Chernobyl workers: No monument to emergency workers, but extra help for health care

In the days following April 26, 1986, Armenians were rounded up and taken by Soviet authorities to an unnamed destination. Some were told they were being taken for work to Kazakhstan.

They were in fact being taken to the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. About 400 died after they were exposed to radiation fallout at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine.

Now those whose lives were risked say they deserve a monument for their involuntary service.

But there will be no monument to the 3,000 workers from Soviet Armenia who were sent to assist in the emergency. The Yerevan Municipality earlier this year rejected a request to build a monument in the Malatia-Sebastia community.

Some 2,600 of the workers survive today, of whom 1,500 are listed as disabled. An organization that represents them, the Chernobyl Association, has lobbied for more medical assistance for the disabled workers and for a monument to all those who responded after the accident.

Two explosions rocked the Chernobyl plant 20 years ago, sending radioactive fallout over Belarus, Ukraine, Europe and Russia. Thirty-one people died as an immediate result, including 28 from acute radiation syndrome.

The Armenians and more than 220,000 other Soviet workers took part in the clean-up operations within 30 kilometers of the nuclear plant. Many of them are thought to have received high doses of radiation.

The Chernobyl Association contends that rescue and clean-up personnel were sent to the emergency without protective clothing and without being warned of the magnitude of the disaster.

In 1994, Armenia was among the first of the former Soviet republics to sign a declaration on the adoption of a social protection and health rehabilitation law for people exposed to radiation at Chernobyl. Twenty years later, however, there is still no such law.

But Chernobyl Association Chairman Gevorg Vardanyan says the state has not done enough to help people who became sick from radiation exposure.

The government allocates some 130,000 drams (about $290) which is to include expenses for hospitalization, medicine and doctors’ fees – after which about 10,000 drams (about $22) annually are left for each patient. Vardanyan says 10 to 15 times that much is needed for appropriate treatment.

To mark the 20th anniversary, the government allocated nearly 2.2 million drams (about $4,780) to the Association. About 70 families whose relatives died received 10,000 drams (about $22). Other families received various aid.

Vardanyan hopes more money will be provided to increase the annual healthcare allocations.