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Chernobyl survivors have mixed reviews for HBO’s acclaimed series: ‘Dyatlov was harsh, but fair’

As it cements its position as the best reviewed television show of all time, the real-life survivors of the Chernobyl disaster have mixed reactions to the HBO show.

tv Updated: Jun 20, 2019 10:30 IST
Chernobyl,Chernobyl HBO,Pripyat
A picture taken on June 7, 2019, shows the wreckage of a car in the ghost city of Pripyat in the Chernobyl exclusion zone on June 7, 2019.(AFP)

Critics and viewers on both sides of the Atlantic have lined up to acclaim Chernobyl, a dramatisation of events surrounding the world's worst nuclear accident - but the reactions of some of the survivors are less rose-tinted.

Sergii Parashyn, the then chairman of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant's Communist Party Committee, said the HBO mini-series, screened this spring in the United States and Britain, depicted the initial disbelief at the scale of the disaster well.

"I did not understand what was happening until dawn, until I saw with my own eyes that everything was destroyed," he told journalists in the command bunker that was used as a crisis centre after the explosion on April 26, 1986.

The fourth reactor in the Soviet plant north of Kiev exploded during a botched safety test, releasing more radiation into the Earth's atmosphere than any other man-made event in history.

The accident killed 31 within weeks and forced tens of thousands to flee. The final toll of those killed by radiation-related illnesses such as cancer is subject to debate, and estimated by the World Health Organization to be in the thousands.

Areal view of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's fourth reactor. REUTERS/Files ( REUTERS )

The series blames the excessive bureaucracy and secrecy of the Soviet Union, and Parashyn said there were flaws in the way it depicts the plant's workers, in particular its management.

Chernobyl's Deputy Chief Engineer Anatoliy Dyatlov, interpreted by English actor Paul Ritter as tyrannical and arrogant, "did not behave as terribly with people as the show portrays," Parashyn said.

"He was harsh, yes, everyone obeyed him unquestioningly... But he was fair." Parashyn, appointed as the plant's director from 1994 to 1998 and later chief of the 30km (19 mile) exclusion zone that surrounds it, said Viktor Bryukhanov, the man then in charge, was also inaccurately depicted.

Sergiy Parashyn, a Communist party leader at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986, and the plant director general in 1994-1998 stands in a meeting room in the underground shelter of Chernobyl nuclear power plant on June 7, 2019, where the first meetings of the official commission that handled the subsequences of the disaster took place in April 1986. ( AFP )

"Bryukhanov is a composed, calm, intelligent man, who never denied his responsibility," he said. This view is backed by Oleksiy Breus, the senior engineer of the 4th reactor in 1986, who arrived as part of the 8:00 a.m. shift change on April 26.

"The plant workers are shown as though they are scared of everything... This does not reflect reality," Breus insisted. "In reality, they were quite decisive, very decisive, not one of the operators fled after the explosion."

However, he praised the portrayal of Chernobyl as a global, rather than a regional, catastrophe.

At 9.6/10 the highest rated TV series of all time on the IMDb website, the show also has caused a surge in visitor numbers to the plant and the nearby ghost town of Pripyat.

Tour guide Sergii Myrnyi believes that the show, whose final episode screened on June 3, was wrong to portray the events in 1986 only as a tragedy, calling Chernobyl "the story of global learning... and eventually the story of victory."

Visitors walk in the ghost city of Pripyat during a tour in the Chernobyl exclusion zone on June 7, 2019. ( AFP )

Its creator, Craig Mazin, said deviations from the historical record were undertaken in good faith.

"There's a difference between the perfect way of doing something in terms of historical accuracy, and the perfect way of doing something so that people will watch it and appreciate what matters. You can't have both, at least in that format," he told Vice magazine in an interview this month.

Chernobyl Tour invited Parashyn, Breus and Myrnyi to the official launch of the agency's new tour, which takes visitors around locations depicted in the series.

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First Published: Jun 20, 2019 10:30 IST