Dramatizing the Chernobyl Disaster, for its Survivors
Chernobyl, Ukraine – In April 1986, Alexander Rodnyansky was a young documentary filmmaker living in Kiev. When the fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded 60 miles north of the Ukrainian capital, most citizens of the Soviet Union were not informed. It took the government 18 days to share exactly what had happened, but Rodnyansky had filmed the disaster area the day after the disaster.
What he witnessed in Chernobyl after the explosion – and the Soviet government’s botched response – has obsessed him ever since.
“It was probably one of the most important events in Soviet history and in my own personal history,” Rodnyansky said in a telephone interview.
Rodnyansky went on to become an award-winning director, producer and television director. His career-long ambition to make a feature film about Chernobyl came to fruition this year with the release of “Chernobyl 1986”, a historical drama which he believes should focus on the lives of people, known as name of “liquidators”, who prevented the fire from spreading to the other reactors and thus avoid an even more serious disaster.
The film, which recently arrived on Netflix in the United States, follows the critically acclaimed 2019 HBO miniseries “Chernobyl,” which critics praised for its focus on the failures of the Soviet system.
“Chernobyl 1986”, which was partly funded by the Russian state, has come under criticism in Russia and Ukraine for not highlighting the government’s missteps to the same extent. But Rodnyansky said that was never his intention. When he watched the HBO series – twice – his film was already in production and he wanted it to focus on those directly affected by the disaster.
“For years people talked about what really happened there, especially after the break-up of the Soviet Union and complete freedom of the media,” Rodnyansky said, adding that most people understood that what happened at Chernobyl was a failure of the Soviet system. Everyone involved in the disaster was a victim, he said – “they were hostages of this system”.
While HBO’s approach was to dissect the systemic flaws in the Soviet system that led to the disaster, the Russian film does something familiar to the country’s cultural tradition: to emphasize the role of the individual, people’s personal heroism and dedication to a higher cause.
Before the disaster, Rodnyansky had “lived a fairly stable life, then something happened that made me think of the system that does not let people know about the disaster that can kill hundreds of thousands of people – it doesn’t ‘is not a fair system, ”he said, referring to the government’s silence immediately after the explosion.
Thirty-five years later, Rodnyansky said it was clear that the Chernobyl explosion was one of the major events that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union. It “changed the perception of life, of the system and of the country,” he said, making “many Ukrainians, if not the majority, think about the responsibility of Moscow and the need for Ukraine to to be independent “.
Today, the plant site has less than 2,000 workers who maintain a giant sarcophagus placed above the site to ensure that no nuclear waste is discharged. This month Ukraine will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union. The anniversary comes as the country tries to protect itself against Russia after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for separatist militants in eastern Ukraine.
Although the making of this film resonated particularly with Rodnyansky, he has already made epic historical films: which won the award for best screenplay at Cannes in 2014.
In 2015, he got the screenplay for “Chernobyl 1986” and sent it to Danila Kozlovsky, a leading director and actor who was then on the set of the TV series “Vikings”.
Kozlovsky, who was born the year before the nuclear disaster, was at first dismissive. But he said in a telephone interview that the more he read the script, “the more I understood that this was an incredible event that influenced the history of our country, which remains a fairly complex subject.”
In the film, he plays the protagonist, Alexeï, firefighter and bon vivant. Upon meeting an ex-girlfriend in Pripyat, where most of the people working in the Chernobyl factory lived, Alexei discovers that he has a 10-year-old son. Although he is interested in his son and ex-partner, he makes promises he doesn’t keep until he and his fellow firefighters are immersed in the horror and devastation of the explosion.
“For me, it was important not to just make another pseudo-documentary feature,” the actor said, but to tell the story of “how this disaster erupted into the life of an ordinary family” .
Kozlovsky said he spent a year meeting with former liquidators and displaced people from the Chernobyl region to prepare for the role. A sign of political change in the former Soviet state since the disaster, Kozlovsky was unable to visit the 1,000 square mile Chernobyl Protected Exclusion Zone, where the reactors and abandoned town of Pripyat are located, a-t he said, because Russian men of military age are not allowed to enter Ukraine among the countries ongoing conflict.
The film, dedicated to the liquidators, struck a chord with some people who survived efforts to prevent further explosions and then cleanse the area affected by radiation. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 240,000 people participated in the cleanup in 1986 and 1987.
Oleg Ivanovich Gerikh was one of those people. He was working in the Fourth Reactor when it exploded, and today he appears regularly in documentaries and speaks to student groups to make sure the youngest understand the gravity of what happened. pass.
Now 62, he said he was delighted that the new Russian-made drama explores the disaster through the prism of the experience of one of the people who caught the disaster.
“What is important is that the film shows the fate of a person who has shown his love and dedication to his profession,” he said in a telephone interview, recalling how which he fought to contain fires not only because of the environmental crisis. this could be the result, but also because his wife and two young daughters lived nearby.
“I know for sure that that night we did everything to ensure that our town, which was three kilometers from our station, was protected,” he said. “And we understood that our families, our loved ones, our children, were in danger. “
Ivan Nechepurenko contributed to reporting from Moscow.
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