The Chernobyl Meltdown is recognized as one of the worst man-made disasters in history. Over half of Europe was affected by the radiation cloud produced from the nuclear power plant. It took Soviet Premier Gorbachev weeks to even release a statement about the explosion and the damage it caused. Details about the disaster were difficult to determine early on as the Soviet government controlled what information was released. As the scope of the damage became clear, the Soviet satellite states became very displeased with the Russian government over their handling of the situation. Chernobyl would become another reason for the soured relations between Russia and the rest of the Eastern Bloc.
On April 26th, 1986 a power surge in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, located in northern Ukraine, caused a reactor to explode and leak a massive cloud of radiation into the atmosphere. This cloud would spread until it covered a substantial part of Europe. Western nations did not fully become aware of the disaster until, “monitoring devices in Sweden were picking up significant traces of radioactivity.” (Siegelbaum). Thousands of people within close proximity of the plant were immediately evacuated due to the radiation. Pripyat, a city with a population of 50,000, was turned into a ghost town over night and remains uninhabited to this day. The area around Chernobyl is still fenced off and under quarantine due to the lingering radiation. An accident of this scale was unprecedented at the time, and served to sour relations between Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe.
As one can expect, many people in Ukraine and Belarus were not happy with the Kremlin’s handling of the accident. The Chernobyl plant was close to the boarder of Belarus and much of its radiation was blown into the country. Ukraine in particular had a bone to pick with the Kremlin as many saw this as the latest in a series of events where they drew the short straw. There had been a growing resentment in Ukraine towards Russia’s treatment of the country. In particular the major grievances were, “the famine of 1932-1933 and brutal repression of Ukrainian nationalists after the Second World War.” (Siegelbaum). This disaster was just another reason why many within Ukraine wished to break ties with Russia and become its own autonomous state. These damaged relations with its neighbors sent the Soviet government even closer to its downfall.
The Chernobyl disaster caused a greater rift to grow between Russia and its satellite states. Its massive size and scope effected countless people across many countries. Many were dissatisfied with the Kremlin’s response and management of the situation. This resentment would only grow until many Eastern Bloc states pushed for less ties with Russia. Even to this day, the world is still scared from the events in Chernobyl.
Oleinkirk, Boris. Trial By Chernobyl. The Current Digest of the Russian Press,
No. 46, Vol.38, Minneapolis, December 17, 1986, page(s): 15-15
Sieglebaum, Lewis. Khrushchev’s Secret Speech. Seventeen Moments in
Taylor, Alan. The Chernobyl Disaster: 25 Years Ago. The Atlantic. March 21,