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New York, NY (UCCA) – On Saturday, April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history began with the rupture of Reactor #4’s containment at the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Station. Conceived to be one of the largest nuclear power plants in history during its construction in the 1970s, Soviet planners located this megastructure 11 miles northwest of the city of Chornobyl, Ukraine, and approximately 62 miles north of Ukraine’s capital and most populous city, Kyiv.

Alongside the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, the disaster at Chornobyl remains one of only two man-made catastrophes classified at the maximum level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. Following the release of 200 times more radioactive material into the Earth's atmosphere than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Soviet leaders ordered hundreds of thousands of people to participate in the cleanup effort: 40,000 of these people have since died, 20% as a result of suicide, and a further 70,000 have been permanently disabled as a result of their exposure. Today in Ukraine, 6,000 children are born every year with genetic heart defects, a 200 percent increase in birth defects since the nuclear disaster, and a 250 percent increase in congenital birth deformities. UNICEF has documented similar increases in children’s disease rates, including 38 percent increase in malignant tumors and 43 percent in blood circulatory illnesses. More than one million children continue to live in areas considered contaminated by the Chornobyl nuclear meltdown.

Post-Chornobyl recovery efforts turned a corner once Ukraine regained its independence in 1991. Today’s Ukraine considers the events at the Chornobyl plant in 1986 comparable in scale to the Holodomor Famine of 1932-33, the decimation of Ukrainians from foreign invaders during World War II and the ongoing war following Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine. Through inter-agency and international collaboration, 40 countries have contributed the estimated $1.58 billion towards the construction of the recently completed New Safe Confinement, a massive arched dome designed to prevent any radiological releases for the next 100 years. Completed months ahead of schedule, this technological marvel demonstrates a new era in management of man-made disasters, allowing for the permanent dismantling of the original nuclear plant now 31 years after the explosion.


On the 31st commemoration of this tragedy, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), the nation’s largest representation of Ukrainians in America, honors those who perished and those who survived this catastrophe. We also remember the outpouring of international aid to Ukraine lead by activists from our community, the international diaspora, and those who contributed out of an overwhelming need to aid their fellow man. The UCCA reaffirms its resolve to ensure that the ongoing needs of the victims of this tragedy in Ukraine are not forgotten, as moral and financial support are still needed to assist the affected communities and ease the continued suffering of the countless victims in the wake of this tragedy.

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