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Presenting state decorations to liquidators who took part in the clean-up operations at the Chernobyl nuclear plant

April 25, 2011, The Kremlin, Moscow

Dmitry Medvedev presented the Order of Courage to 16 liquidators who took part in the clean-up operations at the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

* * *

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Friends, colleagues,

Tomorrow marks 25 years since the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. We can look back on those events from a distance now, aware that this was one of the twentieth century’s biggest technological disasters. Millions of people were exposed to radiation then, and hundreds of thousands had to leave their homes. Ukraine, our country, and other countries too, still feel the effects of this disaster to this day. But the consequences would have been even worse were it not for the heroism and self-sacrifice of those who took part in the clean-up operations back then.

You and your comrades, some of whom, sadly, are no longer with us today, showed great courage in performing your duties in exceptionally difficult conditions and at immense risk to your own lives. To be honest, you did this at a time when the state authorities did not immediately find the courage to admit the full extent of what had happened. Like many people, I remember how the media covered the events of those days back then. It all looked rather strange. I remember the first news report published in Pravda the day after accident happened, just a brief statement in tiny font informing that an incident had taken place. Only later did we start to realise what had really happened.

Unfortunately, we ended up paying a high price for this irresponsibility on the part of our authorities, and this is a lesson for the future. No one realised the full extent of the personal risk at that moment, but you and your comrades inside the 30-kilometre exclusion zone did not think about the potential risks. You knew that the clean-up operations had to go ahead no matter what the cost. Your professionalism and that of your colleagues, and your ability to make quick decisions in the most difficult situation made it possible to save many lives. Twelve of the liquidators were awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union and Hero of Russia titles, and more than 25,000 have received the  Order of Courage. The Defence Ministry and other Russian government agencies continue their efforts to ensure that none of the liquidators are undeservedly forgotten, and proposals for decoration continue to come in.

More than 70,000 people have received state decorations for their part in the clean-up operations. The day before yesterday, I signed another four orders awarding decorations, and today I will present the Order of Courage to 16 people who took part in the operations. Everyone being decorated today did their job honestly, professionally, and with selfless dedication, and I want to thank you sincerely for this once again.

Friends, 25 years is a long time, and humanity has adjusted over these years to the thought that the Chernobyl disaster happened, and its consequences have been more or less overcome now, though the reality is far more complicated. Recent events remind us, however, that we cannot relax, and that our important decisions must take into account all possible issues that could have a potential impact on security. Naturally, I am thinking of the situation at Japan’s Fukushima-1 reactor.

But at the same time, we should not close the doors to progress. Nuclear energy is one of the cheapest and generally most environmentally friendly energy forms, but it is an industry that requires the highest and most stringent standards. Russia learned lessons from the Chernobyl disaster, and our nuclear energy standards are considerably higher than those of a number of generally very technologically advanced and strong countries. We have gone further in our standards, and this was the right decision. We are therefore in a position today to be able to help the international community and give it all the support needed to learn the lessons while at the same time continuing to develop human progress and tackle the many social and economic issues that we will not be able to resolve without nuclear energy.

Tomorrow, I will go to Chernobyl, meet with my colleagues there, and also with those who took part in the clean-up operations. But here now today, I want to present these state decorations.

* * *

Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident Liquidator Leonid Kletsov: Mr President,

Today is a truly historic day. You are the first President that has gathered liquidators at such a formal ceremony. I can still barely believe it – at least, that’s how I personally feel. I am doubly happy, as a citizen and as a serviceman, that I am receiving this order from the hands of the President and Commander-in-Chief.

There is another, vitally important matter. Mr President, Bryansk Region is the area that suffered most, and this is recognised by everyone – foreign and our own specialists alike. Our only saving grace is the clinical and diagnostic centre that was built in 1993 specifically to provide medical services to nearly five thousand liquidators and children born after the accident, as well as almost half a million residents of the southwest districts that are still in contaminated areas. The years go by, the building is aging, and the medical equipment is already falling into disrepair. Officials promised to include the Centre into the Federal Modernisation and Development Programme in 2011, but this promise was not fulfilled.

I am speaking in the name of those I named. If this clinical and diagnostic centre is closed… I am familiar with your innovative political outlook, and I am certain that you will not leave us in trouble.

Thank you very much.

Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident Liquidator Alexander Shabutkin: Mr President,

I am happy, everyone is happy, that you have invited us, and we are grateful for your involvement in our lives. I am the chairman of the Chernobyl union of disabled persons in the Istra district of Moscow Region. I have an enormous request for you: please take the widows of Chernobyl clean-up operation participants under your protection. They live on after us, as they say, defenceless before bureaucrats and fate itself, because some widows spent years taking care of their husbands and lost their jobs. Young people are dying; in April, we had a 44-year-old soldier die in Istra, and now his wife comes to me in tears. You know, the widows cannot feed their children on the pensions they receive. Recently, the Chernobyl Union of Russia appealed to the Constitutional Court on this matter. That is my request. I think that all Chernobyl clean-up operation participants will support this request; it is a most important issue. Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Friends, colleagues,

I think that without a doubt, the government must do everything possible to ensure that Chernobyl liquidators and, in many cases, their loved ones, are not left without attention and care. I feel that the government has tried to do this, as much as it can – with results that have been better in some instances than in others. But nevertheless, today, we have a whole system of support measures. Still, this does not mean that we should relax now and say that we have done everything.

With regard to the issues our colleagues spoke about, I will certainly give instructions immediately; I have some of the cabinet ministers responsible for this process, sitting here in this hall. I am referring to the clinic, located in the Bryansk Region as far as I understand. We will need to see what can be done there in terms of additional equipment, as the equipment seems to have gotten worn out.

As for the problem of widows, naturally, this is also something we must look into – the possibility of supporting those who remain after the departure of their husbands. I expect this issue to be thoroughly analysed with the results reported to me in accordance with the established procedure, as is usually done in our nation.

And furthermore, I think that our government must learn all the lessons from what happened – from the now-distant Chernobyl incident in 1986 and the recent tragedies in Japan. Perhaps the most important lesson concerns the need to tell people the truth. Because the world is so fragile and we are all so interconnected that any attempts to hide the truth – to refrain from talking about something publicly, to gloss over a situation, to make it more optimistic than it is – subsequently result in the tragic loss of human lives. This is a cruel but very important lesson to learn from what has happened. I am certain that the government will behave responsibly in the future as well, with respect to the people who did everything to save an enormous number of people and defend the interests of our Fatherland.

I want to once again sincerely congratulate you on receiving state decorations. I wish good health to you and your loved ones. I hope that you will remember this day.

Thank you.

April 25, 2011, The Kremlin, Moscow