‘Chernobyl clean-up heroes feel dishonoured’ says Adi Roche

Valeriy Zaytsyev, 64, a former Chernobyl liquidator

Humanitarian Adi Roche has called on the global community to honour the sacrifice of Chernobyl’s forgotten hero ‘liquidators’.

In an emotional address to a special session of the UN General Assembly in New York convened yesterday to mark the Chernobyl disaster 30th anniversary, Ms Roche said the estimated 700,000 surviving liquidators — ordered to fight the power plant’s radioactive fire, contain the leaking radiation, and undertake the subsequent clean-up — deserve financial help as they suffer ongoing health issues.

Wearing a medal awarded to former Soviet officer and Chernobyl liquidator Valeriy Zaytsyev, Ms Roche told the UN that while many liquidators died, others have liveed with radiation-induced lifelong illnesses and almost all struggle with medical, psychological, and financial difficulties.

“These noble and self-sacrificing men ought to be rightly honoured and recognised today as the heroes who saved Europe and indeed the world from even greater catastrophe,” said Ms Roche. “Many feel that they have not been so honoured. In fact they feel that they have been dishonoured, neglected, abandoned, and forgotten.”

Nataliya Khodemchyuk, 64, widow of Chernobyl liquidator Valery Khodemchyuk, sits at his grave at the Mitino Cemetery in Moscow during a ceremony on the 30th anniversary of the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant yesterday. Picture: Pavel Golovkin/AP
Nataliya Khodemchyuk, 64, widow of Chernobyl liquidator Valery Khodemchyuk, sits at his grave at the Mitino Cemetery in Moscow during a ceremony on the 30th anniversary of the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant yesterday. Picture: Pavel Golovkin/AP

Mr Zaytsyev, 64, who was serving as a Soviet army officer in May 1986, was one of those ordered to the Chernobyl exclusion zone a month after the accident to help the decontamination operation. He spent seven months burying contaminated equipment and clothes.

In Ukraine last month, Mr Zaytsyev told Ms Roche that, just days into the operation, he suffered high fever and blood poured from his mouth, nose, and ears. In the years afterwards, he lost all his teeth, had surgery for cataracts — a condition common among liquidators — and survived a heart attack.

When Belarussia cut its supports for liquidators in 2007, he founded an association called Dopamoga (Help) and led court cases to restore liquidators’ rights and recognition. However, his own medical records disappeared and, with them, his right to benefits, as part of what he thinks was an effort by authorities to harass him.

Mr Zaytsyev gave Ms Roche his Chernobyl medal and asked that their story be told at the UN. Ms Roche told the assembly: “This medal has travelled from Ukraine to Ireland, Ireland to New York, so that these men’s stories may be heard, so they will no longer be silenced.”

During her address, Ms Roche also called for a ‘clean food’ fundfor Chernobyl-affected regions, for improved food monitoring, and for the reinstatement of radiation check-ups for people living in contaminated zones. She urged the UN to ensure highly radioactive zones are not declassified for farming and repopulation, and called for April 26 to be deemed an annual Chernobyl remembrance day.

Meanwhile, Maxim Peshkov, Russian ambassador to Ireland, and Serhii Romanenko, the chargés d’affaires of the Ukrainian embassy, attended a Chernobyl commemorative event in Cork’s Bishop Lucey Park yesterday, organised by The Greater Chernobyl Cause. The charity dispatched a humanitarian aid shipment to its newly built hospice in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, yesterday.

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