Chornobyl’s real-life heroes talk about ac­ci­dent, TV show,

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY BERMET TALANT [email protected]

“Ch­er­nobyl,” HBO’s hit five-part miniseries, has cast a spot­light not only on the worst nu­clear power dis­as­ter in hu­man his­tory, but also on the people who faced its af­ter­math.

Ex­cept for the lead fe­male pro­tag­o­nist, Be­laru­sian nu­clear physi­cist Ulana Khomyuk, who is a fic­tional com­pos­ite char­ac­ter, writer and pro­ducer Craig Mazin stuck to real people and their sto­ries with a fa­nat­i­cal zeal for de­tail..

The Kyiv Post talked to four men who were in­volved in cleanup ef­forts af­ter the ex­plo­sion at Chornobyl’s Re­ac­tor Four on April 26, 1986. Not all of them were de­picted in the series, but all had first­hand experience­s with char­ac­ters and events on­screen.

Olek­siy Ana­nenko

Olek­siy Ana­nenko was one of three “divers” — Chornobyl nu­clear plant work­ers who drained the wa­ter tanks be­neath the re­ac­tor in or­der to pre­vent an­other ex­plo­sion.

Af­ter the dis­as­ter, it was falsely re­ported that all three died as a re­sult of their dan­ger­ous mis­sion. In fact, they were hos­pi­tal­ized and sur­vived. One of them, Va­leriy Bes­palov, now 61, lives in Kyiv and works at the State In­spec­tion for Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tion. An­other, Bo­rys Bara­nov, died in 2005, re­port­edly, from heart fail­ure.

The third diver, Ana­nenko, will turn 60 this year. Through­out his ca­reer, he worked in state agen­cies deal­ing with nu­clear en­ergy. He is now re­tired. Two years ago, he was hit by a car while cross­ing the street and lay in a coma for sev­eral months. He never fully re­cov­ered from the ac­ci­dent. To­day, Ana­nenko walks with a limp and shows signs of memory loss. His wife as­sists him, of­ten an­swer­ing ques­tions for him.

The HBO series por­trayed the three divers as brave volunteers who knew the mis­sion could be fa­tal but were will­ing to sac­ri­fice their lives to save thou­sands of others.

Ana­nenko in­sists that was not en­tirely cor­rect. In April 1986, he was a 26-year-old se­nior me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer at the plant.

“It was an or­der from above. I was not a vol­un­teer. We were told what we had to do, and we did it. I re­mem­ber it well,” he said. “I didn’t have a feel­ing I was go­ing to die. I did my job.”

As for his gen­eral impression from the “Ch­er­nobyl” series, he said: “I don’t think it is bad. But they [the Amer­i­can pro­duc­ers] un­der­stand it dif­fer­ently. At that time, I viewed what was hap­pen­ing dif­fer­ently.”

Ser­hiy Parashyn

Ser­hiy Parashyn, now 72, worked at the Chornobyl nu­clear plant for 17 years. At the time of the ac­ci­dent, he was the sec­re­tary of the Com­mu­nist Party com­mit­tee at the plant. In other words, he had just as much au­thor­ity as plant di­rec­tor Viktor Bryukhanov.

Al­though Parashyn is not featured in the HBO series, he was present at the real-life emer­gency meet­ing of the plant ad­min­is­tra­tion con­vened in the com­mand bunker shortly af­ter the ex­plo­sion. He says it was different from the on­screen ver­sion.

“Af­ter the ex­plo­sion, the phone operator called all the heads of var­i­ous de­part­ments at the plant. They ar­rived, and each of them had a desk with a phone. They be­gan calling their staff to gather in­for­ma­tion. For many hours, they were fig­ur­ing out what hap­pened,” he said.

Parashyn, who knew plant di­rec­tor Bryukhanov, chief en­gi­neer Niko­lai Fomin, and deputy chief en­gi­neer Ana­toly Dy­at­lov, says they were mis­rep­re­sented in the series.

“Dy­at­lov had a rough tem­per, but he wasn’t a coward. Bryukhanov be­haved more eth­i­cally. Fomin ac­tu­ally broke down. The op­er­a­tors were not pas­sive,” he said. “For the first hours, the ad­min­is­tra­tion didn’t un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing. The psy­cho­log­i­cal shock was so strong that they couldn’t give com­mands in the first hours.

“I was there, and I didn’t be­lieve that the re­ac­tor had ex­ploded. I did not be­lieve it un­til the morn­ing when I saw the de­stroyed build­ing with my own eyes.”

How­ever, in gen­eral, the Soviet Union’s lies and con­ceal­ment of in­for­ma­tion were pre­sented cor­rectly in the HBO series, al­beit in a dra­ma­tized form, ac­cord­ing to Parashyn.

“People were brought up in this sys­tem. When the phones were cut off at the plant shortly af­ter the ac­ci­dent, I perceived it as a nat­u­ral process,” he said. “Had it hap­pened to­day, I would ques­tion why the com­mu­ni­ca­tion was cut off. In this sense, the series shows the truth.”

Olek­siy Breus

On the early morn­ing of April 26, 1986, control room operator Olek­siy Breus, then 27, came to start his shift at the Chornobyl nu­clear plant, un­aware that Re­ac­tor Four had ex­ploded six hours ago.

Like many, he ini­tially thought there had only been a fire. As a re­sult, his task was to sup­ply wa­ter to the re­ac­tor — un­til the plant ad­min­is­tra­tion re­al­ized and ac­cepted that the re­ac­tor was gone.

Op­er­a­tors car­ried out an enor­mous bur­den of work that day.

Some had to ex­tin­guish fires along with the fire­fight­ers. Others had to find in­jured people and evac­u­ate them out to a safe place where medics could take care of them. Others pre­vented new ex­plo­sions and fires by re­mov­ing hy­dro­gen and oil from the gen­er­a­tor.

Breus was among those who had to eval­u­ate the con­di­tion of the re­ac­tor and gauge ra­di­a­tion lev­els in or­der to un­der­stand what to do next. “It re­quired run­ning around different sec­tions of the plant, which was of­ten dan­ger­ous as they were cov­ered with rub­ble or filled with wa­ter.”

Breus praised the au­then­tic­ity of the show’s details and its re-cre­ation of ev­ery­day Soviet life. The series also demon­strates well the global scale of the Chornobyl dis­as­ter, he said.

But the char­ac­ters were de­picted in­cor­rectly, he be­lieves. His boss, Ana­toly Dy­at­lov, deputy chief en­gi­neer at the plant, in­deed had a rough tem­per, but in no way was he reck­less, Breus said.

“He was not a mad­man. He based his ac­tions on his knowl­edge as a nu­clear sci­en­tist. Af­ter all, (his ac­tions) weren’t the cause of the ac­ci­dent. It was al­leged that his direc­tions led to the ac­ci­dent. No, the blame was on the faulty design of the stop but­ton in the re­ac­tor.”

Af­ter the ac­ci­dent, Breus had to sign a non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment.

“The list of topics that I was not al­lowed to talk about was three pages long. The first point was: ‘It is for­bid­den to talk about the real causes of the ex­plo­sion.’ They likely meant the “red but­ton” that, in­stead of in­stantly shut­ting down the re­ac­tor, caused the ex­plo­sion," he said.

Af­ter he re­ceived a high dose of ra­di­a­tion, doc­tors banned Breus from work­ing at nu­clear plants. In­stead, he be­came a jour­nal­ist. Five years ago, he quit and focused on art. Breus leads a group of artists called Stron­tium-90 who ded­i­cate their art­work to en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and the Chornobyl nu­clear dis­as­ter.

Ser­hiy Myrnyi

In 1986, Ser­hiy Myrnyi, a 27-yearold re­serve of­fi­cer with a chem­i­cal protection reg­i­ment, was drafted as a pla­toon com­man­der for ra­di­a­tion sur­veil­lance in the Chornobyl ex­clu­sion zone. His service lasted 45 days and nights.

Myrnyi’s pla­toon was tasked with mea­sur­ing ra­di­a­tion lev­els and re­port­ing to the Min­istry of De­fense, which passed the data fur­ther on to the gov­ern­men­tal com­mis­sion for in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ac­ci­dent.

“We had to scout different ar­eas around the plant, the red for­est, some­times re­mote vil­lages. Based on the data we col­lected, the com­mis­sion made de­ci­sions on whether to evict a vil­lage or what type of ra­di­a­tion protection mea­sures to take. It was an im­por­tant and in­ter­est­ing as­sign­ment,” he says.

Re­flect­ing on the mis­takes of the Soviet gov­ern­ment, which the “Ch­er­nobyl” series ex­plic­itly de­picts, Myrnyi says he can’t put all the blame on the state, even though he strongly dis­liked the com­mu­nist sys­tem.

“As a mil­i­tary com­man­der I also didn’t fully un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion or was simply un­der stress and ex­haus­tion. Mis­takes were in­evitable,” he said.

“Nobody could imag­ine that Chornobyl would hap­pen. Three years be­fore it, we were trained how to act dur­ing (the po­ten­tial out­break of) World War III. Nobody fully un­der­stood the scope (of the dis­as­ter) and its con­se­quences. It was people’s first con­scious en­counter with ra­di­a­tion. We had to learn in the process.”

In gen­eral, he says, the Soviet Union did a great job in cop­ing with an un­prece­dented ra­di­a­tion dis­as­ter.

Af­ter be­ing dis­charged from the mil­i­tary, Myrnyi worked as a re­searcher on the mit­i­ga­tion and pre­ven­tion of ra­di­a­tion ac­ci­dents and au­thored books about the Chornobyl dis­as­ter. Ten years ago, he founded Ch­er­nobyl Tour, a lead­ing tour com­pany to the ex­clu­sion zone. 

Ed­i­tor’s Note: The Kyiv Post uses the Ukrainian spelling of Chornobyl, while the HBO mini-series uses the Rus­sian spelling, Ch­er­nobyl.

The 'Ch­er­nobyl' miniseries about Ukraine’s nu­clear dis­as­ter is the high­est-rated TV show.

A tool for mea­sur­ing ra­di­a­tion lev­els, Geiger counter, is held against a back­drop of the new sar­coph­a­gus cover­ing the Re­ac­tor Four of the Chornobyl nu­clear power plant de­stroyed by an ex­plo­sion in 1986. The new safe con­fine­ment re­placed an orig­i­nal crum­bling dome at the end of 2018. (Volodymyr Petrov)

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