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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hundreds Mourn Chernobyl Victims

Eight years after the world's worst nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, hundreds of people gathered at a north Moscow cemetery on Tuesday to pay tribute to the growing number of victims. Sergei Shoigu, the head of the Emergency Situations Ministry, told the crowd at Mitino cemetery where the first 28 victims of the disaster were buried that more than 6,000 troops, police and volunteers had since died, while over 30,000 had been seriously affected by radiation. Shoigu said a total of some 600,000 people had joined the efforts to contain the aftermath of the disaster. Most of them were sent into the area without adequate protective clothing. "We bow low to those who lost their lives to protect us," he said. He told the crowd that President Boris Yeltsin had signed a decree awarding orders for bravery to 11 of those who took part in the operation around the Ukrainian power plant, where one of the four reactors exploded on April 26, 1986. Some of the decorations were granted posthumously, he said. Another speaker, Colonel Alexander Mikhailov of the Chemical Defense Academy said he spent 30 days at the power plant in September 1986 and has since then suffered from heart, lung, liver and kidney illnesses as a result. Major General Nikolai Gordeyev, who worked on the site in 1988, said chemical defense forces are now better equipped to fight nuclear and chemical disasters. "We have finer radiation detectors and better respirators," Gordeyev said. "And of course we have lots of experience which we lacked back in 1986." Both Mikhailov and Gordeyev spoke of the difficulties many of the victims were experiencing in getting some of the special privileges they were entitled to, such as exemption from taxes and assistance with housing. In Kiev, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Valery Shmarov, said the country spends about 15 percent of its annual budget to clean up the disaster-related pollution and to pay benefits to the victims, Interfax reported. Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk addressed demonstrators in Kiev and rejected their demands for closure of the Chernobyl plant, the Associated Press said. It quoted him as saying the plant was "operating normally" and that safety standards had improved noticeably. But according to several studies by foreign organizations, including one last month by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the plant is still unsafe, Reuters reported. Last year the Ukrainian parliament ordered the plant to continue operating. It produces about 7 percent of electricity in the economically crippled country. Kravchuk accused the West of reluctance to provide Ukraine with financial backing that would enable it to build new electricity facilities and close down the plant, Reuters said.