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Ukraine Remembers Chernobyl Victims

People lay flowers and light candles to honor the memory of the victims of the Chernobyl disaster in Kiyv, Ukraine, April 26, 2011

Ukraine is marking a grim anniversary - it was 25 years ago Tuesday when a deadly explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former Soviet state led to the worst nuclear disaster in history.

The commemoration began in the middle of the night in Kiyv when Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill struck a bell at the exact moment of the Chernobyl blast on April 26, 1986.

Patriarch Kirill and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych also are remembering the victims with prayer and a candle-lighting ceremony. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will join them later at Chernobyl.

The Chernobyl blast was 400 times more powerful than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. It sent a cloud of radioactive fallout into Russia, Belarus and a over a large portion of Europe.

The initial explosion killed two people. Radiation exposure killed 30 others in the following months. The World Health Organization believes that around 4,000 people eventually could die because of the accident.

The disaster fueled a non-stop global debate about the safety of nuclear energy as a power source, a debate that has gotten hotter since last month's earthquake damaged a Japanese nuclear plant.

The 1986 disaster has left a 30-kilometer area around the Chernobyl plant mainly uninhabitable, while environmentalists say fields in the surrounding area and the products grown there are still not safe and could pose a threat to human health.

Thousands of sickened workers involved in the cleanup have protested in Kyiv against cuts in the benefits and compensation they receive for their exposure to radiation. They say their monthly pensions recently were cut, leaving them barely enough money to pay for food and needed medication.

An international effort to continue to provide additional help to clean up the disaster site has fallen short of its goal. A donors conference in Kyiv last week raised more than $785 million, but that was well short of the $1.1 billion goal.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.