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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Remembers Chernobyl

MTPolice cutting the chains used by activists to lock themselves to a fence beside St. Basil's Cathedral on Wednesday.
Thousands across the nation marked the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe Wednesday with rallies and memorial services.

In Moscow, about 500 relatives and friends of firefighters who died after putting out the fire at the reactor gathered at the Mitinskoye Cemetery to pay tribute to their loved ones, who had been buried in sealed coffins to prevent radiation from spreading into the soil.

Dozens of Chernobyl liquidators also attended.

The grave of each of the 28 firefighters at the cemetery -- who died in the first days and weeks after the disaster and had no idea they were being exposed to excessive levels of radiation -- was blanketed with flowers and wreaths.

"Here lie all those people who were the first to participate in the cleanup," Ivan Kovalenko, an engineer who took part in the effort, said, RIA-Novosti reported. "These are firefighters and all others ... who were there. They were told that it was just an ordinary fire, and they did not know how huge the radiation there was."

Relatives and friends brought cakes and painted eggs to the graves on the occasion of Orthodox Easter, which was Sunday. The memorial culminated with bells ringing in a nearby chapel built especially for the Chernobyl victims.

For the widows of the firefighters, the trip to the cemetery Wednesday was the same one they take every year.

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin talked to his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, by telephone Wednesday.

The two leaders asked one another to extend their gratitude and wishes of good health for those liquidators living in Russia and Ukraine, said a statement posted on the Kremlin web site.

Russia is home to 180,000 liquidators, many of whom are afflicted by such ailments as cancer, heart disease, organ failure and other problems.

Earlier in the day, police broke up an unsanctioned rally of Greenpeace environmentalists who had chained themselves to the gate around St. Basil's Cathedral. The activists were protesting Russia's plans to build 40 nuclear reactors by 2030.

Wearing yellow T-shirts that read "No to Chernobyl!" and "No more Chernobyls!" the young men and women remained on Red Square until police and Federal Guard Service officers cut the chains of the handcuffs and dragged the protesters to a nearby police station.

Besides the Greenpeace activists, police also detained a group of journalists and cameramen, saying they were taking photographs and video images without permission from the Federal Guard Service. All were later released.

Vladimir Filonov / MT

Protesters with Greenpeace wearing T-shirts that spell out "No More Chernobyls" during a demonstration Wednesday during which they chained themselves to a fence beside St. Basil's Cathedral.

Memorial services were also head in other cities.

In the wake of Chernobyl disaster, Krasnoyarsk sent 800 men to mop up the remains of reactor No. 4. On Wednesday, residents of the west Siberian city commemorated the 200 who have already died.

In St. Petersburg, a group of five Chernobyl veterans suspended their hunger strike to commemorate the anniversary, Interfax reported. They had gone on a hunger strike April 5 demanding that their monthly payments be adjusted to keep up with inflation.

In Bryansk, Russia's most affected region, where thousands of people continue to live in contaminated communities, a monument to Chernobyl victims was unveiled and a minute of silence was observed. After that, children released white doves into the sky.