Chernobyl: Fact vs. Film

HBO’s hit miniseries Chernobyl dramatizes the real life events of the disaster in 1986, one of the worst nuclear disasters to ever take place. The real-life accident was due to a nuclear reactor exploding, resulting in over 32 deaths in its aftermath and an evacuation of the area due to the spike of radiation levels. Praised for its strong acting, gorgeous cinematography and production design, the show has brought a lot of attention to the accident and tourism to where the event occurred, Pripyat. 

Although the series is a dramatization, the creators of the show have stayed as true to the story as possible. Writer and producer Craig Mazin stated “We want to be as accurate as we can be. We never changed anything to make it more dramatic or to hype it up.” However, Chernobyl is a dramatization of the real life event, meaning some moments are fictionalized. Here are things that differ from the show: 

Ulana Khomyuk was not a real person

Khomyuk, played by Academy Award nominee Emily Watson, was in fact not a real person, but a character made to represent all of the brave scientists that helped and spoke out against the USSR’s official account of events, which often lead to imprisonment. In reality, Legasov worked with hundreds of scientists to solve the problems that arose, although it is likely that many of them were women as the USSR had a history of training women in STEM positions.  

The effects of radiation poisoning

When the reactor exploded, radiation spread throughout the area immediately. The effects of the radiation are shown in Lyudmilla Ignatenko’s storyline, a pregnant housewife whose firefighter husband is diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome. We see Lyudmilla travel to Moscow Hospital No. 6 to support her husband, but the nurses and scientists repeatedly warn her against touching her husband to avoid her developing the same symptoms, although this is inaccurate. Once a patient showers and discards their clothing, the radiation cannot spread through touch. 

Bridge of Death

One of the most heartbreaking scenes throughout the series would be the Bridge of Death, where Pripyat residents were standing to watch the abnormal clouds and blue beam of light from the aftermath of the accident. The people stare in awe and children are shown playing in ash that’s falling like snow.  The audience finds out that the ash that the people were exposed to is in fact radioactive, which would eventually lead to their demise. In reality, the bridge is nothing more than an urban legend, since the USSR's official death count was fabricated to minimize the event. A survivor interviewed by the Guardian stated "I could see the ruins of the reactor. It was completely destroyed and there was a cloud of smoke coming from it. Nobody gave us any information but we knew it was serious. We knew it was something terrifying." 

Helicopter Crash

In episode four, Valery Legasov and Boris Shcherbina are given the task to extinguish the reactor’s core in order to prevent another explosion that would’ve deemed the majority of Europe inhabitable for the next 50,000 years. Legasov stresses that if a person were to fly over the core, they would die from radiation poisoning within the next week. In an intense moment, we see both of them directing helicopters to survey the perimeter of the core, in which one of the helicopters stops responding and immediately crashes to no avail. In reality, the crash happened several months after the explosion. The series heavily implies that the crash was a result of the high levels of radiation, where in fact the helicopter got caught on an industrial crane

What are some things that surprised you the most? Comment down below to share your opinion!

-Chenoa Tyehimba