KIEV, Ukraine -- Hundreds of Ukrainians involved in the cleanup of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster on Wednesday protested the government's plans to cut to their social benefits.
More than 800 demonstrators gathered in front of the Cabinet of Ministers building in the Ukrainian capital Kiev to show their opposition to reductions or outright elimination of their benefits.
Some 700,000 people involved in the cleanup have the status of 'liquidator,' which gives them maximum monthly benefits equivalent to 250 dollars.
The government has proposed cutting the number of people with liquidator status by between one-third and one-half.
Deputy Prime Minister Serhy Tyhypko spoke to the generally peaceful crowd for about five minutes.
'We have heard you, and we will meet with your representatives. Ukraine knows what you have done,' he said.
People in the crowd said they were sceptical of receiving fair treatment from the government.
'What is happening is that the government is trying to save money, they are trying to economize on us,' said Oleg Goncharov, 40. 'We risked out lives, but that is not important to them.'
Pensions and benefits are often the only income of survivors of the Chernobyl cleanup, who are too sick from radiation exposure to be employed.
A reactor meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear station on April 26, 1986, spread radiation across Europe and forced the resettlement of more than 300,000 people, most of them in Ukraine and Belarus.
More than 4,000 people are thought to have lost their lives bringing the core of the runaway nuclear reactor under control.