Is Chernobyl 1986 a true story? Is the Netflix movie based on real people?

Is Chernobyl 1986 a true story? Is the Netflix movie based on real people?

‘Chernobyl 1986’ is a Russian tragedy drama set in the midst of a nuclear disaster in a small Soviet town. The film centers on the tumultuous affair of a young couple who find themselves in the midst of an unimaginable disaster. As radiation seeps through the city and the nuclear reactor threatens to explode again with even more disastrous consequences, a handful of brave men volunteer on what appears to be a suicide mission to try to avert another disaster. The really grim scenes encased in the film show some of the worst human suffering imaginable. How much of what we see in ‘Chernobyl 1986’ actually happened? Let’s find out.

Is Chernobyl 1986 based on a true story?

‘Chernobyl 1986’ is partly based on a true story. As we see in the opening scenes of the film, the film takes inspiration from historical events, but contains fictional characters. The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 serves as a backdrop to the story of two estranged lovers, Olga and Alexey, and follows them as their lives are irreversibly changed by the aftermath of the nuclear accident.

Image Credit: World Nuclear Association

The film, written by Elena Ivanova and Aleksey Kazakov, is accurate in some details regarding the actual disaster, which took place on April 26, 1986. The city of Pripyat, where the characters of the film live, refers to the actual city of the same name which was established in the 1970s to support the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This also explains why in the film everyone in the Soviet city seems to be somehow connected to the power plant, about which Olga’s son Alex even complains. In addition, as seen in the film, it was in fact reactor No. 4 that exploded, after which the city of Pripyat had to be evacuated and remains abandoned to this day.

Is Chernobyl 1986


Image Credit: World Nuclear Association

The film takes artistic liberty to a great extent with the historical events and alters them to fit the plot. Notably, in the film, after the initial explosion, the officials and experts gather to discuss the possibility of a “steam explosion” taking place, spreading nuclear radiation across Western Europe and Russia. Ultimately, main character Alexey manages to avert the steam explosion by draining the coolant reserves under the reactor.

In reality, on that fateful day in 1986, a steam explosion occurred and was one of two explosions that destroyed the reactor. The nuclear contamination even spread to parts of Western Europe and the USSR, especially neighboring Belarus, which received about 70% of the particulate waste from the disaster. The nuclear fire that remained open to the atmosphere continued to spread radioactive material for many days after the explosions.

The film’s fictional characters appear to have been put in place to depict the devastating effects of the tragedy on a personal level. Olga’s young son Alex witnesses the explosion (which would have been unlikely in real life as the explosion happened after 1am local time) and is exposed to radiation. Watching a mother coping with her son struggling with radiation poisoning adds an extra dimension to the film’s emotional quotient, which would otherwise be lost amid the objective horror of the film’s historical inspiration.


Is Chernobyl 1986 a true story?  Is the Netflix movie based on real people?

The film’s lead character, Alexey, is a fictional firefighter who embarks on a suicide mission not once but twice, likely symbolizing the actual heroic firefighters who were among the first to arrive at the scene of the disaster and exposed to deadly levels of radiation poisoning before they even knew they were being exposed. Likewise, the film lists high-level corruption as a role in the disaster, loosely referring to the criminal mismanagement for which some factory officials were convicted in the ensuing investigation and trial.

The film’s director, Danila Kozlovskiy, grew up hearing stories about the Chernobyl disaster, but said many of the stories had been embellished over time and had become superficial. With his film, he tries to bring the pain and tenderness of human emotions to the fore and make viewers feel connected to the characters experiencing the disaster. “I hope we have succeeded in making a film that will deeply touch the emotions of the audience. And in the end, that’s what cinema is for,” he said, describing the effect he hoped the film would have on audiences around the world.

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