The 5 things HBO's Chernobyl got wrong about the world's worst nuclear disaster.


In the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, a safety test at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine malfunctioned.

Within moments, a series of explosions to the equivalent of 500 nuclear bombs was set off.

Instantly, two men were killed in the blast.

In the decades that followed, thousands of people were affected by the unprecedented disaster as people were uprooted from their homes and plagued by illness as a result of nuclear radiation.

Now, three decades later, the world’s worst nuclear disaster is back in the spotlight once again amid the release of new HBO miniseries Chernobyl.

Watch the official trailer for HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl below. Post continues after video.

But although the series gets plenty of things right about the nuclear accident, there are many instances within the show where elements of history were exaggerated or even altered.

Here’s five things the Chernobyl series got wrong about the world’s worst nuclear disaster.


1. The firefighters weren’t contagious.

Following the release of Chernobyl, a US doctor who actually treated radiation victims in Chernobyl shut down the show’s depiction of the health effects of radiation.

In a subscription-based newsletter, the world-renowned doctor explained that the show’s depiction of radiation poisoning was “inaccurate”, as the firefighters who suffered from Acute Radiation Syndrome were “not contagious”.

During the first few episodes of the show, Lyudmilla Ignatenko (played by Jessie Buckley) is warned to stay away from her firefighter husband Vasily Ignatenko (played by Adam Nagaitis). But according to Dr Robert Gale, Lyudmilla, who was pregnant, did not actually endanger her unborn child by entering her husband’s hospital room.

In the series, Lyudmilla Ignatenko was warned to stay away from her firefighter husband Vasily Ignatenko. Image: HBO.

"An error in [HBO's Chernobyl] was to portray the victims as being dangerously radioactive," Dr Gale wrote.

"None of the victims were radioactive; their exposures were almost exclusively external, not internal," he explained. "Most importantly, risk to a fetus from an exposure like this is infinitesimally small."

"I'm amazed the producers didn't get technical advice from a health physicist or radio-biologist rather than basing much of their screenplay on a novel [Voices of Chernobyl]," he concluded.

2. Ulana Khomyuk did not exist.

In Chernobyl, one of the main characters involved in orchestrating the cleanup following Chernobyl was Soviet nuclear physicist Ulana Khomyuk.

Although Khomyuk, who is played by Emily Watson, is a pivotal character in the series, she actually didn't exist in real life.

Instead, Khomyuk's character is simply a composite of a number of scientists who investigated Chernobyl.

chernobyl hbo
Ulana Khomyuk did not exist in real life. Image: HBO.

3. The Bridge of Death scene was exaggerated.

In the first episode of Chernobyl, a group of men, women and young children gathered on a bridge in Pripyat to get a better view of the colourful flames coming from the site of the explosion as flakes of radioactive debris and dust floated through the air like snow.

In the final episode of the series, it was reported that no one who watched the fire from the Chernobyl bridge, now known as the 'Bridge of Death', survived.

In reality, however, the story about the Bridge of Death is largely dismissed as an urban myth.


In 2016, a man who was on the bridge that fateful night with his wife and their two daughters, 12-year-old Tatiana and 10-year-old Marina, told The Guardian about their experience.

“I could see the ruins of the reactor. It was completely destroyed and there was a cloud of smoke coming from it. Nobody gave us any information, but we knew it was serious. We knew it was something terrifying,” Pasha Kondratiev told The Guardian.

Pasha's wife Natasha also shared with the publication that several years after the incident, the couple's daughter, Tatiana, collapsed in the street and died.

chernobyl bridge of death
Dozens of Pripyat locals gathered on the bridge to watch the flames from the explosion. Image: HBO.

“Who knows if Chernobyl caused her asthma. All we know is that before the accident she was healthy. She was exposed to radiation when she was 12, which is a critical age for a child’s development. It was probably linked to Chernobyl, but nobody can say for sure,” Natasha told The Guardian.

4. Valery Legasov did not live alone.

Valery Legasov, played by Jared Harris in Chernobyl, was the deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy.

The Soviet scientist was part of a team responsible for investigating the disaster.

In the series, Legasov is portrayed as living alone with his cat, but according to reports, Legasov was actually a happily married man with one child.

As it is portrayed in the series, two years after the disaster, Legasov took his own life.

chernobyl miners
Valery Legasov (played by Jared Harris) was forced to convince a group of miners to work in extreme levels of radiation. Image: HBO.

5. The helicopter crash.

In episode two of Chernobyl, a helicopter collides with a crane and falls to the ground near the nuclear reactor.

Although the helicopter crash did in fact happen, it didn't happen until at least two weeks after the initial explosion happened.

Speaking to Men's Health, Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin explained that the scene was one of the few they chose to move out of chronological order.

“I wanted people to know that this was one of the hazards that these pilots were dealing with – an open reactor. Radiation was flying over it,” he said.

The five-part miniseries Chernobyl is available to watch now on Foxtel.

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