it. Let me remind you that only 3% of the reactor fuel was released into atmosphere 20 years ago. The rest of it still represents the most horrible explosive device undermining the safety of the entire Europe. Just imagine the ceiling of this construction erected in 1986 by virtually bare-handed firemen, soldiers and rescue workers caving in. The most nightmarish sci-fi scenarios would pale before such a situation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Recently we have been alerted by the statements alleging that estimates of the Chornobyl aftermath were exaggerated and evidence directly relating radiation to the growing number of children and adult cancers in the affected regions sometimes was lacking or unreliable.
Earlier I have already mentioned official statistics issued by the Ukrainian government. I firmly believe they are convincing enough to counter this line of argument and give the idea of the real scope and gravity of the situation generated by the Chornobyl disaster.
I’d like also to stress that international community should be aware that the period of so-called half-life of radioactive strontium released into atmosphere in 1986 is 90 years. Therefore however scaring it might sound, the full story has not been told yet. The gravest implications of the catastrophe might be still ahead for Ukraine and other nations. We should be well prepared to face this eventuality.
When the Forum’s report was published, one of Ukrainian blogs wrote:
“Every attempt to set a death toll for Chernobyl accident is pure speculation, no one knows what it was, or will be in the end - not even approximately.
Chornobyl is not just a piece of our past. … It might be the future of our planet, because some day, we'll have to pay for all lies, hypocrisy and greed of the system.”
The price Ukraine has paid for the lies, hypocrisy and greed of the Soviet regime epitomized by Chornobyl and its aftermath has been enormous. What we need now is assistance in addressing two very concrete and urgent problems.
- Building a new reliable Shelter. Taking this opportunity I am asking the distinguished members of the Commission to weigh in their political authority to call upon all G8 members and other countries concerned to follow the example of the US Government and to make adequate financial contributions making possible the erection of the Shelter-2. The construction costs are estimated at slightly over 1 billion USD representing rather modest amount of money compared to the damages which 200 tons of highly radioactive waste still glowing underneath the corroded Shelter-1 might incur. We also urge all the signatories of the Ottawa Memorandum to honor their obligations concerning compensation of the losses suffered by Ukraine due to the decommissioning of the Chornobyl NPS.
- Meeting the health needs of the innocent children, suffering from hazardous effects of Chornobyl. We deeply appreciate the work done in this respect by the members of the US Congress, such as Co-Chairman Chris Smith and Representative Lincoln Diaz-Ballard. It was largely due to Mr. Diaz-Ballard’s efforts that on April 20th one of the biggest humanitarian airlifts organized by the Children of Chornobyl Fund arrived in Ukraine for the benefit of Chornobyl-affected children. I know that more projects are in preparation and I’m deeply thankful for them to our American partners.
I strongly believe that our two countries – Ukraine and the United States – will stand united in facing the challenges and preventing any new human tragedies that might be caused by the consequences of the disaster that happened twenty years ago, but remains so present in our lives.