Chernobyl syndrome
Chernobyl syndrome

One of the forms of social tension in society is associated with the Chernobyl accident, giving it the corresponding name — “Chernobyl syndrome”. It is noteworthy that in its formation of radiation itself, a much smaller role is assigned than the actions of representatives of state bodies, public organizations, or the publications of well-known journalists or bloggers.

The word “Chernobyl syndrome” is associated with the opinion of people who are not knowledgeable experts in the field of radiation biology or ecology, nor in the large-scale industry of radiation protection and energy security. The burden of the impact of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster on the psychological health of people, to a greater extent, is the fact of a lack of trust in official bodies and political leaders. This is especially noticeable when the issue affects the nuclear industry.

Skeptics cultivate a distrustful attitude to authorities, which exacerbates difficulties in understanding the influence of radiation and its consequences for all vital areas of human activity. In turn, the inability of officials, their unwillingness to answer questions posed by civil society, only deepens this conflict of interest.

Studies confirm that anxiety, depression, and stress are associated with external radioactive contamination. However, from a medical point of view, these facts of mental disorder cannot be associated with an indicator of the physical effects of radiation. Distrust to a number of sources of information was most acute in the first post-accident period.

The Soviet leadership, on the urgent recommendation of international partners, invited foreign experts to visit the territories contaminated by radiation, and also organized a meeting with domestic experts at the round table.

Everyone had the opportunity to express their point of view, and this was happening in public with the invitation of the media. In general, such visits yielded a positive result, in any case, they managed to slightly lower the degree of tension in society, reducing the fears of people who were subjected to the Chernobyl syndrome. Alas, it was not possible to completely protect society from it. An aggravating factor was serious economic difficulties, which reinforced a negative attitude towards the authorities.

Over the next few years after the accident, anti-nuclear public demonstrations became the norm not only in large cities of Ukraine and Belarus, they became widespread in a number of foreign countries. Neglect of public opinion by some scholars and statesmen aggravated the situation from within, the monolithic Soviet state began to “come apart at the seams”. The Chernobyl accident led to the undermining of traditional foundations and served as a gradual breakdown of the way of life in the USSR.. 


According to statistics, most of the evacuated population of the Chernobyl zone, especially its rural contingent, were indigenous settlers who lived in the territory exposed to radiation from generation to generation. Forced evacuation has affected serious family values. Some could not come to terms with the new place of residence. After some time, not a large group of resettlers gradually began to return to their abandoned houses.

Nevertheless, about 80% of the residents of the evacuated territories expressed a desire to move to other regions of Ukraine, a small part of the nuclear specialists agreed to relocation and employment on the territory of the RSFSR, where there was promising work at other nuclear power plants. The desire to leave away from the Chernobyl zone was influenced not only by the radiation situation. It was affected by, including economic factors, the desire due to state-funded resettlement to improve the level of comfort of their own lives, including housing conditions.

The results of individual studies of the participants in the liquidation of the Chernobyl accident showed that some of them, even after receiving the minimum radiation dose, were in a state of increased emotional and psychological stress.

The evidence was given to irascibility, a tendency to depression, lack of complexes, self-doubt, confusion, in the majority – sleep disturbance, a constant feeling of a panic attack. Many saw the typical way out of this situation as isolation from society, a closed lifestyle, and solitude in the world of their own inner experiences.

Such consequences have nothing to do with radiation and clearly demonstrate the psychological problems of a person who has experienced emotional shock, or various kinds of stressful situations, and is not a consequence of radiation sickness. In turn, manifestations of psychological pathology in those who live with a sense of constant expectation of the threat of radiation consequences cannot be ruled out.

In comparison with Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, psychological disorders from the possible radiation consequences caused by the Chernobyl accident were less noticeable and were expressed mainly by a social reaction. However, the so-called “Chernobyl syndrome” was recorded in some Western European countries, and had the form of a pronounced increase in the number of abortions in women.

Doctors in Hungary, Greece, and a number of other countries have documented this cause as confirmation of elevated abortion rates. In many countries, in the first time after the Chernobyl tragedy, abortion was resorted to precisely because of fear for the full value of the future generation.

In Europe as a whole, the number of potentially unborn children was about 200,000. Paying tribute to fairness, it is worth saying that doctors knew no more about the possible consequences for newborn babies than their patients. Birth rates fell – this is an undeniable fact, but the reason for this was not scientifically proven research, because they simply could not be carried out, but ordinary fear and uncertainty. 

Only years later, after conducting systematic research, it became obvious that the amount of radiation dust thrown into the atmosphere, the migration of radionuclides throughout the globe, was related to the termination of pregnancy exactly the same as last year’s snow. Doctors’ findings have shown that the effect of small doses of radiation on the body is no different from that of radiation received as a result of a long flight on an airplane or a visit to a room X-ray in a regional clinic. Only from them, for some reason no one is in a hurry to do an abortion.

The reason for everything is the “Chernobyl syndrome”, this is the diagnosis made by specialists to many phenomena and facts that worsened in society in the first periods after the Chernobyl disaster. Today, virtually every psychoanalyst can understand their nature and cause.

But then, 33 years ago, it was comparable to flying into space. Something distant and unknown – fear of irredeemable risk, a sense of self-helplessness, and a limited sense of psychological freedom. Such Chernobyl is still in the minds of many who survived on April 26, 1986.