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Related: Chernobyl accident

Chernobyl, officially Chornobyl (Ukrainian: Чорно́биль, Russian: Черно́быль) is a city in northern Ukraine, near the border with Belarus, located 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which exploded 26 April 1986, releasing clouds of radioactive particles and partially destructing a containment vessel. As a result of the accident, more than 100,000 Soviet citizens were evacuated from the city and other areas around the reactor site. Despite low-level radiation from the nuclear reactor disaster, the 800-year-old city of Chernobyl survives, although barely. Government workers still police the zone, trying to clean up radioactive material. About 700—mostly elderly people—have decided to live with the dangers and have returned to their hometown. Before the accident, the city was a major communications node and important centre of trade and commerce, especially in 19th century.

Table of contents
1 Name Origin
2 History
3 Related Topics
4 External Links

Name Origin

The city is named after the chornobyl' grass, or mugwort. The word itself is a combination of chornyi (чорний, black) and byllia (билля, grass blades or stalks), hence it literally means black grass or black stalks.

Sometimes it is erroneously translated as wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), with consequent apocalyptic associations, probably originating from a New York Times article by Serge Schmemann, Chernobyl Fallout: Apocalyptic Tale, July 25, 1986. There, an unnamed "prominent Russian writer" was quoted as claming the Ukrainian word for wormwood was chernobyl.

Actually, the Ukrainian Чорнобиль (chornobyl) and its Russian equivalent Чернобыльник (chernobylnik) refer to the plant mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). Wormwood is a different plant, Artemisia absinthium, Полин in Ukrainian and Полынь in Russian (both pronounced Polyn). "Polyn" has no English equivalent, but corresponds to the botanical genus Artemisia. Botanically, mugwort is "Common Polyn" (Ukr. Полин звичайний / Rus. Полынь Обыкновенная); while wormwood is "Bitter Polyn" (Ukr. Полин гіркий / Rus. Полынь горькая).

Chornobyl bears poetic connotations in folklore, for a number of reasons. Various species of Artemisia are common in steppes, and its strong smell is a often token of steppe. Also, chornobyl roots were used in folk medicine to heal neurotic conditions, but its overdose could lead to psychical distress, including memory loss.


Chernobyl first appeared in a charter of 1193 described as a hunting-lodge of the Ruthenian Prince Rostislavitch. Some time later it was taken into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, where it became a crown village. The castle was built for defence against marauding Tatars. In 1566, three years before the Grand Duchy's Ukrainian provinces were transferred to the Kingdom of Poland, Chernobyl was granted in perpetuity to a Captain of the royal cavalry, Filon Kmita, who thereafter styled himself Kmita Czarnobylski. In due course, it passed by marriage to the Sapiehas, and in 1703 to the Chodkiewicz family. It was annexed by the Russian Empire after the Second Partition of Poland in 1793.

Chernobyl had a very rich religious history. The Jewish community, which formed an absolute majority, would probably have been imported by Filon Kmita as agents and arendators during the Polish campaign of colonisation. Later on, they would have included Chasidim as well as Orthodox Jews. The Ruthenian peasantry of the district would have largely turned to the Greek Catholic (Uniate) religion after 1596, only to be forcibly converted to Russian Orthodoxy by the Tsars.

The Dominican Church and monastery was founded in 1626 by Lukasz Sapieha, at the height of the Counter-reformation. In those days, Chernobyl was clearly a haven of toleration. There was a group of Old Catholics, who opposed the decrees of the Council of Trent, just as the seventeenth century saw the arrival of a group of Raskolniki, or "Old Believers", from Russia. They all escaped the worst horrors of the Chmielnicki Uprising of 1648-54 (also known as Polish-Cossack War) and those of 1768-9, when one of the rebel leaders, Bondarenko, was caught and brutally executed by Chodkiewicz's hussars.

The Dominican monastery was sequestrated in 1832, the church of the Raskolniki in 1852. Since 1880, Chernobyl has seen many changes of fortune. In 1915, it was occupied by the Germans, and in the ensuing Russian Civil War, was fought over by Bolsheviks, Whites, and Ukrainians. In the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-20, it was taken first by the Polish Army and then by the Red Cavalry of the Red Army. From 1921, it was incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR, and experienced the mass killings of Stalin's collectivisation campaign and Holodomor. The Polish population was deported during the Frontier Clearances of 1936. The Jewish community was killed by the Nazis during the German occupation of 1941-44. Twenty years later, it was chosen as the site of one of the first Soviet nuclear power stations.

On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl-4 nuclear reactor, located 10 km to the north of the city, exploded. All permanent residents were evacuated because radiation levels in the area had become unsafe.

Related Topics

External Links

KiddofSpeed A ride through Chernobyl