Did someone say a five part miniseries about a historical disaster and Russians during the cold war? Count me in. I love miniseries’ because they’re not too long and you don’t need much of a commitment. I’m basically a completionist, so if I get invested into something I need to know how it ends. If it’s terrible at least I’m not committed to 5 or more seasons of crap. And I love historical documentaries, books, comics, video games, etc so HBO’s Chernobyl easily piqued my curiosity. You may have heard of this as it’s fairly new and was quite popular due to its critical acclaim, but I feel if you’ve simply heard of it but never gave it a shot, maybe my write up might be enough for you to give it a try.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Chernobyl catastrophe here’s the rundown: in 1986 a nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded and left a reactor core exposed. It proceeded to spew vast amounts of radiation into the air which was taken by the wind and swept west,affecting the majority of countries in Europe. During this time Ukraine was under the Soviet umbrella, so naturally they denied the accident and it’s severity due to keeping up appearances for the sake of the cold war. HBO’s show, which is ultimately a drama and not a documentary, covers the lives of many characters involved from the beginning of the explosion, to the containment and cleanup efforts, evacuations, and the trials of those deemed to be responsible for the accident. There are plenty of reasons this show is truly a top notch miniseries.
For starters, the show has a great selection of actors who execute their roles beautifully. They deliver many of their dramatic lines with power and emotion. The Soviet people are fairly direct and blunt which adds to this effect and knocks up the intensity of each critical scene and leads to fairly tense moments. The videography is excellent too, there are plenty of great shots through the show especially ones where they show the scenery of Eastern Europe. Also the use of a less intense colour palette really seem to capture the bleakness of living behind the iron curtain.
Lastly, the accuracy is fairly good though not 100% spot on. As mentioned, this is ultimately a drama and not a documentary. The writers did take some creative liberties, especially near the end of the series, though this is noted at the end credits and looks to be solely done for the dramatic affect rather than to blur the facts. The differences don’t seem to change any plot points or hinder the truth behind the events. I did find myself going down a rabbit hole after I watched the series. I found myself reading articles, watching interviews, listening to podcasts and going through documentaries on the event for a few weeks after I finished watching it. I must say that many of the events depicted in the shows are extremely close to what actually happened back in 86. I also think I’m now basically qualified to run a nuclear reactor myself. At least I think so anyways.
One of the biggest takeaways from the show was the behavior of both the Soviet government and the Soviet people. The show did depict a clichéd style Soviet government, as in they tried to really hide the reality of the accident and contain information of the scale of the disaster. The clandestine operations of the KGB and the bureaucracy riddled with lies to pass blame was true to form. More importantly though, the show also captured the determination of the Soviet citizens. The endurance, sacrifice and resilience of the people during the disaster and cleanup was inspiring, the show captured the collective ‘we have a duty’ attitude. However, it can be argued that this ‘duty’ was not inspiring, but rather that the Soviet government forcefully put their citizens to work during this time.
All in all, it’s a great show and I recommend watching it if you like historical stuff during the Cold War era.
As a little side note that pertains specifically to me, I was about 6 months old during the Chernobyl incident and was living only 900km to the south west of Kiev. I’m positive I got a bit of radiation from the leak during that time. Having many relatives and friends in the area recant their experiences and how the news traveled and what precautions local authorities provided also gave me a bit of interest in the subject and when I heard about this show I knew I had to watch it.