Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko laid a wreath and observed a minute’s silence in the Ukrainian capital Kiev before heading north for a ceremony at the plant itself, not far from the Belarussian border.
“We honour those who lost their health and require a special attention from the government and society,” he said in a speech in Chernobyl. “It’s with an everlasting pain in our hearts that we remember those who lost their lives to fight nuclear death.”
He also said the nuclear disaster had been Ukraine’s biggest challenge between the Nazi occupation in World War Two and the recent conflict in eastern Ukraine, which he described as “Russian aggression”.
“At a time when we still need immense resources to tackle the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, when we need funding for social support to fire-fighters and victims, we have to spend almost one-fifth of our budget expenses on defence and security,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a message to the 600,000 people who helped in the clear-up – known as liquidators – called the nuclear disaster “a grave lesson for all of mankind”.