A top Ukrainian official said on Saturday the country's budget funds were not enough to keep paying for social benefits for eligible groups of citizens including Chernobyl nuclear disaster veterans and participants in the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
A bill canceling social benefits for 16 categories of citizens has been introduced to the Ukrainian parliament, sparking an angry response from those affected by the planned cuts.
Large-scale protests against the unpopular measures took place in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities over the past week, including a 1,000-strong demonstration of former Chernobyl disaster workers in central Kiev during which the protesters tried to storm the parliament building.
“I understand the emotions of the people who sacrificed their health to protect the country,” Irina Akimova, the first deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, said in an interview with the country's Inter TV channel broadcast early on Saturday.
“But on the other hand, we should understand very well that the country's opportunities... are limited,” she went on. “We can pay social benefits from the funds that we possess... We can't increase out debt burden.”
The amendments which affect some 10 million Ukrainians were approved in the first reading in early September. The second reading of the bill, which had to take place earlier this week, was postponed following the popular protests.
A total of more than 500,000 workers have been involved in relief operations following an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in April 1986, which resulted in highly radioactive fallout in the atmosphere over an extensive area. A 30-kilometer (19-mile) exclusion zone was introduced following the accident.