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Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
Chernobyl's grim legacy
Chernobyl Tram
Ukraine's special tram reminds people of Chernobyl
Sombre memorial ceremonies were held in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia on Wednesday to mark the 14th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident - the 1986 explosion at Ukraine's Chernobyl atomic power plant.

The leaders of Ukraine and Belarus appealed for funds from the international community to help offset the cost of decommissioning the plant and meet the needs of people affected by the disaster.

Chernobyl reactor
Chernobyl's stricken reactor is now encased in concrete

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Chernobyl monument in the capital Kiev.

A church bell tolled 14 times at 1.23 am (2223 GMT Tuesday), the exact time of the 1986 accident, which spewed a radioactive cloud across much of Europe.

A "Chernobyl Tram" also began travelling around Kiev as a reminder of the continuing suffering caused by the disaster.

Woman making donation on tram
Kiev's "Chernobyl Tram" has a donation box

Instead of a ticket machine the tram has a charity collection box. The donations go to Chernobyl invalids and families of those who died in the disaster.

Pictures of clean-up workers who died putting out the lethal blaze at the number four reactor are on display inside the tram. Outside, the tram bears the words: "Chernobyl Is Our Pain".

About 30 people were killed immediately and thousands were evacuated from the stricken region.

But a group representing the clean-up workers puts the number of those who died over the years from radiation poisoning at 15,000.

Financial aid

President Kuchma warned that the creaking nuclear plant would only be decommissioned by the end of this year if the international community honoured its commitment to deliver $2.3bn in financial aid to Ukraine.

One of Chernobyl's four nuclear reactors is still operating.

Ukraine's Health Ministry estimates that 3.5 million people, over a third of them children, have suffered illness as a result of the contamination.

Cases of thyroid cancer have increased ten-fold since the disaster, the ministry says.

According to UN figures, millions in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia still live on contaminated land.

In neighbouring Belarus, about 10,000 opposition supporters marched through the capital Minsk to mark the anniversary.

Opposition marchers
About 10,000 opposition activists marched through Minsk

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko meanwhile visited villages polluted by the disaster.

He appealed to Russia, Ukraine and the West to help fund research into the effects of the disaster and "to help people who live here".

President Lukashenko said one-fifth of Belarus was polluted with radiation from Chernobyl.

The radiation spread by Chernobyl was equivalent to 500 times that released by the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

A special memorial ceremony was also held at Moscow's Mitino cemetery.

Russian woman mourner
A Chernobyl victim's relative at Moscow's Mitino cemetery

Russian Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoygu said 55,000 people who participated in the Chernobyl clean-up had either died or been severely handicapped, the Interfax news agency reported.

A message from President-elect Vladimir Putin said the "black landmark" of Chernobyl "still casts a shadow over the fate of millions of Russian people".

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See also:

22 Apr 00 | Europe
Deadly toll of Chernobyl
29 Mar 00 | Europe
Chernobyl closure plan
24 May 99 | Sci/Tech
Chernobyl legacy mounts
23 Jul 98 | Europe
'Close Chernobyl before 2000'
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