Mikhail Cherniavskii was born in 1899 in Kiev. His father Leyb Cherniavskii earned a living by making kosher wine. As a little child Mikhail attended a heder (traditional Jewish elementary school) and then, until he was 15, his grandfather taught him Talmud. After completing a general school, Cherniavskii worked as a locksmith and an electrician. After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution he volunteered to join the newly established Red Army and fought during the Russian civil war (1918-1921). In 1928 Mikhail Cherniavskii graduated with honors from the Frunze Military Academy in Moscow, subsequently commanding a tank regiment and later a mechanized brigade. From 1937 to 1940 Cherniavskii served as the head of the Orel Tank School, reaching the rank of major-general.
After the beginning of the war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany on June 22, 1941, Mikhail Cherniavskii commanded a mechanized corps on the Western Front. From this time until the end of the war he also headed a tank school for future Red Army tank officers and soldiers. Between 1942 and 1943 he served as a deputy commander in the 3rd Tank Army. From 1944 Lieutenant-General Cherniavskii commanded the armored forces of the 2nd Baltic and 2nd Belorussian Fronts.
In his article "Jewish Generals of the Armored Forces" published on June 22, 1944 in the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee Yiddish newspaper Eynikayt, Shmuel Persov emphasized the Jewishness of Cherniavskii as follows:
"In Kiev his father, Leyb Cherniavskii, crushed [kvetsht in Yiddish] raisins to make raisin wine for Kidesh[Kiddush, the blessing recited over wine or grape juice] and Havdole [havdalah, the ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat and Jewish holidays]. His son exchanged his father's profession for another one: with his tanks he crushed [kvetsht] the German fascist hordes."
In the 1944 article "Mikhail Cherniavskii, Lieutenant-General of the Armored Forces," prepared by Shmuel Gordon for the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, the author stressed the Talmudic background of the future Red Army Tank General and ended his article as follows: "This was the glorious way of Lieutenant-General Cherniavskii, a heroic son of the Jewish people" (GARF 8114-1-153, copy YVA JM/26139).
In the course of the war Mikhail Cherniavskii was decorated with the Orders of the Red Star, the Red Banner, and the Orders of Kutuzov ( 1st and 2nd class) and Suvorov (2nd class), both of which was given only to high-ranking Red Army officers.
After the war, from 1946 Mikhail Cherniavskii headed the administration of the military school of the armored and mechanized forces of the Soviet Army. In 1950 he was discharged and settled in Moscow.
Mikhail Cherniavskii died in Moscow in 1983.