Chernobyl Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

The series begins with Academician Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), who two years ago played a huge role in eliminating the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, recites little-known facts about the Chernobyl disaster into a voice recorder. Legasov hides the recorded cassettes in a secret place, from where they should be taken, after which he hangs himself in his apartment.

Further, events return to April 26, 1986, when an emergency situation arose during the planned tests at the fourth power unit: an attempt to shut down the reactor led to its acceleration, after which two powerful explosions occurred and the reactor was completely destroyed.

First Deputy Director of the Institute of Atomic Energy named after I.V. Academician Valery Legasov Kurchatov is summoned to a government meeting to discuss the situation with the Chernobyl accident. While waiting for the call to the meeting, Legasov studies the information from what was known at that time, and comes to the conclusion that the situation is more than serious, or rather, almost catastrophic.

At the meeting, Boris Shcherbina, deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers and head of the Fuel and Energy Committee, reports to the audience about what is happening, and Legasov sees that the danger is greatly underestimated. Then he expresses his thoughts to Gorbachev and the audience.

Gorbachev invites Legasov to join Shcherbina and go together to Chernobyl – to find out what is really happening there and lead the work on eliminating the consequences.


Nobody expected that the Americans and the British would make such a series about one of the most tragic events for the USSR, and for all nearby countries, which also partially suffered (or could have suffered an order of magnitude more severely). More precisely, they could shoot something, but no one expected that it would turn out so impressively and, in general, reliably.

Yes, and the project initially raised all sorts of questions. Screenwriter Craig Mazin is the screenwriter of the wacky but box-office comedies No Feelings, Scary Movie 3 and 4, and The Hangover and its sequel. What kind of “Chernobyl”, movie fans asked, what can he even understand in this?

Swede Johan Renck, director of the entire series, is known primarily as a music video director (and a very good music video director at that). However, before “Chernobyl” he had already worked as a director in the series “Breaking Bad”, “The Walking Dead”, “Vikings” and several other lesser known ones.

However, the joker Craig Mazin, as it turned out, approached the creation of the script for Chernobyl quite seriously. For two and a half years he collected archival materials, watched documentaries and read literary works devoted to this topic, and the book “Chernobyl Prayer” served as the basis for the script. Chronicle of the Future” by Svetlana Aleksievich, which reflected Svetlana’s numerous meetings with people who were somehow involved in these events.

Also, the creators of the series were constantly advised by the deputy director for scientific work of the Ukrainian National Museum “Chernobyl” Anna Korolevskaya, who helped to reliably recreate the appropriate environment. (Not all of her advice was followed, but we will talk about this at the end of the review so as not to spoil.)

The series was filmed in Lithuania and Ukraine, but the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was recreated at the Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania – it is the same type as the Chernobyl one. The city of Pripyat was filmed in Vilnius, where the creators of the picture found a typical area of ​​panel houses, similar to Pripyat.

Literally from the first frames, the series impresses with amazing attention to everyday details of those years. The furnishings of Legasov’s apartment, kitchen utensils, clothes, offices of responsible persons in Chernobyl – everything is completely authentic to the last detail, I say this as a person who was twenty years old in 1986, and I remember it all very well.

All this is staged simply masterfully, the tension in the series grows literally with every frame and makes a strong impression. You see the confusion of these people, who at first do not understand what is happening, you see how radioactive ash falls on the inhabitants of Pripyat, who are looking at the burning reactor as if spellbound, you see the firefighters sent to put out the “burning roof of the reactor”, and you understand that they go to this Hell without any special means of protection, which means that some of them will die in a short time, while others will receive the most severe consequences of radiation sickness.

The series clearly shows that neither the staff nor the management of the nuclear power plant were ready for such things. At first, it was not even really possible to measure the level of radiation, which is why people simply did not understand what they were risking. Household dosimeters could not measure high levels, two dosimeters capable of measuring high levels were kept in safes at the station, but they could not be removed from the safes.

Conflicting and unreliable information was sent to Moscow, officials on the spot did not give instructions to inform the population – so to speak, in order to avoid panic. This is the standard excuse of officials covering their own asses – to put people in extreme danger “to avoid panic.”

Already in neighboring European countries, towards which the radioactive cloud was flying, citizens of settlements in the risk zone were told that they should not open windows and go out into the streets, and in Minsk and Kyiv, crowds of people who had not been warned about anything came out to the May Day demonstrations – this was a real crime of the Soviet authorities.

The creators of the series really wanted to include footage of demonstrations, but due to budget constraints, they could not do it – Mazin in an interview was very sorry about this.

Along with the staging, a very good impression is made by the fact that Mazin and Renk in the series, first of all, do not display confusion, erroneous decisions and the desire of the USSR authorities to hide the truth about the disaster (although this, of course, is also mentioned), but they talk about the feat of many Soviet people – both ordinary firefighters and liquidators, and those who led them – thanks to which a fatal world catastrophe was prevented, which for many years could make life impossible in several European countries.

Yes, in the name of artistic display, they had to make a number of serious simplifications: for example, from the series it seems that only Shcherbina and Legasov led the entire liquidation, but in fact there were about 40 commissions from different ministries, and their work was coordinated by the Central State Commission , which included Shcherbina and Legasov.

But, by the way, the actions of Legasov and Shcherbina in the series are shown quite reliably: both how events unfolded with the liquidation, and what proposals the scientist made to cope with the accident.

Also, for purely cinematic purposes, a completely fictional character is introduced into the picture – Uliana Khomyuk (Emily Watson), a scientist from the Institute of Nuclear Energy of the Byelorussian SSR. This is the only thing that I didn’t like about the series, because Khomyuk here looked more like a certain Hollywood “cranberry”: she immediately guessed everything, Legasova knew better what to do, she was let into the closed area of ​​​​Chernobyl without any problems and brought to Legasov, she then she participated in meetings with Gorbachev, began to conduct her own investigation – well, in general, this was a purely cinematic and very unreliable line, which somewhat spoiled the impression.

But that line doesn’t change the fact that the series is amazingly well done and makes a very strong impression. It’s a shame, of course, that such a series was not filmed in Russia, but was filmed by the Americans and the British, but this is not surprising: in Russia, NTV filmed a series about Chernobyl, where a valiant lieutenant colonel of the USSR military counterintelligence neutralizes an experienced CIA officer who, apparently, and was going to arrange an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. There, the trailer itself already makes an unpleasant impression, I imagine what the series itself will be like.

The acting work in the series is very good, and the actors are all little-known (mostly British), the most famous of them are Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson. Jared Harris in the role of Legasov is very good, I liked it extremely. Stellan Skarsgard portrayed such a fairly typical Soviet apparatchik, but the series also demonstrated that Boris Shcherbina, for all his party obstinacy, also made a great contribution to the work on eliminating the consequences of the accident, well, in reality, he, like Legasov, seriously blew himself up health, because in total he was in Chernobyl for about sixty days.

By the way, in reality, Boris Shcherbina, just two years after the Chernobyl disaster, led the commission to eliminate the consequences of a terrible earthquake in Armenia, and at that time he already felt very bad, but did not return to Moscow.

Interestingly, HBO and Sky, which ordered this series, did not expect anything special from its release – after all, the series cannot be said to be high-budget, dedicated to a very difficult and painful topic, there are practically no stars in it. And for them it was a big surprise that the series caused an enthusiastic reaction (9.5 rating on IMDB with almost 400 thousand votes) and a very large number of viewers watched it.

In Russia, it was also received very favorably, and that some kind of “Communists of Russia” demanded to ban the series and some kind of goblin-Stalinists there released long videos about why the series is bad, but don’t give a damn about them from the roof of the fourth power unit, how I consider.

The series is just surprisingly good, made with great respect for the feat of people who managed to eliminate the consequences of the accident and prevent a global catastrophe, and this mini-series, in my opinion, is one of the main cinematic events of 2019.

Yes, there is one strange and unnecessary line with Ulyana Khomyuk in the series, yes, certain changes have been made there in the name of cinematography (more on this below): some events are moved there in time, while others are shown not quite the way they really were , but nevertheless, in general, this is a brilliant work that is simply a must-see. And I did not expect that the American-British could make such a powerful series about the events of our history, and no one in Russia expected this.

Here are just good fellows, from all sides!

And most importantly, they caused a wave of interest in this story. People all over the world began to study the materials of how it all happened, watch documentaries, read books. And after watching the series, I also watched and read a lot of things – despite the fact that I am familiar with many liquidators, some of my friends have access to information about how many victims actually were – and this is very, very important. Because the Chernobyl tragedy requires reflection. It requires certain conclusions. She demands an honest answer.

Academician Legasov tried to get the USSR to pay attention to the obvious flaws in the safety systems of these reactors – both from the design side and from the maintenance side – and could not achieve this. In the USSR and in Russia, it is still believed that only 31 people died from the accident. At the same time, in the scientific community, which has access to real data, there are figures of several thousand people who eventually died from diseases resulting from radiation contamination in Chernobyl, and there is information about people who are still suffering from the consequences of this infections.

This series makes us all remember all these people – academician Legasov, Boris Shcherbin, dozens and hundreds of scientists who dealt with this problem and who were shown en masse in the film in the form of the non-existent Ulyana Khomyuk, firefighters who put out the fire after the explosion and died a terrible death , about the workers of the station who died and who performed feats, about the miners, the liquidators and about everyone who really saved our land from a global catastrophe. Many of them paid with their lives – some immediately, others after a while. And we must know about them, we must remember them. And the American-British series reminded us of this, for which many thanks to its creators.

PS And now let’s talk about what in the series did not coincide with real events. This information will contain spoilers, so it is not recommended to read further for those who have not yet watched this series, and it is very necessary to watch it.

1. A very effectively shot scene of how the inhabitants of Pripyat on the night of April 26, seeing the fire at the fourth power unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, massively leave their houses, stand on the bridge, and radioactive ash falls on them, does not coincide in time. The reactor exploded at 01:23, while at 23:00 the previous day in Pripyat everyone was already asleep. In addition, no ash flew in their direction then, the radiation level began to rise only the next day, when the evacuation was already announced. True, at that time they didn’t really tell people anything, they didn’t warn about protective measures, in order to avoid panic they promised that everyone would be returned in three days, so people went in what they were in, and then many wore clothes that were a source of infection, including schoolchildren. Much has been written about this, including the book by Svetlana Aleksievich (she talked with the inhabitants of Pripyat).

But the inhabitants of Pripyat really stood on the bridge and looked at what was happening with the fourth reactor the next day. Moreover, it was precisely when radioactive dust flew to Pripyat and the level of radiation sharply increased.

2. A very vivid scene where Legasov says to Gorbachev: “We must kill three people” – referring to people who must go almost to certain death: go under the reactor and download water from the corridor, because if this water reaches “lava” from the reactor, it will be a worldwide catastrophe.

In the series, Shcherbina and Legasov tell the station workers about what needs to be done, they are promised 400 rubles each, after which Ananenko, Bespalov and Borisov are called. These are real people who were not any “divers”, as they are often called in articles distributed on the Internet, but they were station workers – engineers. And they didn’t volunteer: their shift was simply given the task of doing it, without the promise of, mind you, any money. And they did. At the same time, I in no way want to belittle the real feat of these people: no one knew what dose of radiation they would receive during this task.

The same horror story has been circulating on the Web for a long time, which they like to repost in various blogs – this is the most typical example. And a quote from there.

When the three brave men returned to the surface, they were greeted as heroes.
Thanks to the courage of the Soviet people, a second explosion was avoided and the lives of millions of people on the planet were saved.

Over the following days, the heroes began to show the inevitable and unmistakable symptoms of radiation sickness, and after a few weeks, all three died.
The men were buried in lead coffins with sealed lids. Even devoid of life bodies were thoroughly saturated with radiation.

What happened to their families, were they paid compensation and are they still being paid; whether three divers, heroes were presented for a state award is not known. Only a modest concrete monument has survived to all the Soviet people who, at the cost of their own lives, saved the lives of millions. But these three divers are not mentioned on the Monument. Written only by the brave firefighters who were the first to take on the deadly challenge of a nuclear monster.

And here is an interview with Alexei Ananenko. Borisov died in 2005, Bespalov and Ananenko are, thank God, alive at the moment.

I note that the series does not say that they died after a while – from the unreliable only that they volunteered, which in fact was not.

3. Helicopter crash.

The series shows the crash of a helicopter flying over the reactor, on the second day after the explosion. In reality, this happened on October 2, when a sarcophagus was already hoisted over the reactor. There were Afghan soldiers in the helicopter, the helicopter blade touched the boom of the tower crane, and the crash occurred.

4. People from nuclear power plants dying from radiation sickness.

In the series, these are very scary scenes – when Khomyuk talks with people from nuclear power plants and firefighters dying from radiation sickness. In reality, there are no photographs of what radiation did to them. The creators of the series said that they did the makeup based on the information that was in Aleksievich’s book according to the words of the people who saw it – the same Lyudmila Ignatenko, the wife of Vasily Ignatenko, the commander of the SVPCh-6 squad from Pripyat. By the way, Lyudmila’s storyline is set out very close to what she herself told Svetlana Aleksievich.

5. Soviet general in a car with a dosimeter.

When Legasov and Shcherbina arrive at Chernobyl, they are given the task of getting as close as possible to the reactor and measuring the actual level of radiation. According to the plot, this is deadly, and then General Pikalov from Moscow volunteers to do it himself. The car is sheathed with lead, a device is attached from above, and the general heroically rides on it to measure the level.

This is completely made up. And they could not find any lead on April 26 in such quantities anywhere. The radiation level was measured by a regular armored reconnaissance and patrol vehicle (BRDM), in which the dosimeter itself is located inside, and only the sensor is installed outside. On this machine, the radiation level was measured both on the morning of April 26 and in the following days. And this car was driven by Senior Lieutenant of the Kyiv Civil Defense Regiment Alexander Logachev. Interestingly, usually there was a dosimeter in the car, which could measure a maximum of 250 roentgens (and at the station after the accident, the radiation level was 1400 roentgens per hour). However, a combination of circumstances helped: on April 26, the exercises of the Civil Defense of the Kyiv region were to begin. And for the exercise, a dosimeter was installed in the car, which could measure up to 10,000 roentgens per hour.

6. Miners.

The episodes with the Tula miners are somewhat Hollywood-style. The scene when the miners wipe their hands on the shirt of the Minister of Coal Industry must have been made up, it couldn’t have happened. Also, the creators of the series for some reason showed that the miners in this hot place worked completely naked – in reality this was not the case, they worked in their underwear, but, of course, not naked.

7. Conscript soldiers who cleaned the most dangerous roof of the power unit.

Everything is shown there very close to how it really was, however, the creators of the series did not show one rather important point: the operation management had photographs of the roof and debris. Since the soldiers, even in defense, could not be on the roof for more than 90 seconds, before leaving, each of them was shown that small area that he had to clear from fragments of stones and graphite. That is, they did not act at random, but according to a pre-planned plan.

8. The funeral of the dead liquidators.

The dead liquidators – station employees and firefighters – were not buried in the way that is somewhat cinematic shown in the series. There were no mass funerals shown there, and the graves were not poured with concrete right in front of the relatives of the dead. The dead were wrapped in film, placed in a wooden coffin, which, in turn, was placed in a zinc coffin. Buried as people died, funeral procedures were strictly secret: only the closest relatives were allowed to attend and no speeches were allowed to be made.


Well, the last. Anna Korolevskaya, scientific director of the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum, said in an interview that such a powerful and well-coordinated work to eliminate the accident and its consequences, oddly enough, could only be possible under Soviet totalitarianism. Thousands of people worked on the liquidation, the supplies of the necessary things – boron, lead – were organized with very high speed and efficiency.

However, let’s not forget that it was this totalitarianism that led to the catastrophe itself. In the USSR, they tried their best to overtake the United States in the production of electricity, while they did not seriously work on security. Also, security was greatly hampered by the atmosphere of complete secrecy that accompanies everything that was connected with atomic energy. When accidents happened in this area, they were hushed up. Even the Chernobyl accident was initially silenced, although it threatened the whole world.

Back in 1985, the Kurchatov Institute knew about the shortcomings of this type of reactors – about the positive steam effect of reactivity, when at low power the reactor, instead of shutting down, on the contrary, accelerated – which happened in Chernobyl. They knew and did nothing about it.

Also, the totalitarian regime did not allow the USSR to receive much-needed help from other countries. Germany could send radio-controlled cars to clear the roofs. And the Soviet leadership even asked to send these machines, but, as usual, they lied about the level of radiation, naming the figure an order of magnitude less than it actually was, as a result, models were sent from Germany that simply could not function at such a level, – it was shown in the series.

Chernobyl series meaning

Producer: Johan Renk

Cast: Jared Harris, Paul Ritter, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, Jessie Buckley, Adam Nagaitis, Robert Emms, Sam Troughton, Carl Davies, Michael Soca

Series, USA-UK, 2019, 56 min.

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