Chornobyl Radiation-Ecological Biosphere Reserve – is a protected area in Ukraine and a biosphere reserve. It is located within the Ivankiv and Polissya districts of the Kyiv region in the Chornobyl NPP Exclusion Zone. Chornobyl Radiation-Ecological Biosphere Reserve was established by the Decree of the President of Ukraine on April 26, 2016 on the territory of Ivankiv and Polissia districts of the Kiev region within the Exclusion Zone and the Zone of Unconditional (mandatory) Resettlement. The area of the Reserve is 226 964.7 hectares and it is the largest object of The Natural Reserve Found (NRF) of Ukraine.
The official slogan: "A place where nature can be itself."
The purpose of the foundation
Preservation of the most typical Polissya natural complexes in the natural state, providing support and increasing the barrier function of the Exclusion Zone and Zone of Unconditional (Mandatory) Resettlement, stabilization of the hydrological regime and rehabilitation of the areas contaminated by radionuclides, facilitating the organization and conducting of scientific researches with the participation of foreign and domestic specialists.
Minimization of ecological danger and preservation of natural resources of the Exclusion Zone and Zone of Unconditional (Mandatory) Resettlement, prevention of removal of radionuclides from the territory of radioactive contamination zones; restoration and conservation of natural diversity of landscapes, gene pool of fauna and flora, maintaining the overall ecological balance; periodic inventory of natural resources, study of phenomena and processes occurring in the Reserve ecosystems; conducting ecological, biomedical and radiation monitoring of the territory; carrying out the environmental protection scientific research; ensuring compliance with the regime of protection of the territory of the Reserve established for all natural objects; keeping the territory in the proper sanitary and fire safety condition; organization of fire protection of natural complexes; conducting the ecological educational activities, etc.
The history of Establishment
The prerequisites for the creation of Chornobyl Radiation-Ecological Biosphere Reserve on the territory of the Exclusion Zone and the Zone of Unconditional (Mandatory) Resettlement appeared long before April 26, 2016, when the Presidential Decree about its creation was issued. During the first 5 years after the Chornobyl disaster, the researchers observed the gradual reproduction of wildlife: evacuation of the population and the cessation of economic activity in this area became impetus to favorable conditions. Scientists have recorded the increasing of number of typical and the appearance of rare species of flora and fauna as well. The outlook for the future was optimistic – since a slow transformation of anthropogenic landscapes into the typical Polissya natural complexes was expected.
This process was called "The Secondary Environmental Impacts". Since the mid-1990s, scientists and the public have returned to the issue of creating a protected area in the Exclusion Zone and the Zone of Unconditional (mandatory) Resettlement. Thus, in 2007, a decree of the President of Ukraine on the territory of the Ivankiv district of the Kiev region declared a zoological reserve of the national significance "Chornobyl special"
In 2007, the National Zoological Reserve of the national significance "Chornobyl special" was established by the Decree of the President of Ukraine on the territory of the Ivankiv district of Kyiv region.
In 2013, the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources supported the petition of the ecological community for establishing the Chornobyl Biosphere Reserve. After three years of preparation, discussion and approval of all necessary documents, the President of Ukraine issued a relevant Decree. Since the middle of 2017, the Reserve has been actively developing as an independent budget institution belonging to the sphere of management of the State Agency of Ukraine for Management of the Exclusion Zone. Since 2018 the Reserve has been actively involving in the implementation of international projects and its scientific unit organizes scientific expeditions to study flora and fauna in the Exclusion Zone.
The main geological factor that determines the geological structure of the Chornobyl Reserve territory is its belonging to the big joint fissure - the Pripyat Fracture, which is the border zone of the two largest structures of the Eastern European Platform: Ukrainian Shield and Dnipro-Donetsk cavity.
Most of the territory is occupied by northern end of the southwestern monocline of the southern flank of the Dnipro-Donetsk cavity. Northwestern part of the territory is located within southeastern borders of the Pripyat depression, and the north and northeast areas are located at the southern end of the Bragin-Chernihiv ledge of the crystalline foundation, which divides the Pripyat and Dnipro grabens.
Despite of its ancient age, this formation is a tectonically active area throughout the geological history, as evidenced by numerous geological and geomorphological data.
Geomorphology and relief
The territory of the Reserve, as well as the whole Exclusion Zone is located within the physical and geographical area of the Kiev Polissya of Polissya lowland of Eastern European Plain. The geomorphological structure causes a considerable differentiation of natural territorial complexes. The Frontal apron and moraine - frontal apron plains dominated on the interfluvial.
On the Reserve territory there are also fin-moraine ridges. In the river valleys, the main role is played by floodplains and accumulating terraces with aeolian landforms and wetlands. In the formation of relief and differentiation of natural territorial complexes, anthropogenic deposits with an average power of 20-30 meters at maximum - 50-60 meters play an important role.
By origin, they are referred to glacial, fluvioglacial, alluvial, aeolian, lake, deluvium, organogenic and other types. Lithologically, it is mainly sand and clay-sand deposits with boulders and pebbles, mainly of crystalline rocks.
The Chornobyl Reserve territory is characterized by four year seasons of approximately equal duration. The winter season covers the period December-February. Its beginning is associated with the invasion of the Arctic air, which causes a sharp cold, frosty and snowy weather. The average monthly air temperatures are below 0° C. January is the coldest month. In winter a cyclonic activity is usually very developed. The passage of the western and northwestern cyclones is often accompanied by short-term warming, intense snowfall, strong winds and blizzards.
Southwestern and southern cyclones could lead to prolonged thaws and snowmelt. The spring period is characterized by considerable temperature fluctuations and an active rising of temperature, intensive melting of the snow cover and besides the rapid drying of the soil is also typical for this time of year. In April and May, cool weather is often caused by the invasion of Arctic air. Summer season in the Reserve covers the period from the end of the second third of May to the end of August. Weather conditions during this season are marked by a significant increasing of temperature.
This period is characterized by increasing of rainfall, mainly in the form of downpours and heavy thunderstorm activity. The decrease of temperatures could be due to the passage of cyclones from the west and northwest. There is no frost, not even on the soil surface. Squalls and tornadoes could be observed during this period. July is the warmest month however, as a result of regular observations made during about a third of the entire the period the maximum temperature is recorded in August and June.
Autumn comes in September and usually it lasts til the end of November. Dry warm weather of short period of Indian summer is typical during the first half of autumn. Its second half is characterized by a general deterioration of the weather when a large number of cloudy days with heavy rainfall, fogs, and further decrease in temperature are typical. In November, when winter approaches, the atmospheric circulation becomes more intensive when often the snow on the ground for a short is registered.
According to the long-term observations by the Chornobyl weather station, the average annual air temperature is 7.2̊ С. The coldest month of the year is January. Its average annual temperature is -6.1˚С, the warmest is registered in July whe the average air temperature is 18.9 ˚С. The recorded air temperatures extremes are: the absolute minimum is 35˚С and the absolute maximum comes to 39 ˚С.
The surface water bodies of the Reserve are represented by the Pripyat River, its main tributary is the Uzh River, small rivers of lower order, floodplain lakes, artificial objects (ponds and melioration channels in different condition of degradation, so-called backwaters that are fenced off from the main bed with former riverbed) and swamps.
The largest water object of the Exclusion Zone is the Pripyat River. Its length within the Exclusion Zone is about 60 km, and the catchment area is about 2000 km2. Within the Exclusion Zone, Pripyat has a wide valley. The river bed before the beginning of anthropogenic influence was quite winding and rich in meanders and former riverbeds.
Some of them became typical floodplain lakes. The river bed width (approximately before the confluence to the Uzh River) is 100-250 m. Before the Chornobyl accident, the river was navigable, the ports of Chornobyl and Pripyat were operating, and the hydrofoil vessels navigated up to the city of Mozyr. The works on deepening and arrangement of the channel for the needs of navigation were carried out on regular basis. The major channel modifications are related to the construction of the Chornobyl cooling pond.
For this purpose, a part of the natural stream channel of about 12 km long was fenced off and a new one was laid to the left of it. In the mid-20th century some of the floodplains were equipped with dams for protection of the left-bank villages from the floods. In the post-accident period, protective dams Chornobyl NPP area were constructed to limit the water migration of radionuclides. Their total length exceeds 20 km. The river banks were also reinforced with stone embankments.
Thus, the most polluted former riverbed are not connected to the river today. The Pripyat River hydrological regime is characterized by long spring flooding (usually it happens from March to July), summer is normally of low water, then the high water content is in autumn. The winter low water level in recent years is unstable, with variable water content, and the leveling regime is affected by congestion jamming. During the spring flooding, water levels are mostly increased by 2-4 m, and during the significant floods they are up to 6 m.
Average annual water flow at the mouth is approximately 450 m3/s, the average maximum water flood is 1300 m3/s, and the maximum flow rate in modern climatic conditions should be considered as fixed in 1979 (4500 m3/s).
The main source of nutrition of the Reserve rivers is the snow fall-out. The share of meltwater runoff is about 60% per annum. The rest of the runoff is distributed, depending on the individual river basins as soil and rainwater nutrition. This kind of nutrition defines the level mode throughout the year. The share of underground water supply is significant and ranges from 20% to 33% of the total runoff. The rainwater feeding mainly influences the flow of small rivers.
Some rivers (Sahan, Illya, Braginka and several other waterways) were cut off after 1986 in one or more places by special filtration dams for reducing radionuclides carry-over into the Pripyat River. Different water-surface areas were formed on the rivers in front of the dams. Until 1986, on the present Reserve territory, mainly on the lands of agricultural enterprises, a number of land reclamation systems were created: Uzh-1, Uzh-2, Tovstyi Lis, Sahan, Gallo, Rozsokha, Yampil, Usivskaya, Pripyatska and others.
After the Chornobyl accident, there was no economic care for reclamation systems except for a few trunk channels. The channels are silted and overgrown with vegetation; the condition of hydraulic structures is deteriorating. The drained areas are gradually returning to their original natural state, and wetlands are being restored.
The Exclusion Zone is the epicenter of the Chornobyl Disaster, which is determined by experts as the largest accident in the history of nuclear energy. Within the Exclusion Zone, the radiation impact of the catastrophe on the environment and humans reached the maximum dangerous values. Therefore, an unprecedented peacetime evacuation of the population, curtailed business activities, closed industrial and agricultural enterprises were carried out. A typical feature of radioactive contamination of the Chornobyl origin is the spatial inhomogeneity of density, radionuclide composition and physicochemical forms of deposition.
Today, the radiation situation is formed by the following elements: Cesium-137 is the most biologically dangerous isotope, causing up to 90% of the external radiation exposure dose of the staff (half-life is about 30 years). Strontium-90 - has significant mobility in ecosystems and it is effectively integrated into the soil-plant-animal-sediment-soil chain, water-soluble and it is a major component of the flow of radioactive substances that flow away outside the zone by waterways (half-life - about 29 years) .
Plutonium (isotopes 238, 239, 240) - implies a significant risk to the human body as a result of alpha radiation and chemical toxicity, but has no significant environmental and biological mobility. The Pu-239 half-life is about 24 thousand years. The isotopes of this element will determine the radiation situation in the area in the long period ahead. Americium-241 is a product of the Pu-241 breakup. It’s the only radionuclide from the release of Chornobyl Disaster whose activity is now increasing (the half-life is 433 years). The highest values of radioactive contamination within the Reserve are registered in the area of the western trace of emergency radioactive fallout (village Buryakivka) and the northern trace of emergency radioactive fallout (Usiv and Mashevo villages).
The concentration of radionuclides in surface water depends on the type of water body and the density of surface contamination of the catchment area. Indoor water reservoirs - lake Hlyboke and former Krasnenskaya riverbed have the highest pollution rates. The concentration of radionuclides in the atmospheric air demonstates the highest values at the Masheve observation point, the lowest ones at the Dytyatky observation point.
The vegetation of Reserve territory is characterized by deciduous forests. Until the 18th-19th centuries this territory was completely covered with forests, but in the early 20th century, the forest cover decreased to 11-12% as a result of the heavy use of timber and forest land. Local production of glass, potash and ore mining required a large amount of fuel wood. Due to land reclamation, forest land for agriculture has been developed. The prolonged anthropogenic impact resulted in fragmentation and destruction of forest complexes and individual species occurred. The insular nature of the residual forests has made it difficult to restore the mosaic-tier structure of the phytocenoses.
The significant decrease of the lands fertility and the impossibility of their further agricultural resulted to returning to reforestation. The first works for artificial reforestation began in the 1920s and then in the 1950s and 1960s they gained global character. During this time, the area of forests increased in four times and reached about 50% of the territory. The vast majority of forrests are monocultural perennial pine plantations. After 1986, forestry activities were stopped and resumed after 1992, when Specialized Forestry Enterprise “Chornobyllis” was established.
After the Chornobyl disaster, a part of the abandoned farmland and settlements spontaneously overgrown and now the afforestation is about 58%. According to geobotanical zoning, the reserve is located in the Polissia sub-province of the European deciduous forest area of the forest zone. Much of the territory is a part of the Kiev-Polissia geobotanical district of oak-pine forests, and a part of it is located on the left bank of Pripyat - Polissya-Pridneprovsk geobotanical district of pine, oak-pine forests and hornbeam, eutrophic wetlands and flood lands.
In the Kiev-Polissia district, the territory of the Reserve extends to parts of the Vilchansko-Chornobyl, Narodichno-Ivankivsky and Gornostaypilsky-Dimersky geobotanical regions. In the Polisko-Pridneprovsky district it covers the Zymovyshchyn and partly the Pergan-Vystupovichi and the South Pole geobotanical regions. The Zymovyshchyn and Pergana-Vystupovichy districts, which are adjacent to the South Polissia Geobotanical District, are also considered by some experts to be parts of it.
In total, the reserve's flora includes 1 256 species of vascular plants, 120 lichen species and 20 moss species. Five species of plants from the European Red List grow on the reserve’s territory:
Corispermum hyssopifolium L., Silene lithuanica Zapal, Tragopogon ucrainicus Artemcz, Chamaecytisus lindemannii, Rumex ucrainicus Fisch. ex Spreng.
The plant species included in Annex 1 to the Convention on the Conservation of Wildlife and Natural Areas in Europe (Bern, 1979) include:
Aldrovanda vesiculosa L., Pulsatilla patens (L.) Mill. s.l., Salvinia natans (L.) All., Trapa natans L. s.l., Dracocephalum ruyschiana L., Jurinea cyanoides (L.) Rchb, Ostericum palustre (Bess.), Botrychium multifidum (S. G. Gmel.) Rupr.
46 species of flora listed in the Red Book of Ukraine were identified, namely: vascular plants:
Diphasiastrum complanatum (L.) Holub, Diphasiastrum zeilleri (Rouy) Holub, Lycopodiella inundata (L.) Holub, Lycopodium annotinum L., Huperzia selago (L.) Bemh. ex Schrank et Mart.), Botrychium multifidum (S.G. Gmel.) Rupr., Salvinia natans (L.) All., Allium ursinum L., Carex umbrosa Host, Eleocharis mamillata Lindb. f., Iris sibirica L., Juncus bulbosus L., Lilium martagon L.,
Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Druce) Soo, D. incarnata (L.) Soo s.l., D. maculata (L.) Soo s.l., Epipactis helleborine (L.) Crantz, Goodyera repens (L.) R. Br.,Listera ovata (L.) R. Br., Neottia nidus-avis (L.) Rich., Platanthera bifolia (L.) Rich., Scheuchzeria palustris L., (Betula humilis Schrank) and B. obscura А. Kotula, Silene lithuanica Zapal, Aldrovanda vesiculosa L., Drosera intermedia Hayne and D. anglica Huds., Astragalus arenarius L., Utricularia intermedia Hayne and U. minor L.), Pulsatilla patens (L.) Mill. s.l. and P. pratensis (L.) Mill. s.l., Salix lapponum L., S. myrtilloides L. and Salix starkeana Willd., Trapa natans L. s.l.;
Batrachospermum gelatinosum (L.) D.C., Chroodactylon ramosum (Thwait.) Hansg.;
Sphagnum subnitens Russow et Warnst. and S. wulfianum Girg., Pseudocalliergon trifarium (F. Weber et D. Mohr) Loeske;
Clavariadelphus pistillaris (L.) Donk.
The vegetative cenosis included in the Green Book of Ukraine grow on the water bodies of the Exclusion Zone, namely:
Aldrovandeta vesiculosae; Myriophylleta alterniflori; Trapeta natantis; Nuphareta luteae; Sparganieta minimi; Ceratophylleta submersi; Nymphaeeta albae; Nymphaeeta candidae; Potamogetoneta praelongi; Potamogetoneta obtusifolii; Potamogetoneta rutiles; Salvinieta natantis. On the western border of the Exclusion Zone is the cenosis of spruce forests (Piceeta abietis). There are 13 groups in total.
In general the fauna corresponds to the Polissia region fauna. More than 300 species of vertebrates (with a total of 410 occurring in the region) have been recorded in the Reserve and 75 species (out of 97 possible) are listed in the Red Book of Ukraine. There are 14 species of fauna listed in the International Union for Conservation of the Red List:
Nyctalus leisleri, Lutra lutra, Lynx lynx, Mustela lutreola, Castor fiber, Gapella media, Crex crex, Triturus cristatus, Bombina bombina, Hyla arborea, Cerambyx cerdo, Coenonympha oedipus, Formica rufa, Hirudo medicinalis.
There are 16 species from the European Red List:
Myotis nattereri, Muscaridinus avellanarius, Canis lupus, Ursus arctos, Lutra lutra, Lynx lynx, Milvus milvus, Heliaeetus albicilla, Crex crex, Acrocephalus paludicola, Hirudo medicinalis, Myrmeleon formicarius, Cerambyx cerdo, Parnassius mnemosyne, Coenonympha oedipus, Formica rufa.
A large number of bird species are protected by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. Annex 1 to the Berne Convention lists 179 species of fauna. Identified 75 species of fauna included in the Red Book of Ukraine, namely:
Hirudo medicinalis Linnaeus;
Calopteryx virgo Linnaeus, Anax imperator Leach, Cordulegaster boltoni Donovan, Sympetrum pedemontanum Allioni, Emus hirtus Linnaeus, Lucanus cervus cervus Linnaeus, Cerambyx cergo Linnaeus, Purpuricenus kaehleri Linnaeus, Aromia moschata Linnaeus, Papilio machaon Linnaeus, Iphiclides podalirius Linnaeus, Zerynthia polyxena Denis et Schiffermüller, Parnassius apollo Linnaeus, Parnassius mnemosyne Linnaeus, Colias palaeno Linnaeus, Limenitis populi Linnaeus, Apatura iris Linnaeus, Coenonympha hero Linnaeus, Polyommatus boisduvalii Herrich-Schaffer, Acherontia atropos Linnaeus, Proserpinus proserpina Pallas, Pericallia matronula Linnaeus, Callimorpha dominula Linnaeus, Larra anathema Rossi, Xylocopa valga Gerstaecker, Bombus muscorum Linnaeus, Bombus (Megabombus) ruderatus Fabricius;
Eudontomyzon mariae Berg;
Acipenser ruthenus Linnaeus, Acipenser gueldenstaedtii Brandt et Ratzeburg, Leuciscus leuciscus Linnaeus, Rutilus frisii Nordmann, Alburnoides rossicus Berg, Barbus borysthenicus Dybowski, Lota lota Linnaeus, Gymnocephalus baloni Holcik et Hensel, Gymnocephalus acerinus Güldenstädt; Coronella austriaca Laurenti;
Ciconia nigra Linnaeus, Milvus migrans Boddaert, Circus pygargus Linnaeus, Circaetus gallicus Gmelin, Aquila pomarina C.L. Brehm, Haliaeetus albicilla Linnaeus, Lyrurus tetrix Linnaeus, Tetrao urogallus Linnaeus, Tetrastes bonasia Linnaeus, Grus grus Linnaeus, Haematopus ostralegus Linnaeus, Gallinago media Latham, Columba oenas Linnaeus, Bubo bubo Linnaeus, Asio flammeus Pontoppidan, Strix nebulosa Forster, Coracias garrulus Linnaeus, Picus viridis Linnaeus, Lanius excubitor Linnaeus;
Neomys anomalus Cabrera, Myotis dasycneme Boie, Myotis daubentonii Kuhl, Nyctalus noctula Schreber, Nyctalus lasiopterus Schreber, Pipis-trellus pygmaeus Leach, Pipistrellus nathusii Keyserling et Blasius, Vespertilio murinus Linnaeus, Eptesicus serotinus Schreber, Sicista betulina Pallas, Mustela erminea Linnaeus, Mustela lutreola Linnaeus, Mustela putorius Linnaeus, Lutra lutra Linnaeus, Lynx lynx Linnaeus, Equus caballus Boddaert, Ursus arctos Linnaeus.
Historical and culture heritage
Before to the Chornobyl disaster, the Reserve territory was a fairly populated area of a long history. To date, 60 archeological sites belonging to different historical epochs have been recorded within the Reserve. These are early Iron Age settlements with extant concentric ramparts, which are located near the villages of Bovyshche, Dibrova and in the forest between the villages of Rychytsa and Nova Krasnytsia, as well as mounds on the outskirts of Chornobyl and settlements Zalissia, Zapillya, Cherevach. In the first half of the nineteenth century there were more than 17 Orthodox churches on this territory. At present, only two have been preserved: the church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God of 1898 (the village of Zamoshnya) and the wooden church of the Archangel Michael, built around 1800 (the village of Krasne).