Chernobyl Digital Russian History Soviet Era 1917-1991 Teaching Russian History

Chernobyl at 25

The recent nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi brought the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown back into an often forgetful public consciousness. Although we will no doubt soon forget these events again, especially amidst the insane amount of coverage focused on royal nuptials, the world press is taking some note of Chernobyl today–the 25th anniversary of the disaster. A search on Google news shows over 9,400 articles referencing Chernobyl in the last 24 hours. The articles run the gamut: human interest stories (see also here), reminiscences from those who lived near Chernobyl and from the leaders who had to deal with the disaster, and a panoply of stories on how Chernobyl affected this or that locality. Although the Washington Post presented Chernobyl as the key to Ukrainian independence, coverage of the 25th anniversary differs significantly from the 20th in 2006. Then, many articles stressed Chernobyl’s role in the Soviet collapse. Although such stories are not entirely absent this year, ties to Fukushima Daiichi and anti-nuclear protests dominate the headlines (along with Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev’s trip to Chernobyl to mark the anniversary.) Nature magazine, I should add, has some important extensive coverage of the event.

Most of us, no doubt, teach about Chernobyl in our Soviet history courses. I wanted also to share two phenomenal resources for helping our students understand that horrible event. First, thanks to a number of colleagues for pointing out these chilling photographs taken at the time of the event. Second, I wanted to share a video that always helps students understand the magnitude of the tragedy. The French organization IRSN which focuses on nuclear safety issues provides this frightening video showing the spread of radioactive contamination during the two weeks immediately following the accident.


Thanks to the Davis Center at Harvard for pointing out After Chernobyl, an amazing resource on life around Chernobyl since the accident.

5 replies on “Chernobyl at 25”

You know, I think the photo that really hits me is the one of the flag, posted to “mark the end of the clean-up operation” and its accompanying caption. I mean, how many worse ways can you think of to say Mission Accomplished?

Also, for an interesting commentary on Soviet censorship and the disaster, I can recommend No Breathing Room by Grigori Medvedev, by Basic Books, 1993.

Well, if we are speaking of books on the subject, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out co-blogger Andrew Jenks’ Perils of Progress: Environmental Disasters in the 20th Century (Prentice Hall, 2010) which includes a chapter on Chernobyl.

Dr. Barnes,

Thank you for the multiple links concerning Chernobyl. I am a high school World History teacher in Missouri with a particular interest in Russian history. I spend a considerable time teaching about the disaster and plan to direct my students to your blog and research. спасибо.

роб антоний


I’m always happy to hear that the blog helps out high school history teachers, but even more happy to hear it is helping out a high school history teacher in Missouri. It was my high school world history teacher in Odessa, Missouri, who first fostered my love of Russian history when we studied the Russian revolution.

My best to you and your students.

Steve Barnes

Dr. Barnes,

Thank you for the information. My wife used to live outside of Kansas City and shopped at the one-time large outlet mall in Odessa. It’s good to hear from a fellow Missourian.

Secondly, would it be possible if I were to email you with a couple of questions regarding Russian history research?

Thank you for your time.

Rob Anthony

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