Emily Watson's character who helps contain the nuclear disaster in HBO's 'Chernobyl' never really existed

Emily Watson's character who helps contain the nuclear disaster in HBO's 'Chernobyl' never really existed

HBO's drama miniseries 'Chernobyl' rings true to most of the details of the world's worst man-made nuclear disaster, particularly its depiction of the famed Russian scientist Valery Legasov, played by Jared Harris, and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Boris Shcherbina, played by Stellan Skarsgård.

However, one character stands out the most in the series — nuclear physicist from Minsk, Ulana Khomyuk. The show portrays Khomyuk as the only woman involved in the containment of the natural disaster, however, the Soviet era history shows that she never existed. 

While Legasov and Shcherbina are historical figures, Khomyuk is the fictional embodiment of the dozens of scientists who helped investigate the crisis as it unfolded.

Portrayed by the brilliant Emily Watson, Khomyuk understands the gravity of the situation better than anyone, and questions authorities on crucial issues at a time when officials are struggling to understand the extent of destruction at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on the night of April 25, 1986.

Hours after the explosion at the plant near Pripyat, Khomyuk detects an alarming level of radiation sitting in her office in Minsk, realizing that the situation in Chernobyl is far worse than officials have led people to believe.

Ulana, played by Emily Watson, at her office in Minsk. (HBO Chernobyl)


Khomyuk, a headstrong scientist, defies authorities as she attempts to enter Chernobyl to discuss crucial information with the commission in charge to contain the disaster. Knowing well that she must take extreme measures to make herself heard, she asks police officers to arrest her and take her to the highest possible authorities.

That's how she meets Legasov, the man credited with containing the drastic effects of the nuclear disaster. As Legasov gives her a chance to present her point, she warns him of another possible explosion at the plant far worse than the first one.


She eventually finds herself standing in front of the commission in charge and relaying a horror story of more possible thermal explosions at the plant -- which would render entire Belarus and Ukraine uninhabitable for a minimum of 100 years -- if immediate measures are not taken.

Khomyuk, in a way, emerges as the hero of the 5-part miniseries as she extensively investigates how the disaster unfolded by taking witness reports.

She even holds Harris' character Legasov accountable for the Chernobyl disaster in her pursuit of truth.

The Chernobyl nuclear explosion shown in HBO's Chernobyl.


Khomyuk represents a very real part of the scientific milieu in the Soviet Union at the time, which played a major part in averting more disasters at the Chernobyl nuclear plant following the first explosion. Watson's character also represents multiple women in science who had to break through gender barriers in their quest of knowledge and truth, not to speak of all the female scientists in the Soviet era who risked their positions in an attempt to fight a system riddled with patriarchy.


Although Watson's character is fictional, it represents a powerful and resonating truth.

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