HBO Chernobyl: Fate of the people who played key roles in the nuclear disaster

HBO Chernobyl: Fate of the people who played key roles in the nuclear disaster

This past April 26 marked the 33rd anniversary of the Chernobyl Disaster, which remains the most disastrous nuclear power plant accident in human history.  

The explosion at nuclear reactor no. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the early hours of April 26, 1986, saw large quantities of dangerous radioactive isotopes dispersed into the atmosphere, with the subsequent radioactive fallout hundreds of times more than the combined effect of the two nuclear bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US in World War II.

The remains of reactor no. 4 were later enclosed in a sarcophagus to reduce the spread of remaining radioactive dust and debris and to limit radioactive contamination, though the extent of the disaster also forced officials to declare a 30 km sq exclusion zone that would remain uninhabitable for the next 20,000 years.

What remains a point of controversy and contention is the total number of casualties attributed to the accident. While official figures suggest fewer than 100 died as a result of the disaster, other estimates put the number as high as 60,000, with another 165,000 left disabled, with most of the deaths among the 800,000-odd who worked to clean the power plant in the immediate aftermath.


HBO's 'Chernobyl,' a five-part miniseries on the nuclear disaster that "dramatizes the true story of one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history," has earned rave reviews so far, with its final episode set to air on June 3.

Highlighted in the drama is the mismanagement and malice that went behind covering up the scale of the accident and which put millions of lives at risk, as well the story and the struggles of the heroes who put their lives on the line, often at a fatal cost, to limit the damage. So, what has happened to those who, for good or bad, played a critical role in a disaster that became one of the most defining moments of the 20th century?

Anatoly Dyatlov

Paul Ritter (left) plays Anatoly Dyatlov in 'Chernobyl' (Source: IMDb)


Dyatlov was the deputy chief engineer of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the supervisor of the catastrophic test that culminated in the explosion at reactor no. 4. Prior to the disaster, Dyatlov is believed to have threatened workers with termination if they did not go ahead with the test though its flaws were obvious.

He also flat out refused to accept that the core of the reactor had exploded, pointing to measurements of woefully outdated dosimeters that showed the radiation to be a meager 3.6 roentgen as proof for his assertion. 

However, his proximity to the reactor meant he was exposed to a dose of approximately 445 roentgen, which causes death in 50 per cent of affected persons after just 30 days. He miraculously survived, though he was tried for failure to follow safety regulations and sentenced to eight to 10 years in prison. He was granted amnesty after serving five years but succumbed to heart failure in 1995.

Boris Shcherbina

Stellan Skarsgård played the role of Boris Shcherbina in the HBO drama (Source: IMDb)


Shcherbina was the vice-chairman of the Council of Ministers between 1984-1989 and was put in charge of crisis management following the disaster. As depicted in 'Chernobyl,' he worked alongside multiple experts in the field to work out solutions to limit the damage in the aftermath, often having to jump through numerous bureaucratic hurdles in the process.

Shcherbina, however, was also responsible for delaying the evacuation of the residents of Pripyat after being urged to do so by scientists and others, exposing them for up to 36 hours of dangerous radiation. But having spent quite a bit of time on ground zero overseeing operations himself, he was possibly exposed to fatal amounts of radiation as well and died in 1990 in Moscow at the age of 70.

Andrei Glukhov

Glukhov (front and center) was played by Alex Ferns (Source: IMDb)


Andrei Glukhov was portrayed in 'Chernobyl' as the mining crew chief responsible for a team digging a tunnel underneath the reactor to prevent the reactor from melting through into the groundwater, while in reality, he was a nuclear safety specialist who worked at the plant. Following the explosion, Glukhov and his family headed from Pripyat to Kyiv, though he quickly decided his expertise was needed at the plant and hitched a ride back to Chernobyl.

He would not see his wife and children for another month, living in a scout camp in an uncontaminated area and then on repurposed cruise ships on the Dnieper River 40 miles from Chernobyl as he helped mitigate damage. He spent the next three years working at the plant, helping keep the other three reactors under control, and as of 2016, was still alive at the age of 57.

Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov, and Boris Baranov

Anankeno (left) is believed to still be alive while Bezpalov was still alive as of 2015  (Source: Reddit)


Engineers Alexei Ananenko and Valeri Bezpalov, and their shift supervisor Boris Baranov volunteered to undertake a mission that would require them to wade through knee-deep radioactive water and open the valves for two floors of bubbler pools located beneath reactor no. 4. Why? To prevent another possible explosion that would have wiped out half of Europe's population and left the continent uninhabitable for the next 500,000 years.

Widely considered to be a suicide mission — many popular dramatizations claim all three suffered from acute radiation sickness and died shortly after — all three men survived into the 21st century. Ananenko is believed to be still alive and working in the nuclear industry, with Bezpalov reported having lived until at least 2015. Baranov is the only one to have died so far, having succumbed to heart failure in 2005 at the age of 65.

Valery Legasov

Legasov killed himself one day after the second anniversary of the disaster (Source: IMDb)


A prominent inorganic chemist and the First Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, Legasov was recruited to work as the chief of the commission investigating the Chernobyl disaster. He was ultimately responsible for the decisions taken to avoid a repeat incident and informed the Soviet government of the situation in the disaster area.

He was also outspoken in speaking to fellow scientists and the press of the safety risks of the destroyed plant and pushed for the immediate evacuation of Pripyat, with his final report on the disaster laying bare the extent and consequences of the tragedy.

But on April 26, 1986, one day after the second anniversary of the explosion, Legasov committed suicide by hanging himself in his office. His death is attributed to being censored by the government in speaking about the flaws of the country's nuclear program and disillusionment with the authorities who refused to confront these flaws.

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