Some 1,000 former Chernobyl disaster clean-up crew members angered with planned cuts of social benefits stormed the Ukrainian parliament building on Tuesday, demanding the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Tigipko.
The protesters chanting “Shame!” crashed through the metal cordon surrounding the parliament but were stopped by police from entering the building.
The protesters then staged a meeting outside the parliament,demanding that lawmakers leave the building for direct talks and agree to pass amendments to prevent the infringement of former Chernobyl rescuers and other citizens’ interests.
On Tuesday, the Ukrainian parliament was to consider a bill canceling social benefits for some 10 million citizens, including those involved in the clean-up operation following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The bill was approved in the first reading in early September, sparking angry reaction from those affected by the planned cuts.
Soon after the beginning of Tuesday’s rally, several opposition MPs emerged from the parliament building to address the protesters. They told the demonstrators that the Supreme Rada had decided to postpone the bill’s second reading. Andriy Pavlovskiy, an MP with the opposition Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc-Batkivshchyna faction, said the amendments must be withdrawn from the agenda.
“If they don't retract the bill, we will demand that the parliament be dissolved,” one of the protesters said.
According to the rally participants, an agreement was reached that a delegation of former Chernobyl disaster personnel would enter the building and present their demands to MPs.
The proposal was rejected by part of the protesters who maintain that talks should take place outside the parliament.
So far, about 100 protesters remain near the parliament, but the building is still cordoned off by the interior ministry’s special unit.
Organizers said they had no plans to end the rally, and protests would continue on Wednesday near the government building, where ministers would convene for an extended session. Veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, also affected by the unpopular measures, would join the protest on Thursday.
A total of more than 500,000 workers have been involved in relief operations following an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in April 1986, which resulted in highly radioactive fallout in the atmosphere over an extensive area. A 30-kilometer (19-mile) exclusion zone was introduced following the accident.