It is a long-circulating claim that the Pripyat residents and policemen who watched the Chernobyl explosion from a railway bridge, mostly (or even all) died. Sometimes even a dose of 500 rem (which is usually fatal with ARS, not only by some later cancer) is quoted. It made into the recent miniseries, which is not a hitorical source, not even a documentary, but is renowned for historical accuracy, and when it takes liberties (like the character of Komjuk, it admits it in the epilogue, exactly where the death bridge claim is sounded)

Truthorfiction claims that their fate is unknown, but that the story is unlikely, since people survived with hospitalization even in the control room or among the firefighters, even though they were much closer to the reactor, than the unlucky spectators.

However, it is not very convincing: The people in the control room had many concrete walls between them and the reactor, and the pieces and ashes of the core did not fall on their heads. Most of them would have survived, had they not made heroic efforts to contain the damage and rescue fellow workers. But I do not find it impossible that people geometrically farther, but by evil winds reciving the bulk of the fallout, would have fared way worse

The Truthorfiction page on the question only generally quotes sources about how "the exact death toll is unknown", but only mentions the circumstantial evidence of "they were farther than proven survivors", which as said above, seems whacky.

I have found however an interview with Pripyat evacuees: It seems that these persons at the bridge had not developed ARS, but had later (and sometimes fatal) health problems which they attributed to the disaster. So not everybody died (as Guardian had found people to interview), and the dose should have been lower than 500 rem

Is there documentation somewhere, that Truthorfiction might have overlooked, that would shed light on the

  • number of people on the bridge

  • The percentage of them who actually got acute radiation syndrome (ie radiation poisoning/burns)

  • The percentage of them who later died of long term effects?

  • 3
    Please don't reply in comments; everything needed to understand the question should be in the question. I've moved your comments into the question and request that you edit the question for clarity.
    – MCW
    Jun 20, 2019 at 10:09
  • The Talk section of Chernobyl's wiki page mentions the following about the "Bridge of Death": "The content was merged into the main article and later deleted, possibly because there were no reliable sources to support it. As that information was doubtful to begin with, the redirect should probably put up for deletion as well if nobody found sources for it." It seems like this is Da Vinci Code all over again. Jun 20, 2019 at 12:58
  • 3
    One factor that should be taken into account is the NORMAL death rate among a population after 35 years.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 20, 2019 at 16:59
  • 3
    It's worth noting that the Chernobyl miniseries creators put out a podcast in which they discuss how the events of their dramatization differ from the historical record. You might try listening to those and seeing if they discuss the "Bridge of Death" event. Jun 20, 2019 at 19:56
  • What were all those people doing on a railway bridge at 01:23:45 am local time (EEST), that is, at night?
    – Yellow Sky
    Aug 31, 2019 at 0:57

1 Answer 1


The BBC's More or Less podcast discussed this, and interviewed Professor Jim Smith of Portsmouth University. He pointed out that Pripyat was fortunately not directly downwind of the disaster, and that the dose of radiation its residents were exposed to was:

equivalent to about three CT scans

Although the exact impact to their health is hard to measure, there appears to be little evidence that large numbers of residents died in the short term, with the only immediate deaths being those involved in the immediate disaster and subsequent cleanup operation.

As in the TruthOrFiction article linked in the question, the figure of around 15000 total early deaths is mentioned, but it should be stressed that these are deaths across the whole of Europe, as a result of the long-term effects of varying levels of radiation originating from the disaster. The problem with measuring such long-term effects, even amongst those clearly affected like the residents of Pripyat, is distinguishing them from other causes - radiation increases the risk of various cancers, but so do many other factors.

It's also worth stressing that "they didn't die" doesn't mean "they weren't affected by the radiation". Increased rates of thyroid cancer from contaminated water are well documented, for instance, but fortunately rarely fatal.

Unless we miraculously unearth meticulously kept medical records for every resident of Pripyat, along with testimony of which of them stood on the bridge, I don't think you're going to get better information than that.

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