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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Charges Over Chernobyl

The Ukrainian General Prosecutor's Office has charged that four former Soviet officials lied to the public about the gravity of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, but prosecutors say they cannot try the suspects since the five-year statute of limitations has expired.

Officials in Kiev said Friday that the investigation of the world's worst nuclear accident could not start until last year -- already after the suspects were immune from prosecution -- when official permission was given to start research.

"The political climate has changed, so we were allowed to investigate", First Deputy General Prosecutor Alexei Bolibok said in a telephone interview from Kiev Friday. "We admit that these former party leaders are to blame, but according to the criminal code there is nothing we can do".

The only persons ever charged over the Chernobyl accident were technicians and officials at the plant. The General Prosecutor's action most likely means that no senior political officials will ever come to trial in conjunction with the disaster.

Bolibok added that he realized how severe the long-term consequences of the disaster are, saying that millions still suffer in the aftermath of the accident.

Seven years has passed since the Soviet nuclear plant at Chernobyl, near Kiev, exploded, pouring radioactivity into the environment.

The four officials who were charged are: First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party Vladimir Shcherbitsky; chairwoman of the Ukrainian Presidium of the Supreme Soviet Valentina Shevchenko; chairman of the Ukrainian Council of Ministers Alexander Lyashko; and Ukraine's Health Minister Anatoly Romanyenko.

Bolibok said the four Soviet officials had been charged with violating article 165 of the Ukrainian criminal code, which dictates that officials may not abuse their position of power.

An article in Friday's Izvestia carried the prosecutor's report at length. Although the report, outlining the sequence of events after the explosion on April 26, 1986, was given to the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet last month, it was not made public.

According to the Izvestia article, the four officials repeatedly lied for months and kept the gravity of the accident secret. The report said that Lyashko, who was also the head of the Politburo Chernobyl Cleanup Committee, told the Soviet Union's Council of Ministers that the radiation level was normal on the day of the disaster, despite having access to information proving otherwise.

Two days after the blast, Shcherbitsky, Shevchenko and Lyashko received detailed information on radiation levels, but the officials chose to ignore the numbers and took no precautions, the report continued.

On April 30, four days after the blast, Lyashko reiterated during a television and radio address that there was no danger.

On May 1, an information-gathering committee was set up by the Council of Ministers, which appointed members of the Academy of Sciences and Health Ministry officials to make a radiation map of the Ukraine.

Officials found that the radioactivity level in densely populated areas near Kiev was 125 higher than usual. The contamination of the drinking water supplies was recorded as 5, 000 times higher than normal, according to the article.

On May 3, Romanyenko, ordered that information about the accident remain secret, ignoring an order from the Soviet health minister saying that people living in contaminated areas should be given iodine which eliminates radioactive substances in the body.

In December, Romanyenko said that all Ukrainian residents had been administered iodine-- a gross exaggeration as only a tiny percentage of the population had received any treatment.