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Helsinki Commission Holds Hearing on Chernobyl

Washington, April 24 (RFE/RL) - Ukrainian and Belarusian envoys to the United States say U.S. government aid to help victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is insufficient.

Ambassadors Yuri Shcherbak of Ukraine and Serguei Martynov of Belarus made the statement in separate testimony Tuesday before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Commission was holding a hearing to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl on April 26th, 1986.

RFE/RL's correspondent says the enquiry focused on the medical, environmental, social and economic aftermath of the Chernobyl accident.

Shcherbak said that Ukraine needs more for Chernobyl-related programs than the 225 million dollars allocated by the U.S. government this year.

He said a priority need for Ukraine is help in planning for energy independence, energy saving and efficiency and increasing cooperation to guarantee radiation safety.

"We are ready to continue work with our U.S. colleagues for implementation of these plans," Shcherbak said.

He also re-affirmed Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma's pledge to close the Chernobyl nuclear power plant by the year 2000.

But Shcherbak stressed this would be possible only if the leading industrialized countries of the G-7 group provide what he called "adequate financial and technical aid."

Shcherbak says Ukraine and the G-7 should enter into a "legally binding agreement" that would "clearly define conditions, sources and time framework for the funds provision."

Without this, Shcherbak warned, Ukraine could not "take the obligation and responsibility for the plant decommissioning while having to keep proper nuclear safety standards."

Belarus Ambassador Martynov agreed with Shcherbak that the U.S. and its allies are not doing enough to repair Chernobyl damage.

"I am sorry to say, but I will say it frankly, we do not perceive the international assistance as adequate," Martynov said.

According to Martynov, "modest estimates" of the economic damage to his country caused by Chernobyl is equal to 32 annual budgets of Belarus or 235,000 million dollars.

Martynov says his government "is compelled to spend, year in and year out, up to 25 percent of its budget to try to cope with the aftermath of Chernobyl."

He said that Belarus has no nuclear reactors on its territory, but that he and his countrymen feel as though they are "hostages" to the "old-style" nuclear reactors that ring the perimeter of Belarus.

Martynov asked the Commission to appeal for U.S. technical and financial support in dismantling those reactors and "freeing the people from their hostage-like state."

Martynov even quoted the Bible, reading a passage from Revelations: "And a great star ... fell from the sky on a third of the rivers ... The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter."

He pointed out that in the Belarusian and Ukrainain languages, the word "wormwood" translates as "chernobyl".

"A Revelation prophecy come true is now a frightful reality for the peoples of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and for the peoples of the whole world," Martynov said.

Commission chairman Christopher Smith, Republican congressman from the U.S. state of New Jersey, said information gained from the hearing could help determine future levels of humanitarian aid and asked the ambassadors to draw up a list of priority humanitarian projects for which the U.S. could provide assistance.