Chernobyl remembered in Ukrainian prayers

April 29, 1991|By Michael K. Burns

An article in yesterday's Maryland section about a prayer service for victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster incorrectly identified St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Surrounded by the soaring white walls of the new St. Michael's Ukrainian Orthodox Church, children in colorful Slavic costumes prayed yesterday for those who suffered from the nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl five years ago.

"Protect them all from the nuclear misery of Chernobyl," they prayed, placing pink, white and red carnations at the icon of the Virgin Mary.


The choir's voices resounded from the balcony with hymns of praise. Worshipers filled the small sanctuary in song as they closed the service with "God Bless America."

It was the first Sunday for services at the new church, whose onion-shaped copper spires still rest in the front yard on Eastern Avenue. But the occasion was one of solemn commemoration rather than celebration.

The Rev. Uriy Markewych, pastor of St. Michael's, led the ecumenical service marking the world's worst nuclear accident, joined by prelates of Estonian, Polish and Lithuanian churches.

"It's a disaster for the Ukraine, and for the world," he said. "We must remember, we can't let it happen again." The containment structure of the damaged Chernobyl reactor is crumbling and threatens to unleash new waves of deadly radiation, unless the world demands that something be done to correct the situation, he said.

Buttons declaring "Chernobyl disaster, Ukraine tragedy" were prominent in the crowd of worshipers.

The April 26, 1986, fire and explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant spread a radioactive cloud across the Soviet republics of the Ukraine and Byelorussia. The Soviet government says 32 people died, but some scientists believe the death toll was at least 250 -- and could be as high as 10,000.

Yesterday's observance in East Baltimore also provided a chance for the Eastern European communities to unite in the hope that their motherlands would eventually be free from Communist rule.

At a town meeting in the parish center following the service, they saw the nuclear disaster as yet another of the disasters visited on their relatives by Soviet domination.

"Our land is poisoned, our children are poisoned," said one speaker. "We hope that this will be the last sacrifice suffered by the Ukraine."

Another man said the tragedy provided an opportunity for the Ukraine to push for its democratic independence.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., hailed the gathering as an example of resistance to Communist rule, which has been overturned in neighboring Poland.

Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, praised the vitality of the ethnic communities in Baltimore for raising such issues of public conscience.

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