UKRAINE TO QUIZ MOSCOW ABOUT SOVIET-ERA ROCKET FUEL SPILLS. President Leonid Kuchma on 29 August visited the area in Mykolayiv Oblast where more than 400 people have succumbed to an illness blamed on Soviet-era rocket fuel, Interfax reported. Kuchma said he will ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to help obtain information from Russia's Defense Ministry about possible rocket fuel discharges from missile bases during the Soviet era. Ukraine's Defense Ministry asserts that there have been no accidents at the missile launching sites in the affected area since 1978. "We will declare this region an area of environmental emergency [and] conduct a comprehensive analysis of all the sites where missiles were based in the Soviet era," Kuchma pledged. However, he said he is not convinced that the poisoning was caused by rocket fuel waste, adding that the cause might have been a "complex" one. JM

UKRAINIAN PENSIONERS DEMAND OFFICIAL STATUS FOR RUSSIAN, CHEAP UTILITIES. Some 6,000 pensioners marched in Donetsk on 29 August to demand that the local authorities grant official status to the Russian language in their heavily industrialized and mainly Russian-speaking region, Interfax reported. The pensioners also demanded that the prices for utilities, housing, and bread be lowered. According to Hryhoriy Samoylyk, leader of the Donetsk branch of the Socialist Party, the oblast population owed 851 million hryvni ($156 million) in utility payments as of 1 July, while wage arrears in the oblast stood at 800 million hryvni. The same day, the Donetsk Oblast Council refused to put the pensioners' demands on its agenda, prompting the demonstrators to announce they will stage another protest on 12 September. JM

...WHILE WALESA CALLS FOR WESTERN AID TO POST-COMMUNIST COUNTRIES. Later the same day, Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek opened a conference attended by a number of European prime ministers, leaders of the European People's Party, Solidarity figures, and historians to discuss the role of international solidarity in European integration. Speaking at the conference, Walesa urged the West to create a new assistance program for the post-communist countries that would be similar to the post-war Marshall Plan. "This is the only way to ensure controlled development and progress," he said, mentioning Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine as countries that urgently require help. JM