The Real Chernobyl: In the Aftermath of a Hit TV Show

The Real Chernobyl
Sky Atlantic’s hard-hitting documentary.

Chernobyl was advertised prior to its launch, but clashed with the end of the almighty Game of Thrones.

As the latter faltered in the eyes of fans, word of mouth turned the Chernobyl mini-series into a commercial and critical smash hit.

Everyone was talking about it at work, with the normally Love Island obsessed desk behind us openly discussing Chernobyl’s brilliance.

In the show’s aftermath, we want to draw attention to the very much ongoing event, the people affected, and the creatives involved in the TV show – not least Hildur Guðnadóttir and her haunting soundtrack.

We think it’s important people remember the timely messages from the show, rather than heading off to find something new to watch.

The Real Chernobyl

To accompany the HBO series, Sky also commissioned a documentary to examine the fate of those involved in the 1986 disaster. It reveals even more tragedy and disturbing, ethereal nightmares – it was aired after the show’s first run in late June 2019.

Having read into Chernobyl in serious detail a decade ago, we were aware of the full scale of the 1986 disaster – but that didn’t take anything away from this brilliant mini-series.

For anyone coming into this story fresh, with only minor knowledge of a distant nuclear diaster in Soviet Russia, the events the series depicts must be something else – bleak, harrowing, terrifying, and yet utterly captivating.

We’re delighted, in a strange way, the full scale of the disaster and the heroics of the hundreds of thousands of people involved are now publically acknowledged.

A landmark event such as this demands widespread public awareness in the face of such sacrifice, but also as it’s so timely with the present climate crisis.

Chernobyl: Chronicle of Difficult Weeks

Going further back, Chernobyl: Khronika trudnykh nedel (1987) was the first documentary to cover the disaster. This was arguably the most dangerous film anyone has ever recorded.

Vladimir Shevchenko (1929-1987) took on the highly dangerous and, ultimately, fatal project in a desperate bid to record the disaster for posterity.

Shevchenko and his cameramen (without any official government clearance) raced around the nuclear power plant as the recovery projects took place. That exposed them to horrendous levels of radiation.

Despite censorship, the documentary was eventually released to acclaim. But Shevchenko was dead by the time any plaudits arrived, his lungs destroyed by radiation. Another victim of ARS – acute radiation sickness.

As detailed in The Real Chernobyl, one of his cameramen now has terminal throat cancer – he communicates to the crew by writing onto paper.

Shevchenko’s project was made in stark contrast to other journalists who flocked to the scene to document Chernobyl, many of whom were unaware of what the problem was.

Igor Kostin (1937-2015) believed there had been a fire. A friend offered to fly him by helicopter over unit four of the destroyed nuclear reactor. This favour proved nearly fatal.

The radiation was so strong Kostin’s photography equipment jammed within minutes – only one grainy picture survived, the first to document the power plant after the explosion.

He also, remarkably, rushed onto the roof of the power plant of unit four on five separate occasions with the hapless bio-robots.

His pictures from that are also stunning, but his exposure to radiation left him requiring constant hospital visits for the rest of his life.


Hildur Guðnadóttir has worked across various, mainly obscure, projects – although the Icelandic musician did work on the largely excellent Sicario sequel in 2018.

In keeping with the astonishing attention to detail the series shows, she went into a decommissioned nuclear power plant in Lithuania to record many sounds in there – in full hazmat suit gear.

It’s an eerie and highly affecting piece of work that glides over the show’s darker moments subtly.

Often you’re almost unaware it’s playing in the background as you’re transfixed by some bizarre, otherworldly activity taking place on screen.

There’s also the inclusion of vichnaya pamyat (memory eternal). It’s use alongside the show’s closing epitaph, of sorts, for the whole disaster is particularly memorable.


We can’t think of a more timely and important piece of television than this here in 2019. It’s a message that big business capitalism and government hesitance is forwarding us towards something even worse than Chernobyl.

As noted above, former General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev claimed the Soviet Union likely collapsed due to the horrendous extent of the disaster.

A read through Svetlana Alexievich’s stunning Voices From Chernobyl (1996) is enough to confirm the colossal mental and physical cost for humanity.

And the consequences will rage for hundreds, thousands more years. Even the state-of-the-art, $2 billion confinement unit placed in 2016 over the old concrete and steel sarcophagus will only last 100 years.

Although by then future generations may have far bigger issues to deal with.


    • It’s challenging television, the very best of culture – done with the utmost respect, as some of the real life stories are very difficult viewing. But, yes, essential I think. And highly critically acclaimed at this point.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. I also knew a lot of people (personally) who r dead by now because they worked in the Chernobyl-zone back then… & the thing is – they didn’t know much about the radiation, it was a part of their work (as firefighters, for example) – to be there. And most important- you couldn’t say “no”…

        Liked by 1 person

        • There’s the three men who had to go under the reactor to drain the water out – considered a suicide mission at the time. They just happened to be on shift that day, so were ordered to do it. And did.

          But Gorbachev noted the disaster effectively ended the Soviet Union. The main reason I’m happy the series came about is it draws attention to the many thousands of people who helped control the situation. They thoroughly deserve more.

          Liked by 1 person

            • Well I don’t see it like that, it’s a heroic reaction against a disaster – we’ve had many in England after governmental incompetence. England right now is a disaster zone yet the Tories are denying they’ve done anything wrong.

              Chernobyl represents various issues, but also a genuine and humane rush to get the situation under control. Which hundreds of thousands of people achieved. And there’s incredible nobility in that.

              Liked by 1 person

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