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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
30 years on, Russia's Chernobyl victims say they have been abandoned
By Ana´s LLOBET
Starye Bobovichi, Russia (AFP) April 20, 2016


Novozybkov, long considered to have been contaminated by Chernobyl, will in July officially have the status of an "inhabitable" place.

Russian pensioner Anna Venderenko says her village wrestles daily with the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, dreading the moment when a lifeline provided by the government in Moscow is slashed.

The 70-year-old lives in Starye Bobovichi, 180 kilometres (110 miles) northeast of the stricken nuclear plant in neighbouring Ukraine.

On the night of April 26, 1986, a blast blew apart Chernobyl's No. 4 reactor, spewing out a plume of radioactive gas and debris that, borne by the wind, contaminated homes and fields far away -- including Venderenko's village.

Now, as with hundreds of other villages and towns in the surrounding Bryansk region, local residents still battling with the disaster's deadly legacy are facing an official ruling that will see much-needed support slashed.

"We have been abandoned," Vendarenko said. "There are no more doctors or hospitals. And soon there will be no more medication."

In the wake of the disaster, Vendarenko's village was officially classified as being inside a "forbidden zone" but those living there refused to pack up and leave.

Now 30 years on, a presidential decree has officially ruled the radiation levels in the village have fallen, meaning that state funds which subsidise medical treatment and sanatorium stays for children will be cut from July.

But experts and locals insist that radiation levels in Bryansk region have only slightly dipped since 1986 and the health situation remains dire.

"This is more than 30 times the recommended level of radiation," Greenpeace expert Rashid Alimov said during a recent press tour organised by the group, pointing a radiation dosimeter in Starye Bobovichi's main square.

Of some 4,413 Russian towns and villages affected by Chernobyl, 383 will see their support cut later this year and 558 will lose it entirely.

"With this decree the authorities refuse to recognise that it takes 2,000 years -- not 30 -- for an area to be decontaminated," said Anton Korsakov, a local biologist.

He says that child mortality in the region remains five times higher than the national average and 80 percent of the children born in the area develop chronic diseases.

- 'Bad news' -

The corridors of a hospital in the nearby town Novozybkov are packed with children and elderly people waiting to be seen by one of the few doctors.

In 1986 the town's 30,000 inhabitants were not evacuated and surgeon Viktor Khanayev says that one third of the hospital's patients seek treatment for diseases and malformations caused or exacerbated by radiation.

"Many people can't get treated," he said. "Subsidised medication no longer works on them and they are forced to turn to expensive drugs."

Novozybkov, long considered to have been contaminated by Chernobyl, will in July officially have the status of an "inhabitable" place.

"This is bad news," Khanayev said. "People will now be forced to pay for medication that used to be free. And the kids will no longer be sent to sanatoriums in the summer."

One of Khanayev's patients, Alexander, said that leaving the town would help assuage his many health problems but that he does not have the necessary funds or assistance to relocate.

"When I am in another region, I feel fine," said Alexander, who is in his thirties. "But here, I feel the radiation every day."

While living in a contaminated area is inevitably harmful, authorities can help limit the effects of radiation through awareness campaigns, said Lyudmila Komorgotseva, who heads a local NGO promoting radiation safety.

But authorities haven't done enough to get important messages through to the population, she claimed.

"The government doesn't do anything and people pick berries and mushrooms in contaminated forests," Komorgotseva said.

In 2011 Russia stopped radiation testing for some food products and drinks, and many radioactive products from the Bryansk region have made their way to supermarkets across the country, according to Greenpeace.

Lumber companies are also exploiting contaminated forests, said lawyer Alexander Govorovsky, who has filed a complaint against the regional forestry department over a practice he says can be harmful for consumers.

"People eat and drink irradiated products," he said. "Because of authorities' inaction, people are living with radiation in their homes."


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