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World marks anniversary of Chernobyl nuclear disaster

KYIV, Ukraine — Hundreds of people marched in the Ukrainian capital as part of a memorial to the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosions, 32 years ago Thursday. Mourners lit candles and lay flowers and wreaths at Kyiv’s Memorial Hill of Chernobyl Heroes.

President Petro Poroshenko wrote a Facebook post urging Ukraine and the world to do everything possible to make sure a future disaster is impossible.

“[Chernobyl] will forever remain an open wound for us,” he wrote.

Two explosions rocked Unit 4 at the Chernobyl plant on April 26, 1986, a disaster that would later be blamed on a combination of a flawed Soviet design for the reactor and human error. The initial blast killed two people; another 29, many of them firefighters, died in the immediate aftermath.

In the days after the accident, officials evacuated the 45,000 residents of the nearby town of Pripyat, where most of the plant’s workers lived. More of the surrounding area would be evacuated in the weeks afterward.

To this day, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone extends in a radius about 20 miles out from the ruined reactor, totaling about 1,000 square miles. The Ukrainian government restricts access to the area. It is hard to say when the exclusion zone would be considered habitable again, though some authorities put that in the hundreds or even thousands of years. However, wildlife roams the region and thrives in the absence of the people who used to live there.

Scientists believe one in four cases of thyroid cancer in the region since the disaster can be attributed to the accident, though there is much debate about whether the radiation is responsible for any other regional health consequences. In 2005, the United Nations estimated Chernobyl was to blame for 4,000 deaths, mostly related to exposure to radiation; Greenpeace International estimates the death toll is much higher, at 90,000 deaths. There is less debate that Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, all former Soviet states that share borders near the reactor, have residents who were affected.