Children of Chernobyl Invited to Vatican

April 26 Marks 15th Anniversary of Nuclear Disaster

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VATICAN CITY, MAR. 30, 2001 ( John Paul II will observe the 15th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident in the company of children who are still suffering from the consequences of the nuclear disaster.

The tragedy happened at 1:23 a.m. on April 26, 1986. Reactor No. 4 in the Chernobyl nuclear center caught fire and exploded, spewing a toxic cloud that had devastating effects for residents in the area and for the environment.

This April 26, John Paul II will remember those tragic moments, by receiving members of Italian families and institutions, caring for the children of Chernobyl.

Although the nuclear plant was finally closed last Dec. 15, Chernobyl continues to claim thousands of victims, in an “invisible death,” the Ukrainian Embassy to the Vatican explained in a press statement.

The embassy estimated that 3.5 million people are affected by the radioactivity. One million of them are children who, as a result of the Chernobyl disaster, have weak immune defenses. Another 600,000 people, who were directly involved in eliminating the dangers of the explosion, today need special medical and social assistance.

The embassy said radioactivity affected 2,293 municipalities in Ukraine, including 76 in a zone that was completely evacuated in the first days following the accident.

Respiratory problems, blood and intestinal ailments, and cancers are the most widespread sicknesses. Cases of thyroid tumors were tenfold in the period following the radioactive explosion, especially among children.

Since the 1986 accident, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children have been taken in by Italian families, religious community centers and charities. The Pope wished to invite to the Vatican the ones now in Italy.

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