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Friday, 15 December, 2000, 13:05 GMT
Mixed feelings as Chernobyl closes
Graves of Chernobyl victims
Ukraine still struggles to come to terms with the 1986 disaster
The closure of the Chernobyl nuclear power staton - when President Leonid Kuchma ordered workers at the station to press the Stop button - was broadcast live on Ukrainian TV.

A huge screen was erected in the centre of the capital, Kiev, especially to show the event.

And nearly all Friday's papers featured the story, though not all on the front page.

Headlines such as "The end of the Chernobyl era", "Goodbye Chernobyl", and "Let's not rejoice but light a candle", were typical. "If only we can get through the winter", said another.

A child's drawing of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant
Many Ukrainians worry about what the future holds
In the articles themselves, feelings were mixed. Most papers felt the closure had to come, though some thought it should have been delayed.

As one paper said, this would have allowed more time to create jobs for the workers at the station who will be made redundant.

The fate of these workers has been one of the most prominent features of the media coverage.

The mayor of the Chernobyl satellite town of Slavutych, Volodymy Udovychenko, has given numerous interviews.

Although Mr Udovychenko says he is optimistic about the future, he has pointed out that nearly 3,000 people will lose their jobs next year. Only a few hundred jobs have so far been created for the unemployed.

Workers in mourning

A popular ploy by TV crews has been to film Chernobyl workers on the sealed train that carries them across the closed zone from Slavutych to Chernobyl every morning.

"We don't know how we're going to live," one woman worker told a journalist. "I don't know what will happen," said another.

One TV report showed all the workers in the Chernobyl control room wearing black armbands, in mourning for the end of the station.

The social problems faced by the victims have been widely featured over the past weeks.

Nearly 7% of the population - over 3.3 million people - are classified as Chernobyl victims. They are entitled to benefits which the state has never been able to afford to pay in full.

If everyone had got what they were entitled to in 2000, it would have cost over $818m, deputy Emergency Situations Minister Volodymyr Lohinov told the Pravda Ukrainy newspaper. But the state could only provide $286m.

Benefit cuts

Over the last month, victims' organizations have brought thousands on to the streets of Kiev to protest against the 2001 budget, which was approved by parliament last week, cutting some benefits by 30%.

Their plight touches a special chord in a country where the average wage is $45 a month, the average old-age pension $12, and wages and benefits routinely remain unpaid for months or even years.


We are demonstrating our readiness to fall in with the wishes of the rest of the world, and what are we getting in return?

Ukrainian paper Silski Visti
The anti-government paper Silski Visti contrasted the elaborate closure ceremony with the poverty of most Ukrainians.

"What is the use of these inaugurations, these ceremonial gatherings and balls when people are groaning with hunger and cold, when crime roams the streets and when the victims of unemployment are multiplying by the hour?" the paper asked.

It touched on another popular theme when it said, "We are demonstrating our readiness to fall in with the wishes of the rest of the world, and what are we getting in return?"

Ukraina Moloda echoed this sentiment. "The state's image in return for a load of social and energy problems. Was there another choice, and why didn't Ukraine make it?"

Many people are worried about the closure's impact on Ukraine's already precarious energy situation.

A poll on Ukraine's most popular TV channel produced 7,000 viewers who thought the station should have been kept open as against just over 2,000 who supported closing it down.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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