Chernobyl (/ɜːrˈnbəl/ chur-NOH-bəl, UK also /ɜːrˈnɒbəl/ chur-NOB-əl; Russian: Чернобыль, IPA: [tɕɪrˈnobɨlʲ]) or Chornobyl (Ukrainian: Чорнобиль, IPA: [tʃorˈnɔbɪlʲ] ) is a partially abandoned city in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, situated in the Vyshhorod Raion of northern Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine. Chernobyl is about 90 kilometres (60 mi) north of Kyiv, and 160 kilometres (100 mi) southwest of the Belarusian city of Gomel. Before its evacuation, the city had about 14,000 residents (considerably less than neighboring Pripyat).[1] While living anywhere within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is technically illegal today, authorities tolerate those who choose to live within some of the less irradiated areas, and around 1,000 people live in Chernobyl today.[when?][citation needed]

Chernobyl's Old City Hall building
Chernobyl's Old City Hall building
Coat of arms of Chernobyl
Chernobyl is located in Ukraine
Chernobyl is located in Kyiv Oblast
Coordinates: 51°16′20″N 30°13′27″E / 51.27222°N 30.22417°E / 51.27222; 30.22417
Country Ukraine
OblastKyiv Oblast
RaionChernobyl Raion (1923–1988)
Ivankiv Raion (1988–2020)
Vyshhorod Raion (2020–present)
Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (de facto) (1986–present)
First mentioned1193
City status1941
 • AdministrationState Agency of Ukraine on the Exclusion Zone Management
 • Total25 km2 (10 sq mi)
 • Total1,054
Postal code
Area code+380-4593

First mentioned as a ducal hunting lodge in 1193, the city has changed hands multiple times over the course of history. Jews moved into the city in the 16th century, and a now-defunct monastery was established in the area in 1626. By the end of the 18th century, Chernobyl was a major centre of Hasidic Judaism under the Twersky Dynasty, which left Chernobyl after the city was subjected to pogroms in the early 20th century. The Jewish community was later murdered during the Holocaust. Chernobyl was chosen as the site of Ukraine's first nuclear power plant in 1972, located 15 kilometres (9 mi) north of the city, which opened in 1977. Chernobyl was evacuated on 5 May 1986, nine days after a catastrophic nuclear disaster at the plant, which was the largest nuclear disaster in history. Along with the residents of the nearby city of Pripyat, which was built as a home for the plant's workers, the population was relocated to the newly built city of Slavutych, and most have never returned.

Photo of the town and Chernobyl Power plant from Mir station, 1997

The city was the administrative centre of Chernobyl Raion (district) from 1923. After the disaster, in 1988, the raion was dissolved and administration was transferred to the neighbouring Ivankiv Raion. The raion was abolished on 18 July 2020 as part of the administrative reform of Ukraine, which reduced the number of raions of Kyiv Oblast to seven. The area of Ivankiv Raion was merged into Vyshhorod Raion.[2][3]

Although Chernobyl is primarily a ghost town today, a small number of people still live there, in houses marked with signs that read, "Owner of this house lives here",[4] and a small number of animals live there as well. Workers on watch and administrative personnel of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone are also stationed in the city. The city has two general stores and a hotel.

During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Chernobyl was temporarily captured and occupied by Russian forces between 24 February and 2 April. After its capture, it was reported that radiation levels temporarily rose, due to human activities, including earthworks, which disturbed the dust.


Chernobyl welcome sign

The city's name is the same as one of the Ukrainian names for Artemisia vulgaris, mugwort or common wormwood: чорнобиль, chornóbyl' (or more commonly полин звичайний polýn zvycháynyy, 'common artemisia').[5] The name is inherited from Proto-Slavic *čьrnobylъ or Proto-Slavic *čьrnobyl, a compound of Proto-Slavic *čьrnъ 'black' + Proto-Slavic *bylь 'grass', the parts related to Ukrainian: чорний, romanized: chórnyy, lit.'black' and било byló, 'stalk', so named in distinction to the lighter-stemmed wormwood A. absinthium.[5]

The name in languages used nearby is:

The name in languages formerly used in the area is:

In English, the Russian-derived spelling Chernobyl has been commonly used, but some style guides recommend the spelling Chornobyl,[6] or the use of romanized Ukrainian names for Ukrainian places generally.[7]


Orthodox Church of St. Elijah
A 1525 European Sarmatia map after Ptolemy's Geography. Azagarium is marked on the west bank of the Boristhenes river (Dnieper), below the "Sarmatia Europe" inscription, east (right) of the lake captioned "Amodora palus". "Paludes Meotides" (Maeotian Swamp) is the Sea of Azov, "Ponti Euxini pars" marks the Black Sea, and the Carpathians are drawn in the bottom left (southwest) corner as "Carpatus mons".

The Polish Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland of 1880–1902 states that the time the city was founded is not known.[8]

Identity of Ptolemy's "Azagarium"

Some older geographical dictionaries and descriptions of modern Eastern Europe mention "Czernobol" (Chernobyl) with reference to Ptolemy's world map (2nd century AD). Czernobol is identified as Azagarium [uk] "oppidium Sarmatiae" (Lat., "a city in Sarmatia"), by the 1605 Lexicon geographicum of Filippo Ferrari[9] and the 1677 Lexicon Universale of Johann Jakob Hofmann.[10] According to the Dictionary of Ancient Geography of Alexander Macbean (London, 1773), Azagarium is "a town of Sarmatia Europaea, on the Borysthenes" (Dnieper), 36° East longitude and 50°40' latitude. The city is "now supposed to be Czernobol, a town of Poland, in Red Russia [Red Ruthenia], in the Palatinate of Kiow [see Kiev Voivodeship], not far from the Borysthenes."[11]

Whether Azagarium is indeed Czernobol is debatable. The question of Azagarium's correct location was raised in 1842 by Habsburg-Slovak historian, Pavel Jozef Šafárik, who published a book titled "Slavic Ancient History" ("Sławiańskie starożytności"), where he claimed Azagarium to be the hill of Zaguryna, which he found on an old Russian map "Bolzoj czertez" (Big drawing)[dubious ] near the city of Pereiaslav, now in central Ukraine.[12]

In 2019, Ukrainian architect Boris Yerofalov-Pylypchak published a book, Roman Kyiv or Castrum Azagarium at Kyiv-Podil.[13]

12th to 18th century

The archaeological excavations that were conducted in 2005–2008 found a cultural layer from the 10–12th centuries AD, which predates the first documentary mention of Chernobyl.[14]

Around the 12th century Chernobyl was part of the land of Kievan Rus′. The first known mention of the settlement as Chernobyl is from an 1193 charter, which describes it as a hunting lodge of Knyaz Rurik Rostislavich.[15][16] In 1362[17] it was a crown village of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Around that time the town had own castle which was ruined at least on two occasions in 1473 and 1482.[17] The Chernobyl castle was rebuilt in the first quarter of the 16th century being located nearby the settlement in a hard to reach area.[17] With revival of the castle, Chernobyl became a county seat.[17] In 1552 it accounted for 196 buildings with 1,372 residents, out of which over 1,160 were considered city dwellers.[17] In the city were developing various crafts professions such as blacksmith, cooper among others.[17] Near Chernobyl has been excavated bog iron, out of which was produced iron.[17] The village was granted to Filon Kmita, a captain of the royal cavalry, as a fiefdom in 1566. Following the Union of Lublin, the province where Chernobyl is located was transferred to the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland in 1569.[17] Under the Polish Crown, Chernobyl became a seat of eldership (starostwo).[17] During that period Chernobyl was inhabited by Ukrainian peasants, some Polish people and a relatively large number of Jews.[18] Jews were brought to Chernobyl by Filon Kmita, during the Polish campaign of colonization. The first mentioning of Jewish community in Chernobyl is in the 17th century.[19] In 1600 the first Roman Catholic church was built in the town.[17] Local population was persecuted for holding Eastern Orthodox rite services.[17] The traditionally Eastern Orthodox Ukrainian peasantry around the town were forcibly converted, by Poland, to the Ruthenian Uniate Church.[20] In 1626, during the Counter-reformation, a Dominican church and monastery were founded by Lukasz Sapieha. A group of Old Catholics opposed the decrees of the Council of Trent.[clarification needed] The Chernobyl residents actively supported the Khmelnytsky Uprising (1648–1657).[17]

With the signing of the Truce of Andrusovo in 1667, Chernobyl was secured after[dubious ] the Sapieha family.[17] Sometime in the 18th century, the place was passed on to the Chodkiewicz family.[17] In the mid-18th century the area around Chernobyl was engulfed in a number of peasant riots, which caused Prince Riepnin to write from Warsaw to Major General Krechetnikov, requesting hussars to be sent from Kharkiv to deal with the uprising near Chernobyl in 1768.[17] The 8th Lithuanian Infantry Regiment was stationed in the town in 1791.[21] By the end of the 18th century, the town accounted for 2,865 residents and had 642 buildings.[17]

18th century to Soviet times: demography and events

Following the Second Partition of Poland, in 1793 Chernobyl was annexed by the Russian Empire[22] and became part of Radomyshl county (uezd) as a supernumerary town ("zashtatny gorod").[17] Many of the Uniate Church converts returned to Eastern Orthodoxy.[23]

In 1832, following the failed Polish November Uprising, the Dominican monastery was sequestrated. The church of the Old Catholics was disbanded in 1852.[15]

Until the end of the 19th century, Chernobyl was a privately owned city that belonged to the Chodkiewicz family. In 1896 they sold the city to the state, but until 1910 they owned a castle and a house in the city.

In the second half of the 18th century, Chernobyl became a major centre of Hasidic Judaism. The Chernobyl Hasidic dynasty had been founded by Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky. The Jewish population suffered greatly from pogroms in October 1905 and in March–April 1919; many Jews were killed or robbed at the instigation of the Russian nationalist Black Hundreds. When the Twersky Dynasty left Chernobyl in 1920, it ceased to exist as a center of Hasidism.

Chernobyl had a population of 10,800 in 1898, including 7,200 Jews. In the beginning of March 1918[17] Chernobyl was occupied in World War I by German forces[15] (see Treaty of Brest-Litovsk).

Soviet times (1920–1991)

Ukrainians and Bolsheviks fought over the city in the ensuing Civil War. In the Polish–Soviet War of 1919–20, Chernobyl was taken first by the Polish Army and then by the cavalry of the Red Army. From 1921 onwards, it was officially incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR.[15]

Between 1929 and 1933, Chernobyl suffered from killings during Stalin's collectivization campaign. It was also affected by the famine that resulted from Stalin's policies.[24] The Polish and German community of Chernobyl was deported to Kazakhstan in 1936, during the Frontier Clearances.[25]

During World War II, Chernobyl was occupied by the German Army from 25 August 1941 to 17 November 1943. When the Germans arrived, only 400 Jews remained in Chernobyl;[26] they were murdered during the Holocaust.[15]

In 1972, the Duga-1 radio receiver, part of the larger Duga over-the-horizon radar array, began construction 11 km (6.8 mi) west-northwest of Chernobyl. It was the origin of the Russian Woodpecker and was designed as part of an anti-ballistic missile early warning radar network.[27]

On 15 August 1972, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (officially the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Plant) began construction about 15 km (9.3 mi)[28][29] northwest of Chernobyl. The plant was built alongside Pripyat, an "atomograd" city founded on 4 February 1970 that was intended to serve the nuclear power plant. The decision to build the power plant was adopted by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union on recommendations of the State Planning Committee that the Ukrainian SSR be its location. It was the first nuclear power plant to be built in Ukraine.[30]

Independent Ukraine (1991–present)

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Chernobyl remained part of Ukraine within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone which Ukraine inherited from the Soviet Union.

Russian occupation (February–April 2022)

During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces captured the city on 24 February.[31] After its capture, Ukrainian officials reported that the radiation levels started to rise due to recent military activity causing radioactive dust to ascend into the air.[32] Hundreds of Russian soldiers were suffering from radiation poisoning after digging trenches in a contaminated area, and one died.[33] On 31 March it was reported that Russian forces had left the exclusion zone.[34] Ukrainian authorities reasserted control over the area on 2 April.[35]


Chernobyl is located about 90 kilometres (60 mi) north of Kyiv, and 160 kilometres (100 mi) southwest of the Belarusian city of Gomel.


Chernobyl has a humid continental climate (Dfb) with very warm, wet summers with cool nights and long, cold, and snowy winters.

Climate data for Chernobyl, 127 m asl (1981–2010 normals, extremes 1955–present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 11.5
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) −0.8
Daily mean °C (°F) −3.5
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) −6.1
Record low °C (°F) −29.7
Average precipitation mm (inches) 34.0
Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm) 8.1 8.9 8.1 7.5 8.7 10.2 9.2 7.1 8.7 7.4 8.7 9.1 101.7
Average relative humidity (%) 83.5 79.8 74.7 66.7 66.0 70.4 72.8 72.3 77.8 80.8 85.3 85.9 76.3
Source 1: World Meteorological Organization[36]
Source 2: Météo Climat (extremes)[37]

Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster

Wormwood Star Memorial Complex
Monument to Those Who Saved the World

On 26 April 1986, one of the reactors at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded after unsanctioned experiments on the reactor by plant operators were done improperly. The resulting loss of control was due to design flaws of the RBMK reactor, which made it unstable when operated at low power, and prone to thermal runaway where increases in temperature increase reactor power output.[38][39]

Chernobyl city was evacuated nine days after the disaster. The level of contamination with caesium-137 was around 555 kBq/m2 (surface ground deposition in 1986).[40][41]

Later analyses concluded that, even with very conservative estimates, relocation of the city (or of any area below 1500 kBq/m2) could not be justified on the grounds of radiological health.[42][43][44] This however does not account for the uncertainty in the first few days of the accident about further depositions and weather patterns. Moreover, an earlier short-term evacuation could have averted more significant doses from short-lived isotope radiation (specifically iodine-131, which has a half-life of about eight days). Estimates of health effects are a subject of some controversy, see Effects of the Chernobyl disaster.

In 1998, average caesium-137 doses from the accident (estimated at 1–2 mSv per year) did not exceed those from other sources of exposure.[45] Current effective caesium-137 dose rates as of 2019 are 200–250 nSv/h, or roughly 1.7–2.2 mSv per year,[46] which is comparable to the worldwide average background radiation from natural sources.

The base of operations for the administration and monitoring of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was moved from Pripyat to Chernobyl. Chernobyl currently contains offices for the State Agency of Ukraine on the Exclusion Zone Management and accommodations for visitors. Apartment blocks have been repurposed as accommodations for employees of the State Agency. The length of time that workers may spend within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is restricted by regulations that have been implemented to limit radiation exposure. Today, visits are allowed to Chernobyl but limited by strict rules.

In 2003, the United Nations Development Programme launched a project, called the Chernobyl Recovery and Development Programme (CRDP), for the recovery of the affected areas.[47] The main goal of the CRDP's activities is supporting the efforts of the Government of Ukraine to mitigate the long-term social, economic, and ecological consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

The city has become overgrown and many types of animals live there. According to census information collected over an extended period of time, it is estimated that more mammals live there now than before the disaster.[48]

Notably, Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union, stated in respect to the Chernobyl disaster that, "More than anything else, (Chernobyl) opened the possibility of much greater freedom of expression, to the point that the (Soviet) system as we knew it could no longer continue."[49]

Notable people

See also


  1. ^ Mould, Richard (May 2000). "Evacuation zones and populations". Chernobyl Record. Bristol, England: Institute of Physics. p. 105. ISBN 0-7503-0670-X.
  2. ^ "Про утворення та ліквідацію районів. Постанова Верховної Ради України № 807-ІХ". Голос України (in Ukrainian). 18 July 2020. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  3. ^ "Нові райони: карти + склад" (in Ukrainian). Міністерство розвитку громад та територій України.
  4. ^ Withington, John (13 December 2013). Disaster!: A History of Earthquakes, Floods, Plagues, and Other Catastrophes. Skyhorse Publishing Company, Incorporated. p. 328. ISBN 978-1-62636-708-1.
  5. ^ a b Etymology from O. S. Melnychuk, ed. (1982–2012), Etymolohichnyi slovnyk ukraïnsʹkoï movy (Etymological dictionary of the Ukrainian language) v 7, Kyiv: Naukova Dumka.
  6. ^ "The Guardian and Observer style guide". The Guardian and Observer style guide. 30 April 2021. Retrieved 14 October 2022. Chornobyl not Chernobyl, for the site of the nuclear disaster in Ukraine
  7. ^ "The ABC Style Guide". About the ABC. Retrieved 14 October 2022. Use Ukrainian romanisations for place names from that country
  8. ^ "Czarnobyl". Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland (1880–1902). Vol. I. p. 750. Archived from the original on 13 March 2021. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  9. ^ Ferrari, Filippo (1670). "Chernobol". Lexicon geographicum. Vol. 2 (1670 (reprint of 1605 first edition) ed.). Paris. Archived from the original on 5 March 2022. Retrieved 2 September 2020. Czernobol, Azagarium, oppidium Sarmatiae. (lit. "Czernobol, Azagarium, city in Sarmatia.")
  10. ^ Hofmann, Johann Jakob Hofmann (1677). Chernobol – Lexicon universale historico-geographico-chronologico-poetico-philologicum. Retrieved 2 September 2020. Czernobol, oppidium Sarmatiae, Azagarium. (lit. "Czernobol, city in Sarmatia, Azagarium.")
  11. ^ Macbean, Alexander (1773). "Azagarium". A Dictionary of Ancient Geography. London. Archived from the original on 28 October 2020. Retrieved 24 October 2020.
  12. ^ Šafárik, Pavel Jozef (1842). Sławiańskie starożytności. Vol. 1. Poznan: Wydanie i druk W. Stefańskiego. p. 660. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  13. ^ Yerofalov-Pylypchak, Boris (2019). Римский Киев: или Castrum Azagarium на Киево-Подоле (Roman Kyiv or Castrum Azagarium at Kyiv-Podil). A+C. ISBN 9786177765010. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
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  18. ^ "Refworld | The Situation of Ethnic Minorities". Refworld. Archived from the original on 8 March 2021. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
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  21. ^ Gembarzewski, Bronisław (1925). Rodowody pułków polskich i oddziałów równorzędnych od r. 1717 do r. 1831 (in Polish). Warszawa: Towarzystwo Wiedzy Wojskowej. p. 35.
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  23. ^ Roudometof, Victor; Agadjanian, Alexander; Pankhurst, Jerry (28 June 2005). Eastern Orthodoxy in a Global Age: Tradition Faces the 21st Century. Rowman Altamira. ISBN 978-0-7591-1477-7. Archived from the original on 15 October 2020. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  24. ^ "Genocide in the 20th Century: Stalin's Forced Famine 1932–33". Archived from the original on 24 December 2018. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
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  33. ^ Kilner, James (1 April 2022). "Russian soldier dies from radiation poisoning at Chernobyl". The Telegraph. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  34. ^ "Russian invaders leaving Chornobyl NPP – Energoatom". 31 March 2022.
  35. ^ "Ukrainian flag raised over Chernobyl, nuclear operator says". 2 April 2022.
  36. ^ "World Meteorological Organization Climate Normals for 1981–2010". World Meteorological Organization. Archived from the original on 17 July 2021. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
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  38. ^ Plokhy, Serhii (15 May 2018). Chernobyl : the history of a nuclear catastrophe (First ed.). New York, NY. ISBN 9781541617094. OCLC 1003311263.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  39. ^ Schmid, Sonja D. (2015). Producing power : the pre-Chernobyl history of the Soviet nuclear industry. Cambridge, Massachusetts. ISBN 9780262321792. OCLC 904249268.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
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  42. ^ Lochard, J.; Schneider, T.; Kelly, N. (1992). Evaluation of countermeasures to be taken to assure safe living conditions to the population affected by the Chernobyl accident in the USSR. 8. International congress of the International Radiation Protection Association (IRPA8). Vol. 36. ISBN 1-55048-657-8. Archived from the original on 8 March 2021. Full conference pdf Archived 22 July 2019 at the Wayback Machine
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  47. ^ "UNDP Ukraine". 4 July 2007. Archived from the original on 4 July 2007.
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External links