Top 10 Things Chernobyl Got Factually Right And Wrong

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Top 10 Things Chernobyl Got Factually Right And Wrong

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
Okay so we know the actual event happened, but was this a 100% true retelling of Chernobyl? We're looking at the things HBO's Chernobyl got factually right and wrong about the real nuclear disaster. Which moment seemed too good to be true? Let us know in the comments!
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Top 10 Things “Chernobyl” Got Factually Right and Wrong

It’s hard to believe that a catastrophe of this scale really happened, but how much of HBO’s dramatization is grounded in fact? Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Things ChernobylGot Factually Right and Wrong.

For this list, we’re sifting fiction from fact in HBO’s miniseries “Chernobyl”. In case you’re not up to date, a spoiler alert is in effect.

#10: The Pripyat Evacuation Was Delayed
True
For creator Craig Mazin, the most shocking part of the Chernobyl disaster wasn’t the explosion itself, but how the citizens of neighboring city Pripyat were kept in the dark. As depicted in “Chernobyl’s” first episode, those in charge grossly underestimated the danger. The public wasn’t alerted, as it was felt that the situation could be resolved quietly, with no dire consequences. It isn’t until the end of episode two that news of the incident spread, prompting a quote unquote “short-term evacuation” at Pripyat on April 27, 1986. By this point, though, nearly 36 hours had passed and the damage was done. Therein lies the true tragedy that this miniseries hauntingly captures.

#9: The Key Players Had Mostly British Accents
False
The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and Pripyat are in northern Ukraine, but the characters of “Chernobyl” speak in English, in the actors’ own native accents. Craig Mazin made this creative decision early on in production, worrying that fake accents would start to sound comedic over time - like “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” antagonists Boris and Natasha. The showrunners experimented with the idea of having the actors try out Eastern European accents, but it turned the characters into caricatures. So, instead, the Soviet Union is suddenly populated with English speakers who have British, Swedish, and Irish accents. Mazin did choose against casting American actors, however, as he felt that would be too distracting.

#8: Lyudmilla Ignatenko’s Story
True & False
Firefighter Vasily Ignatenko and his wife Lyudmilla are two of the most tragic figures in the series. Although some details are tweaked, much of their story is all-too true. In the show, Lyudmilla pays off a hospital employee to see her dying husband, and lies about being pregnant. That part really happened; but in real life she also had to lie to the head radiologist about whether or not she already had children. Unlike in the show, the hospital staff strictly enforced the no touching rule. Regardless, Mazin doesn’t shy away from the fact that Lyudmilla ultimately lost her husband and baby.

#7: Three Volunteers Went into Chernobyl’s Basement
True
The ending of episode two is like something out of a horror movie as Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov, and Boris Baranov venture into Chernobyl’s basement to drain water from the basement. This was done to prevent lava-like “corium” seeping into the water and causing a steam explosion that could have devastated much of Europe. It’s difficult to say if Mikhail Gorbachev ordered the mission, and their big volunteering scene is largely romanticized. But Ananenko, Bezpalov, and Baranov really did volunteer knowing that the mission could be lethal. Fortunately, they survived. Baranov didn’t die until 2005, while Ananenko and Bezpalov are still living.

#6: Miners Were Brought In to Dig Underneath
True
Although Chernobyl’s basement was drained, it was still feared that the lava-like corium would burn through the concrete pad and contaminate the groundwater. To prevent this from happening, nearly 400 miners from nearby areas were enlisted to dig a tunnel underneath the pad to put in a heat exchanger. The miniseries depicted most of the miners stripping down to their birthday suits due to the heat. While accounts differ, a few indicate that some miners really did get completely naked. It’s been reported that one out of every four miners at the site died from cancer or radiation poisoning brought on by Chernobyl. The real tragedy is that the corium never melted through the concrete pad, meaning the miners never had to dig.

#5: That Helicopter Crash
False
In the episode "Please Remain Calm", the Soviets try to tame the raging fire by dropping sand and boron from helicopters, which is true. Against Legasov’s instructions, one of the helicopters flies directly over the core. Emerging from the cloud of smoke, the helicopter almost immediately crashes. Although there was a helicopter crash at Chernobyl, this didn’t happen until October 1986, almost six months after the explosion first took place. This crash reportedly occurred when the aircraft’s rotors hit a crane cable, resulting in the deaths of the pilot and three additional souls. Even if the crash didn’t play out like the miniseries depicted it, several pilots did lose their lives due to radiation exposure.

#4: 1:23:45
True
The tragic irony of the Chernobyl disaster is that it happened in the midst of a safety test at reactor four. Deputy chief-engineer Anatoly Dyatlov really did ignore objections from plant workers Akimov and Toptunov. At 1:23:40am, Akimov tried to perform an emergency shutdown, but the control rods seized. The first episode of this miniseries is entitled “1:23:45,” deriving its name from the infamous timestamp of the subsequent explosion. Even though time was of the essence, the fire alarm wouldn’t be activated until 01:26:03 a.m., which goes to show just how poorly the situation was handled.

#3: Bryukhanov & Fomin Mishandled the Disaster
True
While countless mistakes were made throughout the Chernobyl disaster, the miniseries singles out plant manager Viktor Bryukhanov and chief engineer Nikolai Fomin as two of the most reckless individuals responsible for the chaos. As seen in the first episode, this pair not only refused to accept that the core had exploded, but Fomin ordered deputy chief operational engineer Anatoly A. Sitnikov to check on the reactor. Sitnikov was exposed to a fatal amount of radiation as a result, but Bryukhanov and Fomin continued to deny anything was wrong. The two were eventually arrested and found guilty for violating safety regulations that amounted to the disaster, receiving 10-year sentences each, along with deputy chief-engineer Anatoly Dyatlov.


#2: Ulana Khomyuk
False
Numerous scientists were brought in to deal with the fallout of the Chernobyl disaster, so many in fact that a five-episode miniseries couldn’t cover them all. For the sake of storytelling, a composite character was created named Ulana Khomyuk, played by Emily Watson. Discussing her role in “The Scotsman”, Watson stated, “She’s not a real person, but represents the many scientists who worked fearlessly and put themselves in a lot of danger to help solve the situation.” Brilliant and brave, Khomyuk does justice to the scientists who risked their lives. One aspect that’s entirely fabricated, though, is the idea that a lone whistleblower uncovered the accident’s cause. On the contrary, it was no secret among the investigating scientists that the RBMK reactor had problems.


#1: Valery Legasov’s Suicide
True
The miniseries doesn’t get every detail about protagonist Valery Legasov down to a T. For example, Legasov is portrayed as a reactor expert when in reality his specialty was radiochemistry. Nevertheless, one notable fact that “Chernobyl” got right was that Legasov committed suicide by hanging himself close to the two-year anniversary of the reactor explosion. Granted, it’s impossible to say if Legasov’s suicide lined up with the exact minute the disaster took place, which the miniseries poetically suggests. Yet, the way Legasov died is chillingly spot-on. And Legasov really did record a series of tapes exposing new facts about the disaster, giving the world a better understanding of how it spiraled out of control.
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