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A small funeral home in the American city where he died is the site of a memorial service for Anatoly Grishchenko, the heroic Soviet helicopter pilot who contracted leukemia while making flights to cap radiation spewing from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.

Grishchenko, who was 53, died Monday of pulmonary failure, doctors said. He had been on a respirator for more than two weeks.Among those invited to the Thursday service is Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, who declared Tuesday a "day of mourning" for Grishchenko and ordered flags flown at half-staff on city buildings to mark the Soviet pilot's death.

Rice called Grischenko "a true hero, whose courage transcends national or political boundaries."

Grishchenko's wife, Galina, who remained at her husband's side throughout his treatment at the cancer center, was expected to speak at the memorial service, said Susan Edmonds, spokeswoman for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, where Grishchenko died.

Grishchenko's body will be flown back to the Soviet Union on Saturday.

Grishchenko was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal - equivalent to the U.S. Medal of Honor - for his flights over Chernobyl after the reactor exploded in April 1986.

Grishchenko was repeatedly exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl reactor during repeated helicopter flights to dump sand and concrete to entomb the reactor's fractured core.

Grishchenko was placed on the life-extending respirator June 15 following surgery to remove fungal lesions on his lungs. He contracted the lung problem because of a lowered immune system that resulted from his exposure to massive amounts of radiation, doctors said.

Grishchenko, a civilian test pilot for the Gromov Flight Research Center in Moscow, traveled to Seattle last April to receive a bone marrow transplant that doctors said would have saved him from leukemia were it not for the secondary illness in his lungs.