Belarusian Opposition Cancels Annual Chernobyl March Over Demand To Pay Police

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service

MINSK -- Belarusian opposition groups have cancelled an annual protest march in Minsk commemorating victims of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster after they were told they would have to pay the cost for providing police security.

Opposition leaders and activists said on April 25 that municipal authorities in Minsk told the organizers of the annual Chernobyl Path march that they must pay Minsk police more than 5,000 rubles ($2,400) for security.

"The issue is not about the lack of money. The issue is that we refuse to pay, in principle," said Volha Kavalkova, one of the leaders of the unregistered opposition Belarusian Christian Democratic Party.

Kavalkova said meeting the demand to pay police for security at public events would set a bad precedent and could lead to problems for organizers of other events in Minsk -- including annual marathon races as well as political demonstrations.

Instead of the protest march, Kavalkova said organizers were planning lectures and presentations in Minsk on April 26.

Vyachaslau Siuchyk of the opposition Razam (Altogether) movement said the city's demand to pay police for security was "unacceptable."

The Minsk march has been held every year since 1988 on April 26 to commemorate victims of the disaster in neighboring Ukraine, which contaminated large swaths of territory in Belarus.

In Kyiv, hundreds of people marched at midnight to the Memorial Hill of Chernobyl Heroes where they laid flowers and lit candles.

At around 1 a.m. on April 26, an Orthodox service and a prayer to commemorate Chernobyl victims were performed at the Chernobyl site.

Ukraine's outgoing president, Petro Poroshenko, wrote on Facebook: "April 26, We Remember."

On April 26, 1986 an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near the now-abandoned town of Pripyat blew the roof off the building that housed reactor number 4.
The explosion sent a cloud of radioactive material high into the air -- drifting across Ukraine's borders into Russia, Belarus, and across large parts of Europe.

About 30 people in Ukraine died in the immediate aftermath of the explosion. Thousands more are thought to have died from the effects of the disaster in the years that followed -- mainly from exposure to radiation.

In 2018, the United Nations' Vienna-based Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation said about 20,000 thyroid cancer cases were registered between 1991 and 2015 in the area surrounding the reactor, including all of Ukraine and Belarus, as well as parts of Russia.

The UN scientists also said one out of four thyroid cancer cases in the region since the Chernobyl disaster were caused by radiation.

In November 2016, the construction of an enormous protective shelter was completed over the contaminated reactor to prevent further radiation leaks and create the conditions for the eventual dismantling and decommissioning of the structure.

The $1.8 billion project was funded by 44 donor countries and the European Union via a special fund set up in 1997 by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The EBRD is also providing $535 million of its resources to support the plan.