Editor's Note

How Chernobyl became Chornobyl

Like many other former Russian republics, transliterations in Ukraine have been revised to reflect the official language of the new, independent country.

After declaring independence from Russia in the 1990s Ukraine adopted the new English spellings

A view of empty houses in the town of Pripyat shows the closed Chornobyl nuclear power plant in the background. ((Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press))

On Thursday, CBC News posted a story about a member of the New York Police Department who was born in Chornobyl, Ukraine, and often spent her childhood summers in Petitcodiac.

At the end of stories posted on CBC News sites, there is a link to report a typo or error. Many readers did.

"Chernobyl, not Chornobyl," they stated.

Actually, it is Chornobyl. Now.

Yes, when Nuclear Reactor No. 4 exploded on April 26, 1986, it was Chernobyl and people around the world took note of a place they had probably never heard of until then.

But not as many of us took note when Ukraine declared independence from Russia in the 1990s and formally adopted new English spellings.

Ukrainian and Russian use variations of the cyrillic alphabet and they are slightly different.

A few characters appear in one alphabet and not in the other, while several characters are pronounced in different ways.

Like many other former Russian republics, transliterations in Ukraine have been revised to reflect the official language of the new, independent country.

That means Chernobyl is now Chornobyl. 

Ukraine's capital city is now Kyiv, not Kiev. (But it's still Chicken Kiev to CBC, because the spelling change only applies to the geographic location.)

After declaring independence, Ukraine requested other governments adopt the new English spellings. The foreign affairs departments in Ottawa and Washington have done so, as has the United Nations.

So has CBC.

Keep those typo reports coming. They are valued and they are read, but sometimes we get it right.

About the Author

Alan White

Alan White is a Fredericton native who has been working as a journalist since 1981, mostly in New Brunswick. He joined CBC in 2003 and is now a senior producer. He can be reached at alan.white@cbc.ca