Before being a show, Chernobyl is a reality of humanity. No one is perfect and all the behaviors of humans have consequences. When politics get mixed with strong ideas, values and a culture that wants undeniably to state its position in the world, not being humble and ignoring scientific facts can lead to a catastrophe. That is exactly what happened in 1986, in Ukraine, which at the time was part of the Soviet Union.
In the early morning hours of the 26th of April, an explosion at the Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant becomes one of the world’s worst man-made catastrophes. Thanks to a simulated power-failure exercise, design flaws, human incompetence and inability to stop a domino effect, one of the reactors of the nuclear station exploded. The region immediate became dangerously contaminated.
The plant directors of Chernobyl, located outside the Northern Ukrainian city of Pripyat, started to downplay the problem and not facing a reality that could be less dramatic to human lives. Meanwhile, 400 km away from the explosion, scientists started to pick up insane levels of radiation in the air.
It took over a week to contain the raging hell that started at the core; winds and natural condition spread the toxicity through the air to other parts of Russia and Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union tried to dissolve the problem, claiming there were no reasons to alarm, but immediately when other countries knew about the situation, they took measures.
Germany, in Central Europe, for example, prohibited all the children to play outside, to prevent any possible radiation to harm them. The evacuated “exclusion zone” grew exponentially. People started to react to high levels of radiation and started to die for multiple reasons. Soon, the hospitals were crowded, and people were condemned. The late evacuation of the worst radiation level places made unmeasurable deaths, even though the Soviet Union’s official death toll is still listed as 31.
A number that tries to hide a reality that is estimated to have provoked 93,000 fatalities to date, for direct and indirect reasons. Cancer raised among the population, especially in the regions surrounding Russia. The word “Chernobyl” has become a shorthand for worst-case scenarios involving nuclear power as a whole.
Due to ordinary people, such as miners and citizens that were called to the “exclusion zone” to avoid even worst situations, the world didn’t know a possible worst situation. However, for Russia, the problem was never so bad as we know it.
HBO’s Chernobyl was never going to be a light show and there is no way to prepare for what it shows you. The five-part miniseries spends approximately five hours telling a horror story in the guise of a historical docudrama. Each second causes anxiety and knowing how the story ends don’t make it any better.
The construction of the show dives into the event that led to a catastrophe and the aftermath of devastation and hard thinking to trying to understand how it was possible to the reactor to explode. What truly grabs you to the series is the recency, realism, hindsight’s, hubris and following the humanity of people who lived the situation.
Lyudmilla Ignatenko starts the show with an entrance in the dark kitchen of the apartment she shares with her husband, a fireman. She had left from the toilet and the audience can easily suspect what is going on after she throws up: a possible pregnancy. Suddenly, in the framed window of the room, it is visible a bright dot that starts to expand alongside her apartment starts to shake. Her husband, Vasily Ignatenko, is one of the first firefighters responding to the disaster, without knowing where he is exactly going: to meet his own death.
This family narrative is just one of the many that the spectators can follow. Craig Mazin, the writer of the show, and Johan Renck, the director, go deep into the stories of Valery Legasov, a scientist who was called upon by the General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev; Boris Scherbina, who leads an investigation alongside Legasov; Ulana Khomyuk, a nuclear physicist who understands the magnitude of what happened right away and tries to convince the ones in power that emergency measure has to be taken, otherwise it can be irreversible.
This character is the only one who is fictional, and it represents all the scientists that worked day and night together to understand what was behind the explosion of the reactor.
Legasov and Scherbina are the major voices and characters of this miniseries. They have to someway contain a leak that could kill millions of people, and contaminate farmland and drinking water for centuries, as they wrestle with officials who deny evidence offered by their own eyes.
Late, in the series, we meet Pavel, a civilian who has the mission of eradicating the wild pets after the evacuation happened. At the same time, during the whole show, we watch employees, hospital workers, regular citizens, soldiers, farmers and common heroes getting sicker and dying.
A silent killer, one that has no face but an indestructible force to kill thousands: radiation poisoning. The producers of the show described the show as one of the most disturbing researches they had to do in order to make the series happen. Bodies exposed to radioactive material melted inside and out; men vomiting; and more than once, the evidence that people tasted metal in their mouths.
This HBO’s new show, that aired in the United States of America on 6th of May, is an autopsy to a real catastrophe that almost decimated an entire continent. But the question still remains in the first episodes: how did this become a reality? The truth is that many lies were involved to save the image of a nation that was still one of the protagonists of the Cold War.
Chernobyl’s disaster happened because of a protocol that denied action. Because it is easy to blame and discount on mere scientists instead admitting that the ‘powerful ones’ are the ones to blame. By the voice of Legasov, the truth is known and after his death, which was suicide, the action was taken in other reactors to avoid the same or worst situations.
Misinformation and lies are the targets in this show. You end up by asking yourself: how can any human being or political system sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives to keep the fault away from clear faults the system tried to hide? Mazin’s moral stands: the truth will eventually come out.
Russia is currently not happy with the success of the TV show. It has been known that the country is planning a new version of the event, that will show a conspiracy and blame the CIA for sabotage of the nuclear factory. This is something that sounds more absurd than the Atlanta Falcons being NFL Superbowl favorites, but do not doubt the power of influence of Vladimir Putin.
The truth is that HBO’s Chernobyl is already considered the biggest series of 2019 and gives the individuals a true fact-based docudrama. With its high popularity, it’s already the most rated in IMDB.