We are approaching the end of another HBO series that has indisputably left its mark in television history. The epic Game of Thrones, one of the most celebrated series on television, has not even finished as HBO launches a mini-series that has generated immense buzz and has left the public and critics absolutely fascinated. The series has already become the best rated series on IMDB – the series, of course, is the highly anticipated Chernobyl
We can only hope that the audience can find closure, much like these characters try to, in these dark turn of events. The characters are profoundly human – sacrificing everything in the face of a mounting catastrophe that had apocalyptic consequences if swift action had not been taken.
Some men dared to confront the monster that is the Soviet bureaucracy – a power that can punish any small action as they see it as a sign of betrayal in their attempt to cover up the truth.
One of these men was the scientist Valeri Legasov, played by Jared Harris, a British actor who has worked on a number of independent films, including as Andy Warhol in I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) and John Lennon in Two of Us (2000).
Legasov tried to remain honest and tell the truth, not only about what caused the Chernobyl explosion, but also to show the scope of what really happened that fateful night. The show takes you to Vienna on August, 1986 – as Legasov is part of the Soviet delegation at a meeting at the International Atomic Energy Agency. Legasov did what he thought was right and spoke out against the wishes of the Soviet government, who tried to deny everything. In retaliation to Legasov, the Soviet government denied him the Hero of the Soviet Union award. Who knows if such contempt would be important for the scientist, the truth is that, as he himself predicts in the series, he begins to fall ill. He also falls into a severe depression due to the guilt of having “volunteered” thousands of people to clean the radioactive materials; including firefighters, miners, and soldiers.
Since 1986, around sixty thousand recovery workers have died – recovery workers who were in charge of collecting, cleaning and mitigating the eventual disaster. It is also estimated that around one hundred and fifty thousand have become disabled.
Could this have been done differently? Could human risk have been reduced? The series shows how perhaps at times there was no other route to take, but also how many were deceived and led to a hell they did not know about. What is certain is that Legasov prevented a major catastrophe that was able to wipe out much of Europe. However, the weight of conscience led him to record some cassettes where he told his truth and then took his own life; it was the year 1988. Yeltsin, in 1996, granted him the posthumous title of Hero of the Russian Federation.
Boris Shcherbina is another of the crucial characters from Chernobyl – who also did his best from his own position of power to prevent worse things from happening, is portrayed by Stellan Skarsgård, Swedish character actor of more than 140 films and was widely known under the director of filmmaker Lars von Trier in the film Breaking the Waves (1996), a film for which Skarsgård gained prominence. He ironically co-starred in the film with Emily Watson whom he returns to Chernobyl as Boris Scherbina and Watson as scientist Ulana Khomyuk.
Shcherbina was based on a real person – as he was a Ukrainian politician and a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in the USSR at the time and became Vice-president of the Council of Ministers in 1984. It was Mikhail Gorbachev himself who tasked him to reign in the damage in Chernobyl. As you were exposed to in the series, the real Scherbina acted in the beginning, like a typical Soviet bureaucrat, through lies and schemes, but then realized the graveness of the situation at hand and began to work with Legasov. Scherbina died in 1990 and the cause of death remains a mystery as he was a high ranking Soviet official.
Ulana Khomyuk, a character whose goal is the search for the truth, is not based on a real person – as her character is a representation of a group of scientists who worked steadfast alongside Legasov in the final investigation. Emily Watson, the actress who portrays her, is a renowned British actress who has earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.
Today, in the nuclear plan at Chernobyl exists a security zone of more than thirty kilometers, and added to that is more than 4,000 squared kilometers between Ukraine and Belarus that is composed of a nature reserve (the largest in Europe) – grows a flora and abundant environment that remains healthy despite the large amounts of radiation from the explosion.
If interested, there are tours to the city of Pripiat and Chernobyl; some can be multi day tours and have been officially approved by the Ukrainian government. Once tourists arrive, the guides advise the tourists of the maximum allowed time on each of these zones; some of them no longer than 10 minutes. These excursions are always done with a Geiger counter to measure the radiation levels. The city remains contaminated today.
Do not miss the riveting HBO mini- series Chernobyl on HBO or HBO GO
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