Saturday , October 23 2021

Chernobyl survivors evaluate fact and fiction in TV series



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Oleksiy Breus was on the morning shift at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on 26 April 1986 after the blast that evening and helped counter the consequences of the disasterImage copyright
Moloda gvardiya / MICHAEL VONDRUSKA / SKY UNITED KINGDOM LTD / HBO

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Engineer Chernobyl Oleksiy Breus, then and now, next to the picture of the TV about the disaster

Hours after the worst nuclear accident in the world, engineer Oleksiy Breus entered the control room of reactor number 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

A member of the 1982 factory team, he became a witness immediately after the morning of April 26, 1986.

The story of the catastrophic reactor explosion, as reported in an HBO / Sky miniseries, received the highest score ever from a TV show on the IMDB movie site. Russians and Ukrainians watched over the internet, and had a favorable rating on the Russian film site Kinopoisk.

Breus worked with many of the people portrayed and gave his verdict of the series.

Warning: This story contains details of the miniseries plot

How much was fact and fiction?

"I was surprised they took us there," says Breus, arriving at work the morning after the blast. "The reactor seemed so damaged, it looked like there was nothing else to do there."

Some of the events he witnessed that morning were realistically portrayed in the show, he says, but others he describes as fiction.

"The Chernobyl catastrophe is represented in a very powerful way, as a global catastrophe that has absorbed a large number of people. Moreover, the emotions and mood at that moment are shown quite accurately, both between the staff and the authorities.

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OLEKSANDR KUPNYI

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Breus revisited the reactor control room 20 years after the disaster

"However, the technological aspects have some discrepancies … which may not exactly [be] lies, but merely fiction, "he adds.

And the main characters?

The roles of three key personalities are at the center of the story: factory director Viktor Bryukhanov, chief engineer Nikolai Fomin and deputy chief engineer Anatoly Dyatlov. And Oleksiy Breus sees his portrait as "not a fiction, but a brazen lie."

"Their characters are distorted and distorted, as if they were villains. They were nothing like that."

"Possibly Anatoly Dyatlov became the main anti-hero in the series, because that was how he was perceived by the mill workers, his subordinates and top management at the beginning.

All three men were sentenced to 10 years in a labor camp for their role in the disaster and series creator Craig Mazin claims that Dyatlov in particular was a "real bully" who later made statements that were not reliable.

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Getty Images

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Viktor Bryukhanov (left), deputy chief engineer Anatoly Dyatlov (center) and chief engineer Nikolai Fomin were on trial because of the accident

"The operators were afraid of him," agrees Breus. "When he was on the block, it created tension for everyone, but no matter how strict he was, he was still a high-level professional."

How accurate was the picture of the radiation?

Breus says that the creators of the series well showed the effects of radiation on the human body.

In the hours after the explosion, he spoke to Oleksandr Akimov, the leader of the turn in the reactor number 4, and the operator Leonid Toptunov, both featured in the series.

"They did not look good, to say the least," he says. "It was clear that they felt sick, they were very pale, and Toptunov literally went white."

Within two weeks, both Akimov and Toptunov died in a Moscow hospital with acute radiation syndrome (ARS).

"I saw other colleagues who worked that night, their skin was a bright red color, and later they died at a hospital in Moscow."

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SKY UK LTD / HBO

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British actor Adam Nagaitis played Vasily Ignatenko, one of the first firemen at the scene of the disaster

"Exposure to radiation, red skin, radiation burns and steam burns were what many people talked about, but it was never shown that way.When I finished my shift, my skin was brown, as if I had a proper tan all over my body parts of the body not covered by clothing – such as hands, face and neck – were red. "

In the weeks immediately following the blast, 29 workers from power plants and firefighters died from ARS because of exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation, according to Soviet officials.

Two more workers died from injuries. The body of one of them, Valery Khodemchuk, was never recovered from the wreckage of the reactor.

How big was the fire?

Vasily Ignatenko, pictured in the series, was among the first firefighters sent to fight the fire.

Firefighters sent from neighboring Pripyat knew of no exposure to radiation and Ignatenko died of acute radiation syndrome on May 13, 1986.

Arriving at work that morning, Breus says he saw no fire.

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Getty Images

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The view of the damaged building from the roof of reactor # 3

"I saw the damage in reactor number 4. You could see the equipment and the bombs exposed. There was no smoke or fire, just smoke coming from the damaged part."

Most firefighters were pouring water into the damaged reactor, he says. "A fine stream that the firefighters dumped probably evaporated before it even reached the reactor."

Firefighters were also asked to help clean up radioactive debris from the roof after the fire was extinguished.

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Getty Images

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Firefighters photographed in 1986 before cleaning the remains of the roof of reactor # 4

How accurate was the portrait of the workers?

One of the miniseries's most dramatic scenes shows three power plant workers volunteering to enter an underground tunnel under the damaged reactor to open a vital drain valve.

There were fears that the "lava" of the molten reactor could reach the water, triggering a potential explosion potentially far more powerful.

Contrary to reports that the three divers died of radiation sickness as a result of their action, all three survived.

Change leader Borys Baranov died in 2005, while Valery Bespalov and Oleksiy Ananenko, both chiefs of one of the sections of the reactor, are still alive in the capital, Kiev.

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OLEKSIY ANANENKO / BBC / SKY UNITED KINGDOM LTD / HBO

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Oleksiy Ananenko (then and now) with a scene from the TV series showing the three workers wearing respirators

"It was our job," says Oleksiy Ananenko, who was on duty at the time, while the others had received orders from the manager. They knew where the valves were, so they were the right men for the task.

"If I did not do that, they could fire me. How would I find another job after that?"

He points out some inaccuracies in the TV portrait.

Their faces were not covered by respirators, so they could talk to each other, receive no reward, and did not receive a successful return.

"It was just our job. Who would applaud that?"

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SKY UK LTD / HBO

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The TV series portrays how 400 miners were involved in digging the tunnel under the damaged reactor

Miners were brought in to dig a tunnel under the reactor to create a space for a heat exchanger to prevent the molten core from melting through the concrete block and contaminating groundwater, threatening millions of lives.

The temperatures below the reactor were high and the series shows them undressing.

"They took off their clothes, but not as shown in the film, they are nothing," insists Breus, also pointing out that their role was not significant for the story.

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Media LegendThe post-human landscape of Chernobyl

The miners finished their work ahead of schedule, but then the molten core cooled off.

"The miners are shown as tough guys who are not afraid of anything, but not the mill workers."

How fatal was the "Death Bridge"?

In the series, residents of Pripyat rush to a railway bridge to get a better view of the fire, unaware of the exposure. Children are shown playing in radioactive dust, which falls from the sky like snow.

This later became known as the "Death Bridge" after reports that those who were there reportedly died of radiation sickness.

But Breus believes most of the residents of Pripyat would have slept during the blast, and he only learned of the accident when he got to work the next morning.

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SKY UK LTD / HBO

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The TV series shows the residents of Pripyat watching events unfold over what was later dubbed the "Death Bridge"

"I've never heard that there were a crowd of people who went to watch the fire at night," he says.

"In the hospital, I was treated to a guy who pedaled to the bridge on the morning of April 26 to watch him. He had a mild type of acute radiation syndrome," a doctor said.

"Another friend treated at the same time said he had a date with his girlfriend near the bridge that night. He had health problems later."

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How was the Soviet Union portrayed?

Oleksiy Breus says that the accident helped reveal the substantial flaws of the Soviet system.

"For example, this useless secret, which became one of the reasons behind the Chernobyl disaster." When the operators pushed the red button, the reactor did not stop, but it exploded.

But while many have praised the series' attention to detail, he believes it is also one of the disadvantages of the TV series.

"There are many stereotypes shown, typical of the Western portrait of the Soviet Union," argues Oleksiy Breus. "A big glass, vodka, KGB everywhere."

Ultimately though, he is happy that the show has turned his attention to the disaster and scale of the damage done.

"Its high rankings show that people are still interested in Chernobyl. It's not just a local interest, for a small group of people, but it's still global."

Image copyright
UKRINFORM

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The damage caused to the installation by the greatest nuclear disaster in history

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