By Andy Chandler
Chernobyl. Even writing the word feels a taboo for me.
I’ve had a long-standing morbid fascination with the terrifying events that took place on April 26, 1986 and the subsequent fallout (pun intended).
It seems awful to admit being intrigued by an event like this which directly caused the death of 28 people in and around the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station on that fateful night, but I do.
I think it’s not the disaster itself, caused by a catastrophic power increase resulting in core explosions and open-air fires, but more the human story’s that played out in the immediate aftermath.
From Soviet officials who had orders to halt the spread of information, to the firemen who had no idea the hell they were walking into, the worst nuclear accident the world had ever seen (up to that point), this disaster is chocked full of the very best of humanity and it’s that side of this that has a very sizable draw.
I’d read on the newswire yonks ago about a Chernobyl mini-series coming our way but to discover that this little beauty had been finished and the first episode aired was a really nice surprise.
The very first episode opens with an atmospheric shot of the explosion taking place in the background whilst normal life goes on in the nearby town of Pripyat.
It’s an understated and ultimately great way to kick off this down-to-earth drama.
And it is down to earth, it’s real and the massive nuclear disaster is almost relegated to second fiddle in comparison to the characters and their relationships as hell literally opens on their doorstep.
The sets, the costumes and the feel of this show perfectly captures the dying days of the Soviet Union. Old men make decisions by default and insubordination is repayed by violence and death.
To see the decision being made NOT to evacuate the nearby town, against all common sense and reason, is the real climax of episode 1 and gives you a perfect insight into the corrupt and bloated death throes of a communist dictatorship that is literally teetering on the abyss.
You get to witness an almost religious dedication to the Soviet Union that elicites applause and cheers from the pencil pushers gathered when they decide to leave their fate in the hands of Lenin that is nearly as unsettling as the shots of dust landing on people near the end of episode 1 that really evoke the emotions, which is great in a story as layered and intricate as this.
Add to the mix the heartbreaking story of the firefighters who fought the flames amongst the debris of a nuclear reactor completely unaware that the air they were breathing was riddled with radiation and that many of them would die within hours.
The workers of the plant battled to keep water pumping into the core to prevent more explosions at the crippled plant.
In the immediate aftermath, the water system failed and technicians needed to enter the pumping stations directly beneath the core and manually open every pump, which they did and in doing so were exposed to insane amounts of radiation, which is where we leave them in part one and is one of the most gut-wrenching parts of this.
Everyone working at the plant that night knew the true scale of what had happened and were silenced and prevented from actions that would have limited the agony.
The cast do a cracking job, there aren’t many big names in this so nothing major happens to kick you out of this story and you find yourself wanting to reach through the screen and warn people to run.
In a world that is currently focused on Game of Thrones, it seems a shame that a drama this real, this terrifying and this human might pass many people by.
So, if you fancy something a tad more grounded than dragons, check out Chernobyl. The first episode had me hooked and I wait eagerly for the next episode to hit so we get the next chapter in this compelling tale of ultimate disaster.
I think we could do with more dramas like this, especially based on real events. 5/5