Day of honour for Chernobyl heroes

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW (AP) - Friends and relatives gathered solemnly in a Moscow cemetery yesterday to honour the memory of the nuclear workers and firefighters who were the first victims of the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion 10 years ago.

Elvira Sitnikova stood before the grave of her husband, Anatoly, who was Chernobyl's deputy chief engineer. "He gave his life so that we could live," she said, with tears welling in her eyes.

Her husband was called at home when Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 exploded during a routine midnight test and spewed an immense cloud of radiation north of Kiev, in what then was part of the Soviet Union.

He went to the shattered reactor to help contain the damage and died of radiation illness a month after the catastrophe.

The accident killed at least 32 people immediately, but thousands more are thought to be still suffering from the effects of radiation exposure.

Mr Sitnikov was one of 28 Chernobyl workers and firefighters, buried in the wind-swept Mitinskoye cemetery in western Moscow beneath a grey stone monument shaped like an atomic mushroom cloud.

More than 1,000 mourners laid flowers and put burning candles on the graves to the sound of a military band and the following prayers of Russian Orthodox priests. Dozens of Russian government officials and lawmakers attended the graveside ceremony.

"I feel guilty being alive, while my friends lie here," said Yuri Rusnak, an electrician who worked at the plant at the time of the accident.

Vladimir Brazhnik, another plant worker, was off duty at the time of the disaster, but his brother Vyacheslav was at work at reactor No. 4. Hours after the explosion, he was found unconscious on the floor, his body swollen from radiation. He died less than in three weeks later.

"He had just turned 29, and he was going for a seaside vacation in the Crimea with his girlfriend in May," said Mr Brazhnik.