THIRTY years ago this month, a testing accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power-plant near the town of Pripyat in northern Ukraine killed 31 people. As the plume of smoke and radioactive particles rose into the air, it would destroy the health of thousands more, many of them fatally.
Fifty thousand people evacuated the town, and Pripyat was abandoned. It remains so today. The total human cost of the disaster and the long-term health effects on a wide area around the plant are still disputed.
The United Nations has estimated that 3.5 million people, including 1.5 million children, were affected. An independent report on the after-effects, the Torch report, predicted that between 30,000 and 60,000 excess cancer deaths could be expected from the radiation.
The Christian charity Mission Without Borders (MWB) is working to support people in the contaminated area around Chernobyl. Some 16,000 km² of land are still classified as unusable for economic activity, and some five million people live in areas officially considered as contaminated, the charity says.
One of the residents in the contaminated region, Halyna, has cancer, and has just finished her sixth round of chemotherapy. A child when the catastrophe happened, she, with her family, is being supported by MWB.
“So many people have cancer in this region,” she said. “It is unnatural, and all points to that disaster. At the time, the people were not told: we found out about it from other countries. The authorities here said nothing until, for many, it was too late.”
The charity runs a scheme for its supporters to help individual families.