Thousands of veterans involved in cleaning up Ukraine's devastated Chernobyl nuclear power plant have demonstrated against cuts in benefits they receive as compensation for their exposure to radiation. The protest in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, comes just before the 25th anniversary of what is considered the worst atomic accident in history.
Former Chernobyl clean-up workers expressed anger at the government for drastically reducing pensions and for the rising cost of health care.
Those protesting in Kyiv were among 600,000 so-called "liquidators" sent from all over the Soviet Union to Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear-power plant, after an explosion and fire there on April 26, 1986.
They were eventually promised relatively generous benefits as compensation for their unhealthy exposure to radiation. But some frail protesters said they saw their monthly pensions reduced recently from just more than $200 to $150, barely enough to buy necessary medicines and food.
Ukraine's government says it does not have the money to meet benefit promises to tens of thousands of workers. Requirements to prove a connection between Chernobyl service and illness have also become tougher.
The vice-chairman of the Green Party in Ukraine, Pavlo Khazan, told VOA News the government tries to downplay the impact of the disaster, as it seeks to build new reactors. "According to our calculation it is around 900,000 deaths from Chernobyl so far. Some governmental data try to decrease influence of Chernobyl and try to decrease contamination information. Maybe it is above three- or four-million children who are suffering of the Chernobyl catastrophe," he said.
Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych disputes those figures, saying some two-million people are still suffering from the harmful effects of radiation exposure.
Next week Ukraine will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the explosion at Chernobyl, which sent clouds of radiation over much of Europe.