UCCA.  On April 26th the United Nations General Assembly held a commemorative meeting to mark the 30th anniversary of the Chornobyl catastrophe.

As President of the 70th session of the General Assembly, H.E. Mogens Lykketoftl opened the session by reminding everyone that, although 30 years have passed since this catastrophe, when huge quantities of radioactive particles exploded into the atmosphere over large parts of Ukraine, Belarus, and the Russian Federation, the areas affected by Chornobyl are still struggling to overcome poverty, exclusion and stigma.  “Moving forward, we must continue to demonstrate international solidarity so that those most affected by this accident will be able to recover to the fullest,” he emphasized.

H.E. Lykkentoftl acknowledged efforts made by the governments of Belarus, Russian Federation and Ukraine to protect the affected populations from the effects of radiation, mitigate the consequences and build a better future for their communities. He affirmed that the General Assembly and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) were also playing an important role in coordinating Chornobyl-related activities over the past decade.

Next to address the General Assembly was Edmond Mulet, Chef de Cabinet in the Executive Office of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who stated that the world’s worst nuclear accident has led to a new awareness of safety issues with regard to nuclear power plants around the world. Mr. Mulet also mentioned that a new sarcophagus, financed by various governments and international institutions, would soon be completed and should make the reactor complex stable and environmentally safe for the next 100 years.  He noted that for 30 years, the United Nations has been helping to address the needs of those affected by the Chornobyl disaster through emergency and humanitarian assistance, as well as support for recovery and socioeconomic development.

Noting that 2016 was the final year of the Decade of Recovery and Sustainable Development for Chornobyl-affected regions, Mr. Mulet said it would feature a series of activities, including a high-level conference in Minsk that began on Monday, and a photo exhibition entitled “Chornobyl - 30 Years”, which was co-organized by the UCCA and will remain on display in the Secretariat building at New York Headquarters for 10 days.  In concluding his remarks, he stated that during next month’s World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, the UN Secretary-General would ask world leaders to consider multidisciplinary strategies for prevention, preparedness and response – tying Chornobyl’s long-term recovery to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In an impassioned speech, Ms. Adi Roche, founder of the Chornobyl Children charity, used the opportunity afforded her, in an unprecedented invitation from the government of Belarus, to remind the United Nations of the threat still posed by the Chornobyl disaster, stating that countless millions of people continue to suffer the effects of its deadly legacy, and although the accident was only 30 years old, its consequences would be infinite.  She appealed to the international body to create a global fund to meet the needs of those affected by Chornobyl and to officially recognize April 26th as UN Chornobyl Day.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Volodymyr Yelchenko then took to the podium where he first thanked the President of UNGA for convening the meeting and then Ms. Roche for her emotional introduction to the Chornobyl tragedy. Mr. Yelchenko reminded those in attendance that the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant was under the direct jurisdiction of the then Soviet authorities and stated that humanity until that point had not known a catastrophe of such scope, with such long-term humanitarian, environmental, health, social and economic consequences. Furthermore, the tragedy of Chornobyl could only be compared in its scale to the Famine of 1932-33 (Holodomor), World War II and today’s Russian aggression in Ukraine.  He concluded by saying that there needs to be a stronger voice for the human dimension to keep post-Chornobyl recovery efforts high on the inter-agency and international agendas.

Following Ambassador Yelchenko, the representative of the Russian Federation addressed the UN General Assembly stating that the Russian Federation has done much to alleviate the effects of Chornobyl, including monitoring background radiation levels, providing medical care and other efforts related to agriculture and forests.  In closing the Ambassador noted that he found it offensive that on this tragic anniversary the “Ukrainian representative could not refrain from insinuations.”

Other speakers who stood in solemn remembrance of the Chornobyl catastrophe and provided their remarks, included:  Richard Nduhuura (Uganda), speaking for the Group of African States, Gholamali Khoshroo (Iran), speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Regional Group, Andru Dapkiunas (Belarus), speaking for the Group of Eastern European States, Martin García Moritán (Argentina), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, Christopher Grima (Malta), speaking for the Group of Western European and Other States, Ana Silvia Rodríguez Abascal (Cuba), and Sarah Mendelson (United States).

Leaders of the Ukrainian American community were afforded the opportunity to attend this solemn United Nations commemoration and many were present to remember this tragic chapter in Ukraine’s history and honor those who died and those who continue to suffer the effects of this catastrophe.

Following the commemorative meeting of the General Assembly, Ambassador Yelchenko invited members and guests to attend the dedication of the photo exhibit near the diplomats entrance to the Secretariat Building. Community leaders, scholars, school groups and journalists gathered to hear the Ambassador  as he reminded the world that the aftereffects of Chornobyl will continue for at least a century and that global recognition of April 26 as UN Chornobyl Day will aid in Ukraine's long-term recovery efforts in both the 1000 mile exclusion zone and beyond.

UCCA National Office

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