The New Terror of Chernobyl

HBO series Chernobyl doesn’t tell the “hero story”, but the more terrifying story of cover-ups and denial in wake of the infamous disaster.


Cover image of the miniseries Chernobyl.

Sindhu Ragunathan, Staff Writer

Everyone knows the story of Chernobyl, but not like this.

What is considered to be the most disastrous nuclear accident in history occurred on April 26, 1986 in Soviet Ukraine. During a routine safety test, design flaws and human failure led to the explosion a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Shockingly, in wake of a disaster that had potential to spread to Eastern Europe, plant directors tried to downplay the event.

HBO’s Chernobyl premiered on May 6th with the first installment of a five part series. The series thoroughly analyzes the tragic event in brutal detail. Focusing on protocol failures and cover-ups of the “higher-ups,” the show draws parallels to our current society. Despite the viewers being privy to the end result, the abuse of authority and standardized lying creates a perfect storm that is hard to walk away from.

The first installment begins with a decidedly human perspective of Lyudmilla Ignatenko, who is in her kitchen early in the morning before the explosion. The small white dot of the initial explosion goes unnoticed until the whisper of noise turns into a roar that shakes her flat a few moments later. This “bang” establishes the narrative of the series in a unique and interesting way by starting with the catalyst and ending with the aftermath. The filmmakers use of a new and perspective creates an absolutely riveting plot.   

This revisitation of a tragedy had all the potential to devolve into a repetitive and cheesy mess, but the series creates a hellish atmosphere that leaves viewers wanting more. There is clever use of key imagery to create a apocalyptic and gray mood that descends over the characters. Some may call the series dull and bleak, and quite frankly it is. This is a series about the Chernobyl Disaster after all.

No one can accuse Chernobyl of sidestepping the controversy of the event in favor of retelling well known rescue or hero stories. In the very first minute of the show a character says the words which echo the purpose of the series:

“The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.”

These words paint a portrait of a massive meltdown on far too many levels to count.