The Ukrainian leader travelled to the village of Ozhidov in the country’s western Lviv province yesterday afternoon.
A Tuesday freight train derailment in Lviv cracked open six of 15 50-tonne hazardous chemical containers filled with liquid phosphorus, sparking a fire and a poisonous smoke cloud covering an estimated 90sq km of land.
At least 11,000 people are believed to have been downwind from the cloud. A total of 152 emergency workers and local residents have been hospitalised after exposure to the toxic chemical, according to a Health Ministry statement.
At least 2,000 people have received some kind of medical treatment for early symptoms of phosphorus exposure, typically including headache, dizziness and loss of appetite, the Interfax new agency reported.
Repair teams had removed three undamaged phosphorus containers from the rail-carriage debris by yesterday morning. Repair and clean-up work was continuing, but poisonous fumes from broached containers were hindering the effort.
Ozhidov’s only pharmacy had run out of most supplies by yesterday morning, and prices for basic household supplies had doubled in the region, Korrespondent magazine reported.
Ozhidov Mayor Oleksander Shakh told the Channel 5 television channel: “We no longer expect help from government, our hope is on charitable people ... we need simple help – mineral water, basic foods and detergents.”
Officials from five major Ukrainian government bureaucracies – the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Ministry of Transport, the national railroad Ukrzhelesnitsia, the army, and the police – all have sent teams to the area, and since Tuesday have been vocal in asserting that the situation is under control.
Yushchenko’s decision to travel to the accident site, despite official assurances the government was doing everything possible to help, was seen by observers as additional proof that the Ukrainian leader was dissatisfied with the clean-up so far.
A Yushchenko spokesman on Wednesday called for the resignation of Transport Minister Mykola Rudolkovsky over the accident. Rudolkovsky on Thursday said there were no grounds for him to quit his job.
Prior to the trip, Yushchenko laced into Rudolkovsky in front of Kiev reporters, calling the minister “a general for weddings ... not capable of controlling any part of the Transport Ministry ... but the staff of the ministry building in the capital”.
Political finger-pointing in the wake of the accident has been intense even by Ukrainian standards.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled in the country for September 30.