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GAZPROM TO REVIEW GAS PRICE FOR UKRAINE UPWARD IN JULY. Gazprom deputy chief Aleksandr Medvedev said in an interview with the April 17 issue of the Ukrainian weekly "Kontrakty" that Gazprom will increase gas price for Ukraine as of July. Under a deal from January, the price for Russian gas supplies to Ukraine increased from $50 to $95 per 1,000 cubic meters, but the deal guarantees this new price only for the first six months of 2006. "The question of reviewing the price will be raised on July 1, 2006," Medvedev told "Kontrakty," adding that the market price for Ukraine is $230 per 1,000 cubic meters. At the same time he stressed that, in accordance with the January deal, the transit tariff for Russian gas pipelined across Ukraine to Europe will remain unchanged until 2011 at the level of $1.6 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers. Medvedev added that gas price concessions could be considered only if Ukraine was willing to create a consortium with Russia for joint control over the Ukrainian gas-pipeline network. JM

KYIV GETS NEW MAYOR. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on April 20 appointed Leonid Chernovetskyy, the winner of the March 26 mayoral election in Kyiv, as chairman of the Kyiv city administration, Ukrainian media reported, quoting the presidential press service. At the same time Yushchenko dismissed former Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko. The presidential decisions put a formal end to a dispute between Omelchenko and Chernovetskyy, in which the former accused the latter of bribing voters during the election campaign and tried to challenge Chernovetskyy's election victory in court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 4, 2006). JM


RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report Vol. 8, No. 15, 21 April 2006

A Survey of Developments in Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team.

CHORNOBYL 20 YEARS LATER: WHAT LESSONS HAVE BEEN LEARNED? Twenty years ago in the early morning of April 26, while most of Europe lay oblivious and asleep, a chain of events had begun in Soviet Ukraine that was to unleash a catastrophe of unprecedented scale. At 1:23 a.m., a massive surge of power in the fourth reactor at the huge Chornobyl (Chernobyl) power station triggered an explosion that lifted the 1,000-ton lid off the reactor's core. Within hours a column of radioactive material some 1 kilometer high was drifting northwest across Europe. As panic gripped the continent, hundreds of thousands of people, many of them volunteers, fought with astonishing courage to control the accident. Twenty years on, what are the lessons of Chornobyl and what are its consequences?

Snow still lay on the ground in Slavutych in defiance of the early March sunshine. Even at midday, the town had an unnatural stillness, underlined -- not broken -- by the occasional shopper or group of schoolchildren.

The town's strangeness has a cause. Slavutych is the child of the Chornobyl disaster, a small city constructed from nothing to take in the evacuated staff of the nuclear plant and their families.

Just 50 kilometers from Chornobyl, it was built as a showcase and a demonstration of the indomitable human spirit but in its own way it too has become a testimony to tragedy.

Its energetic mayor, Volodymyr Udovychenko, who is himself a former employee of the nuclear power station, is a tireless advocate of the Slavutych cause. He argues that the Ukrainian government undertook to guarantee jobs for the workers laid off by the closure of Chornobyl.

"The main problem today is the budget problem of Slavutych -- and that's not even addressing the issues of medical care," Udovychenko says. "It's not right to apply the same standards for the workforce of the Chornobyl atomic station as we have in the rest of Ukraine. Here in Slavutych there are 8,000 people who took part, one way or another, in the containment of the explosion and the cleanup. We can say that the government of Ukraine is not fulfilling its commitments made when closing the Chornobyl nuclear power station."

Udovychenko is talking about unemployment. Built as a model town, the continued dependence of Slavutych on the station threatens it with ruin.

"In 1999 we still had 10,000 jobs here at the power station," he says. "Today, we're down to 3,620. In other words, we've been through a huge transformation. But if we lose those jobs as well, it will be a catastrophe for Slavutych."

In September 2005, the UN-sponsored Chernobyl Forum presented the conclusions of its digest report on Chornobyl's legacy, a massive 600-page analysis incorporating the work of hundreds of scientists and experts. It is the most thorough examination yet made of the health, sociological, environmental, and economic consequences of the accident.

It argues that so far fewer than 50 people have died of causes directly attributable to radiation from the disaster but that, ultimately, several thousand could die from fatal cancers, in addition to the 100,000 cancer deaths expected in the region from other causes.

This is a far cry from the early predictions of a worldwide radiation-induced health disaster in which thousands would die from radiation sickness.

But, it says, less is understood about the dramatic increase in psychological problems caused by insufficient communication about radiation affects, the social disruption of evacuation, and economic depression.

Volodymyr Berkovsky of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Research Center for Radiation Medicine shares the report's view that the mental-health impact of Chornobyl is the largest public health problem unleashed by the accident to date.

"Unfortunately, we cannot discuss mental problems in terms of numbers like we discuss morbidity or mortality," he says. "It's rather subjective. It could be the consequence of accident. It could be something like simultaneous action of total problem in country plus Chornobyl. It is mostly superposition of different factors -- of economic problem, of economic stagnation, contamination, and so on."

Perhaps it is the subjective nature of the problem that has caused it to be somewhat neglected. The report notes that the psychological distress arising from the accident has been particularly acute among the 330,000 people evacuated and then relocated from the region most affected by the accident.

As the example of Slavutych shows, unemployment is one of the biggest consequences of the disaster. The station has shut down and the local economy all but collapsed. But, relatively speaking, the people of Slavutych have been privileged.

Most of the evacuees, the report says, have had huge difficulties adjusting to the disruption in their lives. They feel rootless and unwanted and share a fatalistic belief that their life expectancy has been reduced by exposure to radiation.

At the heart of the problem, the report argues, lies the failure of first the Soviet authorities and then subsequently the Ukrainian authorities to provide full information. Chornobyl has left a legacy of mistrust.

Yes Anders Knape, a vice president of the Bureau of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, thinks lessons should and can be learned. Knape was attending a conference organized in March by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe in Slavutych to share his experiences as deputy mayor of the Swedish city of Karlstadt, another town heavily dependent on nuclear energy.

The key, he says, is information. The local people need to be properly informed of the risks of living in the vicinity of a nuclear power station and trained to know what to do when things go wrong. Like many, he believes the scale of the evacuation was greater than it should have been:

"The reaction [at the time] was that the catastrophe was bigger than we can see [it was] today," he says. "Today we know we haven't had the extreme dimensions of people killed or of areas you can't live in and things like that. So that's very important to give back to people their hopes for the future, give back their land, give back their opportunities for work and living also in areas close to Chornobyl."

But it's not just more information that's needed. Knape argues that you need greater popular involvement in government as well. "When you have a catastrophe like this, in the beginning you have a lot of resources and a lot of focus coming from national government and from all over the world," he says.

"But when it comes back to ordinary days, it's the local authorities who have to meet the needs of the local population," he continues. "Of course, if you have an open and democratic local society, you also have a better chance to handle these types of situation."

Controversially, perhaps, the UN-sponsored Chernobyl Forum report argues that most of the contaminated territories are now safe for settlement and economic activity. Radiation levels, it maintains, have fallen several hundred times because of natural processes and countermeasures. Only in this way, it suggests, will it be possible for the evacuees of Chornobyl to begin the long process of reclaiming their lives. (Robert Parsons)

CHORNOBYL 20 YEARS LATER: GREENPEACE, OTHERS CHALLENGE IAEA REPORT ON DISASTER CONSEQUENCES. Greenpeace has sharply criticized a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency -- the United Nations' nuclear watchdog -- claiming the 1986 nuclear catastrophe at Chornobyl (Chernobyl) will cause no more than 4,000 deaths worldwide. Like a number of environmental organizations, Greenpeace accuses the report of "whitewashing" Chornobyl's impact and claims that some 200,000 people in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus could already have died as a result of the accident.

Parishev, 20 kilometers east of Chornobyl, was once a bustling village of several hundred people. Now, only a dozen people remain.

Speaking to RFE/RL one year ago, Halyna Yavchenko said the number of villagers in Parishev is shrinking and that people are dying one after the other. She herself complained of strong headaches and high blood pressure.

But she said she's not afraid to live in an abandoned village in the middle of a radioactive zone. If only the wild animals would leave her garden alone: "We are used to living here. But we are like wolves here. Last year, boars ate everything they could find."

Yavchenko is one of the many affected by the 1986 disaster, where a power surge triggered an explosion that emitted radiation across Europe. But experts disagree how severe the consequences of the disaster have been -- and how bad they still could be in the future.

A report released in September 2005 by the Chernobyl Forum,which comprises the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Development Program, said fewer than 50 deaths so far could be directly attributed to Chornobyl. The report claimed the disaster will cause no more than 4,000 deaths worldwide. It also found no profound negative health consequences to the rest of the population in surrounding areas.

These figures take into account only the people most exposed: those sent to "liquidate" the consequence of the explosion, and those who lived in nearby towns at the time of the accident.

The IAEA says its findings regarding the environmental impact of the blast are also "reassuring," with radiation levels mostly returning to normal.

The report claims that poverty, disease, and mental-health problems in the former Soviet Union actually pose a far greater health threat than radiation exposure.

But this verdict has been challenged by a number of organizations, including Greenpeace and associations of Chornobyl "liquidators."

Speaking at a press conference on April 18 in Kyiv, Bruno Rebelle, a program director for Greenpeace International, said the number of Chornobyl-related deaths is much higher: "The most recent published figures indicates that in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine alone, the accident resulted in an estimated 200,000 additional deaths between 1994 and 2000."

A recent Greenpeace report, which is partly based on research from the Russian and Belarusian Academies of Sciences, says that the incidence of cancer in Belarus jumped 40 percent between 1990 and 2000. And, according to the report, children born after 1986 have shown a 88.5-fold increase in thyroid cancers.

Speaking at a Greenpeace news conference in Moscow earlier this month, Lyudmilla Komogortseva, a deputy from the Bryansk Oblast -- Russia's region most affected by the accident -- said the incidence of cancer in her region is 10 to 15 percent higher than the national average.

"Today one can say with certainty that the Chornobyl catastrophe, even what is called low radiation doses, has a negative effect on the health of people living in the regions exposed to radioactive pollution," Komogortseva said.

Komogortseva lashed out at the Russian government for failing to pay compensation to the Bransk population for health damage and slashing ecological and health programs set up in the region after the disaster.

Some experts and local residents are also concerned about the dangers of contaminated food.

Komogortseva said more than 50 percent of food products in the Bryansk region are contaminated, according to official figures from Russian veterinary sources. In addition, she said, local residents widely consume mushrooms, berries, and game from the forests, where most of the radiation is concentrated.

Speaking at the same press conference, Vladimir Chuprov, the chief nuclear expert at Greenpeace's Moscow chapter, said these food products continue to pose a serious health threat: "These food products -- mushrooms, berries, meat, dairy products -- reach the Moscow market, the St. Petersburg market, the central European part of Russia. Specialized organizations are known to withdraw hundreds of kilograms of these products from Moscow markets every year. The problem here is general, this radiation is spreading, and one should in no circumstances close one's eyes to this problem, like the IAEA and our opponents from Rosatom are trying to do."

        The IAEA, however, dismisses such warnings.
        Didier Louvat, the head of the IAEA's waste safety

section that helped coordinate the UN report on Chornobyl, told RFE/RL there was no evidence showing low radiation doses increased the risk of cancer.

"The Bryansk region was the Russian region most affected by the [radioactive] fallout. So the Bryansk region forests are certainly the most contaminated. If this can be related to any increase of cancer in the region, among the population, even the population consuming forest products? The WHO report clearly said no," Louvat said. "Twenty percent of the population -- the Russian population, the world population -- are going to die of cancer. There is no way to attribute this cancer to one specific cause."

Greenpeace believes the authors of the Chernobyl Forum report have an agenda.

Chuprov said the report is part of a campaign to present nuclear energy as a reliable and safe source of energy: "The question is politicized. There is a powerful lobby, and public opinion on Chornobyl is the last barrier against the construction of new [nuclear] reactors in Russia and in the world. This is part of a PR campaign aimed at eliminating social disapproval, because according to social polls, 78 percent of Russians are against the construction of nuclear plants in their region."

Russia's atomic energy agency, Rosatom, has announced plans to build 40 new nuclear reactors in the country by 2030. (Luke Allnutt and Claire Bigg report) (RFE/RL's Valentinas Mite contributed to this report)

CHORNOBYL 20 YEARS LATER: POLITICAL LEGACY. Since 1986, learning the truth about the world's worst nuclear disaster has been more than a humanitarian and a health issue; it has also been a political challenge. The Chornobyl explosion is often linked to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It also had dramatic political consequences in the republics of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. Does Chornobyl still pose a political problem in these republics 20 years after the disaster?

The Chornobyl blast proved to be a crucial test for the Soviet government's new policy of openness -- one that it failed in horrific fashion.

Citizens were denied accurate information on the danger and scale of what happened not only in the crucial first days and weeks after the accident, but also in subsequent years.

For example, it emerged only in 1989 that nearly one-fourth of Belarus, which absorbed some 60 percent of the Chornobyl fallout, was significantly contaminated.

Former Ukrainian diplomat Yuriy Shcherbak wrote a documentary book on the Chornobyl accident as early as 1987, in an attempt to provide readers with more insight than they could get from the government. Shcherbak told RFE/RL in a recent interview that the suppression of accurate information about Chornobyl by the Gorbachev-era Soviet government helped increase the divide between the state and Soviet society: "The mendacious propaganda, the lack of reliable information [about Chornobyl] had affected millions of people, particularly in Ukraine, to such an extent that those people lost the rest of their faith in what Gorbachev was saying about perestroika, glasnost, and so on."

On the Ukrainian political scene, the catastrophe also launched a new type of realpolitik. Shcherbak asserts that the Chornobyl catastrophe was largely responsible for the readiness with which the Ukrainian parliament signed on to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty after gaining independence. The decision effectively obliged the fledgling state to destroy or return to Russia all nuclear weapons on its territory.

Shcherbak believes that since the closure of the plant's last reactor in 2000, Chornobyl has ceased to be a major political issue in Ukraine, but he does believe it will continue to impact government decisions in the nuclear-energy sphere. He says Ukraine should never forget the potential hazards of operating its 15 nuclear reactors at four power plants.

"We should proceed from the premise that we will have to live side by side with risk. We are taking a risk. And we should be taking a reasonable risk, not the one that might lead, God forbid, to a new Chornobyl-type catastrophe. We should enhance the safety of reactors," Shcherbak said.

Belarus does not have any nuclear power plants and is not planning to build any in the near future. The Chornobyl aftermath seems to persist in the country not only as a grave environmental issue but also a political one.

Viktor Ivashkevich, deputy head of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, argues that the authoritarian regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka treats Chornobyl-related issues in pretty much the same way the Soviet-era government did 20 years ago: "Belarus is facing the same political problem as 20 years ago. The authorities show no consideration whatsoever for people, hide all problems, and broadcast mendacious propaganda, while the population is shrinking."

Belarus adopted a long-term program for dealing with the Chornobyl consequences in 1990. Ivashkevich says the Lukashenka-government has backed down on some important measures envisioned by that program.

In particular, Ivashkevich says the government abolished checks for radioactivity of food products at most shops and markets, except for some major food retailers. But he doesn't believe the checks stopped because there was nothing to find.

"Food products are grown in areas where radioactivity exceeds 15 curie per square kilometer. Then these contaminated products are mixed with pure ones to obtain products of medium purity, and subsequently they are shipped to all of Belarus," Ivashkevich said.

Since 1989, the Belarusian opposition has managed to organize a "Chornobyl Way" march almost every year. Participants march to commemorate the Chornobyl anniversary and raise public awareness about unresolved problems related to the disaster. Although many of these marches have been dispersed or otherwise thwarted by police, another Chornobyl Way march is expected in Minsk this year (26 April).

Vladimir Chuprov, a chief nuclear-energy expert at Greenpeace Russia, believes the lasting consequences of Chornobyl in Russia are evident mainly in the environmental and social spheres. (Jan Maksymiuk)

"RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report" is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.