UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DENIES FORMER BODYGUARD'S ALLEGATIONS. Presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko on 13 December said President Leonid Kuchma gave no illegal orders regarding journalist Heorhiy Gongadze or other journalists, Interfax reported. Martynenko was commenting on the videotaped allegations by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, which were made public in the parliament the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2000). Martynenko called the allegation of Kuchma's complicity in Gongadze's disappearance "a largescale provocation." He noted that the "Moroz's tape," on which Kuchma allegedly gives the order to silence Gongadze, is a fabrication. "The logic behind the recent events is that of a scandal and not the search for the truth," Martynenko told journalists. JM
UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DENIES FULFILLING PRESIDENT'S ILLEGAL ORDERS. Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko on 13 December denied the allegation that he was present when President Leonid Kuchma instructed Security Service chief Leonid Derkach to implicate Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz in the attempt on the life of Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko in October 1999, Interfax reported. Potebenko was commenting on a video tape handed over by Moroz to the Prosecutor-General's Office earlier the same day. The tape reportedly includes former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko's "appeal to the Ukrainians" in connection with the attempt on Vitrenko's life. "The so-called Melnychenko appeal is slander against the state's top officials, including Ukraine's prosecutorgeneral, and aims at destabilizing the political situation in the country and sowing distrust in state leaders and law enforcement bodies," Potebenko said. JM
EU LENDS $585 MILLION FOR REACTORS TO REPLACE CHORNOBYL. The European Commission on 13 December approved a $585 million loan for Ukraine to help construct reactors at the Khmelnytskyy and Rivne nuclear power plants to replace the power capacities that are to be lost after the closure of the Chornobyl plant. The loan, given under government guarantees, is to be repaid over 20 years at a 5 percent interest rate, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. The European Commission simultaneously decided to issue 23 million euros ($20 million) as the first tranche of the previously approved 65 million euro grant for Ukraine to buy fuel for thermal power plants. Meanwhile, Ukraine is preparing for Chornobyl's ceremonial final shutdown on 15 December. The reactor, which stopped on 6 December because of a steam leak, will be restarted at minimum capacity today and closed tomorrow following President Kuchma's order, broadcast on television (see also "End Note" below). JM
Last weekend, the town of Slavutych was full of children, both local and from other nuclear towns around Ukraine. Families toured exhibitions in Slavutych's Palace of Culture. Costumed dancers prepared for a concert. And cafes and restaurants were full with visiting journalists, choirs, or official delegations.
It may be the final burst of energy before this town dies: On 15 December, when the Chornobyl power plant finally shuts down, most of the town's inhabitants will lose their jobs.
Slavutych was built 12 years ago to house workers from the Chornobyl nuclear plant, which in 1986 became the site of the world's worst civilian nuclear accident. Until a few years ago, it was one of the wealthiest towns in Ukraine, and its population is still one of the youngest: a third of its 26,000 inhabitants are children.
The clean, new schools and playgrounds are located just 40 kilometers from Chornobyl. But the danger of persistent radiation is the last thing the Slavutych population worries about. Although townspeople assisted in the clean-up after Chornobyl's fourth reactor blew up in 1986 and some are now invalids as a result, many feel a worse disaster is on the way--when the plant closes its doors for good.
Serhiy Kasyanchuk, deputy director of the town's Palace of Culture, told RFE/RL that "100 percent of the inhabitants of Slavutych oppose the closure of Chornobyl. The station could work until 2012, and a lot of people are worrying about what they will do for a piece of bread, a roof over their heads. Our town is the youngest town in Ukraine and maybe in the whole [former] USSR. It would be shameful if it had the same fate as Pripyat."
Most of Slavutych's residents originally lived in the town of Pripyat, which had to be evacuated after the disaster. Pripyat, like Slavutych, was once also a special "new" town, housing mostly well-paid workers from the nuclear industry. The dislocation and loss Slavutych's residents suffered then makes the threatened social destruction of Slavutych even more poignant.
Viktor Odinitsya is director of the UN Development Program's Social and Psychological Center in Slavutych. He said that the townsfolk have already lost their workplaces once, their family connections, and their friends. "They lost everything to come here to a new town, where they adapted to new conditions, established new relations. And we want to force a new Pripyat on them. Do we want to make them live through that again? No one wants that. They want to live here, have a family, have a home which they have made their own."
The UNDP center was originally set up seven years ago to offer psychological help to people suffering radiation fears. But it soon found a more useful role--helping people overcome uncertainty. Ukraine has been dragging its heels over the closure of Chornobyl since the early 1990s. Odinitsya told RFE/RL that people who come to the UNDP center ask "What shall I do? Should I build a house or not? Should we buy a garage or not? Should we have a child or not?' The worst thing today is that people don't know what is awaiting them in the future, and so they can't plan."
The immediate future for most people is still unclear. Although the Chornobyl plant will close, it's not certain where many residents will go to find new jobs.
Some 2,000 people are expected to find employment decommissioning Chornobyl and repairing the shelter over its destroyed fourth reactor. But Slavutych's jobless rate is still expected to climb to more than 20 percent from its present 6 percent.
Some of the initial support will come from joint Ukrainian-foreign assistance to provide training and jobs. The Ukrainian government has also established a Special Economic Zone around Slavutych. It has 22 registered enterprises, with hundreds of new jobs projected.
To date, only a small number of those jobs have been created, but Slavutych's mayor, Volodymyr Udovychenko, remains upbeat. "Altogether there are 227 new work places in Slavutych. Is that a small number or a lot? I'm told it's only a few, but I think it's a lot because they are high-tech jobs, where you can earn good wages for our time, about 100 dollars (a month). I would say Slavutych is on the right road, and that's the most important thing."
Nevertheless, about a quarter of the inhabitants say they will leave Slavutych to seek work elsewhere.
The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Ukraine.
LAWMAKER CLAIMS 'MOROZ'S TAPE' AUTHENTIC. Lawmaker Serhiy Holovatyy said on 11 December that he is convinced that the audiotape released by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz allegedly showing President Leonid Kuchma's complicity in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze is authentic, Interfax reported. Holovatyy said he came to this conclusion after interviewing the Security Service officer who eavesdropped on Kuchma's office. Holovatyy, along with two other lawmakers, visited the officer in an unspecified Western European country and brought back to Kyiv a videotape of a 24-minute interview with the officer, which they say they will make public this week. The officer was identified as 34-year-old Mykola Melnychenko. Holovatyy and the two other deputies have lodged a complaint with the Supreme Court about the search to which they were subjected at Kyiv airport on returning from abroad with the videotape. Kuchma ordered the prosecutor-general to investigate the incident. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December)
DEFECTOR SAYS HE EAVESDROPPED ON KUCHMA 'TO STOP REGIME'S CRIMINAL ACTIVITY.' The Internet newsletter "Ukrayinska pravda" (http://www.pravda.com.ua/) has published a transcription of an interview with Security Service officer Mykola Melnychenko, who said he secretly taped conversations that Ukrainian President Kuchma had in his office (see above). Melnychenko told the three Ukrainian lawmakers who visited him abroad that he began eavesdropping on Kuchma after the latter had given a "criminal order" regarding journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Melnychenko noted that his goal in taping Kuchma's conversations and passing the tape to Moroz was "to stop this regime's criminal activity." Melnychenko said that he taped Kuchma and his interlocutors on a digital dictaphone hidden under a sofa in the president's office. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December)
PRESIDENT QUIZZED ABOUT JOURNALIST'S DISAPPEARANCE... Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko said on 8 December that he has questioned Leonid Kuchma in connection with the slander case against Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, Interfax reported. Potebenko added that investigators have also questioned Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko and presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn, whom Moroz accused, along with Kuchma, of being behind the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. "They all think that [Moroz's accusation] is slander [based on] a fabricated material," Potebenko noted. Potebenko said Moroz has already been interrogated twice, adding that the Socialist Party leader "diplomatically avoids [answering] some questions." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December)
OTHERS DEMAND RELEASE OF VIDEO ON ALLEGED KILLING OF OPPOSITION LEADER. Lawmakers Hryhoriy Omelchenko and Anatoliy Yermak have requested that Yevhen Marchuk, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, hand over to the parliament a "videotape containing information about the liquidation of Ukrainian People's Deputy Vyacheslav Chornovil by a special unit of the Interior Ministry," Interfax reported on 11 December. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December)
PEOPLE'S VOICES PROGRAM. The World Bank's "Ukraine People's Voices Program" (http://www.icps.kiev.ua/pvp/index.html) is allowing the people of Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk to talk about their communities and what local governments are doing to "meet their needs." The program also supplies technical assistance to municipal agencies to help them be more responsive. In response to citizens' demands, "Service Centers," a one-stop shop where people can pay for all municipal services, has been created in Ternopil. In Ivano- =46rankivsk, citizens identified education as an urgent problem, so NGOs, parents, and education officials are developing a proposal to improve the local education system. Citizen working groups focusing on different sectors, such as transport, housing, and business development, are designing strategies that the Bank will support through training, other technical assistance, and outreach activities. (Center for Civil Society International, 6 December)
NEW ICT DEVELOPMENT REPORT. A recent annual survey by @Digital Planet 2000@ shows that there are now three distinct ICT development groups among East European countries. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia are in the first, most advanced group. The second-ranking ICT regional group comprises Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, and, to a lesser degree, Yugoslavia. Russia and Ukraine make up the third, least-developed group. At present, neither Albania nor Belarus fit into any of the three groups. Other experts say the focus should be on the growth of total spending over time. Of the top 10 fastest growing ICT markets -- set by compounded annual growth rate from 1992 to 1999 -- Eastern Europe is the highest represented region. The top 10 include countries such as Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia. ("RFE/RL Weekday Magazine," 8 December)