What “Chernobyl” Got Wrong

In one episode, three characters dramatically volunteer to sacrifice their lives to drain radioactive water, but no such event occurred.

It did occur in the sense that they did volunteer. And they did think they were going to die.

But the amazing thing is that they survived! One of them died recently of old age and he gave an interview about the whole thing shortly before dying, which is how I know. But the story of their tragic death is part of the Chernobyl lore, and many people in Ukraine do think they died, so I don’t blame the series’ writers for getting it wrong.

“Chernobyl” ominously depicts people gathered on a bridge watching the Chernobyl fire. At the end of the series, HBO claims, “it has been reported that none survived. It is now known as the “Bridge of Death.”

That’s another legend. It’s understandable why it came into existence but it’s simply not true.

Chernobyl is still a catastrophe, the responders were unquestionably heroic but it turned out to be less horrific than anybody expected at the time. I’m definitely not trying to downplay the horror but people asked me to point out the factual inaccuracies, and I’m responding to the request.

Poetic license has every right to exist in a work of fiction, which is what the series is. It sounds like the series transmitted how Ukrainians felt about the catastrophe rather than what actually happened, but it’s a crucial story to transmit.

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4 thoughts on “What “Chernobyl” Got Wrong”

  1. But they never show that the three volunteers died. In fact, at the end, during the credit rolls, they say exactly what you did. People are saying there are far more fundamental flaws in how they show things, and I’d be curious to know if that’s indeed the case.

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    1. People must be really bad at reading the credits because I’m killing it here with the line on the divers who survived. Everybody is so happy for them!

      The only article I found on fundamental flaws says that the series will put people off nuclear power. The event put me off it, so I get that.

      Do you have any links on these fundamental flaws?

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      1. Ah! I just found a good article by Masha Gessen.

        “There are a lot of people throughout the series who appear to act out of fear of being shot. This is inaccurate: summary executions, or even delayed executions on orders of a single apparatchik, were not a feature of Soviet life after the nineteen-thirties. By and large, Soviet people did what they were told without being threatened with guns or any punishment.”

        Absolutely. 100% true.

        This part is also great: “Resignation was the defining condition of Soviet life. But resignation is a depressing and untelegenic spectacle. So the creators of “Chernobyl” imagine confrontation where confrontation was unthinkable—and, in doing so, they cross the line from conjuring a fiction to creating a lie. ”

        https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/what-hbos-chernobyl-got-right-and-what-it-got-terribly-wrong/amp

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      2. This, however, I don’t agree with:

        “None of this is possible, and all of it is hackneyed. The problem is not just that Khomyuk is a fiction; it’s that the kind of expert knowledge she represents is a fiction. The Soviet system of propaganda and censorship existed not so much for the purpose of spreading a particular message as for the purpose of making learning impossible, replacing facts with mush, and handing the faceless state a monopoly on defining an ever-shifting reality.”

        Yes, there was expert knowledge. Many people were terribly bright and knowledgeable. Intelligence and love of knowledge for its own sake has never been lacking in our culture.

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