Chernobyl: Breaking down fact vs. fiction in the HBO series

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Photo Credit: HBO

The fear, the terror, the death toll

April 26th, 1986 was a horrible, horrible day in our world history, and the days, months, and years that followed did not prove to be any easier for those affected. Of course, those who survived were forced to deal with the lasting effects of radiation, but many did not make it to see a future at all. And of course, the sheer terror that eventually overtook the surrounding areas was something no television series can ever really encapsulate.

In HBO’s retelling of the story, they managed to do a pretty accurate job showing how the general public reacted. One would think panic would break out almost immediately, but it didn’t, at all. In fact, a group of people watched the billowy smoke coming out from the plant as if they were just watching fireworks in the night sky. They had no idea what was going to be the consequence of their actions.

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No one was evacuated right away, in fact, it took more than a day to even get that going because those in charge didn’t think it was important enough to report to officials or the public. Just as happened in real life, the series covers this point very well as the residents of the town nearby are evacuated sometime later and it all feels eerily calm and lax.

The face of the people, so to speak, was Vasily Ignatenko, who was an actual firefighter that helped out during the crisis. In the show, we see Ignatenko’s rapid health decline because, like many others, he didn’t go in with any protection and was fully exposed to the radiation. As a result, he didn’t live long after the event.

Since the series couldn’t show every individual that suffered in a similar manner, they had Ignatenko represent all of them. He represents what happened to those that went headfirst into the radiation without any proper tools or protection.

According to a report released by Refinery29, about 600,000 people went in to clean up the mess and were all exposed to the dangerous radiation. The death toll from that number was about 4,000 people as a result of radiation cancer, and about 70,000 were left disabled.

R.I.P. to the unsung heroes who gave up their lives or suffered as a result of the Chernobyl incident.