I Binge Watched Chernobyl on HBO and This Is What I’ve Learnt

If you are quite a frequent Internet user, you have heard for sure about HBO’s miniseries – Chernobyl.

For those who live in Europe, ‘Chernobyl’ is a very familiar name.

It refers to the catastrophic explosion of a nuclear reactor of the Vladimir I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant – better known as simply Chernobyl.

I grew up knowing about Chernobyl because my parents were in school when it happened and they told me about it. Not to mention that my hometown is less than 1000 kilometres from Pripyat. So, yeah… I grew up knowing about radiation poisoning and iodine.

HBO needed people to talk about something else after the disastrous Game of Thrones ending and they nailed it apparently. Probably by the time they started the production of Chernobyl, they knew exactly when to air it.

Here are some obvious, yet deep-meaning lessons we can all learn from HBO’s Chernobyl.

Watch out – it contains some spoilers!

Quick Recap

On 26th April 1986, reactor number four from Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. Tons of radiations spread all over central and eastern Europe causing worrying level of radiation poisoning.

Radiation is considered very dangerous mostly because you can’t see or feel it. The radiation poisoning effects can take years to show and you might not even know you were affected.

The explosion of the reactor four at Chernobyl is still considered the most catastrophic disaster caused by humankind’s hand.

Bosses and Leaders Are NOT the Same Thing

In case we needed more proof: if you’re a boss it doesn’t mean you are a leader, and most important, it doesn’t mean you are always right.

Admitting you were wrong (and someone else was right) requires balls (aka emotional intelligence) and that was a non-existing soft skill in that side of the world back then.

You can tell from the very first beginning that Anatoly Dyatlov (played by Paul Ritter) was an asshole boss. Or at least this is what the show tries to make of him.

Although… most of the lines in the show were inspired by the records available during the night of the explosion, so he probably was quite a terrible person in real life too.

Safety First. Don’t Touch Anything Suspicious

I was shocked to see how poorly equipped people who worked in the control room were. They didn’t have any kind of helmets, special lab coats and they didn’t even bother to put some gas masks on after the explosion. Someone even goes inside the reactor and watched how the core goes crazy.

They looked like milkmen to me. Just look at them:


Even doctors have more safety equipment that these poor people.

I was always super paranoid about getting in touch with someone else’s blood, so I’m extra careful when it comes to open wounds. Generally speaking, my Mum taught me to stay safe and also consider other’s safety. So don’t touch anything suspicious looking with your bare hands.

It Is Not About Nuclear Power

HBO’s Chernobyl is not about nuclear power. Although they’ll explain how a RBMK reactor works and what caused the disaster, in the end, the show is not about nuclear power at all.

As a matter of fact, electricity produced by nuclear power is reducing pollution compared to traditional alternatives. So it’s not about raising awareness of how bad and evil nuclear power is.

Chernobyl on HBO is about the deep meaning of morality and how bad things can go when an entire state lacks integrity and transparency.

Can’t Stop all the ‘What Ifs’

Probably watching this mini series was so traumatising for me because I grew up so close to it and my parents were pretty much in the middle of it.

I couldn’t process normally for the next couple of days after watching Chernobyl on HBO. I was caught up in a constant vortex of ‘what ifs’:

Even if they took all the measurements they could have (giving the resources and time), I can’t stop thinking how things could have been much worse. I’ve never thought of how could they could have been better, but only how it could have gotten worst.

The Old Quality Over Quantity Discussion

If you had any doubts what you should choose: quality or quantity then watch Chernobyl and you’ll get your answer.

As Jared Harris said while portraying Valery Legasov during the trial, USSR chose to go with the RBMK reactors simply because they were… cheaper.

Lesson of the century: don’t go for cheaper technology because you can cause a genocide.

As the series concludes, after the Chernobyl disaster and Legasov’s suicide (spoiler!), the USSR admitted the mistake and took measures to improve the other RBMK reactors within its territory.


Vanity Is a Very Dangerous Thing

Coming back to the quality versus quantity topic, around episode five, I guess, there’s a very interesting line that will stick with you for a long time:

“A global nuclear catastrophe is not possible in the Soviet Union.”


I’m not sure how accurate the discussion in the show was, but it kind of matched the overall attitude of USSR back then.

The Soviet Union was too proud to admit it did something wrong. It posed as a very powerful, safe and confident nation. Nothing could go wrong… and if it did, better not talk about it.

The system spread fear and the illusion of the so-called perfect nation. People were literally taught to lie to themselves to benefit the false image of the state.

This is noticeable in the employee-employer relationship. Akimov and his colleagues are simply terrified to contradict Dyatlov, although they knew they were going the wrong path.

While this might look like pointing the finger at the Soviet Union only, based on the stories I’ve heard from my relatives who lived during the communist era, it seems accurate to how things used to be.

I Was Not Ready for This

I knew about Chernobyl for a few weeks. A colleague from work strongly recommended it as a “really good series”.

And although I knew what it was about, I’ve read and heard stories about it as a kid, I still wasn’t ready for it.

They killed pets (they were contaminated and could infect other animals or people) and they showed it. You’ll see people decomposing alive due to radiation poisoning, although most specialists say HBO got carried away a little with the radiation poisoning effects. You’ll see people and children dancing in radioactive ash and people abandoning their houses in a matter of minutes.

What makes this mini-series so good is how shocking it is.

For example, they mention a couple of times that they’ll have to kill all the animals in the area, but they don’t stop there: they will actually show that to you.

By playing all the shocking, unsaid parts of the tragedy, they made a really good five hours of television.

The moral of the show is that constant lies or misinformation can cause disasters.

Mikhail Gorbachev – the last president of the former USSR – even said that the Chernobyl disaster was probably one of the major reasons why the Union collapsed.

You can learn even from the worst experiences and the most important thing is to correct the mistakes – which, thankfully, happened in this case.

Chernobyl is probably one of the best TV series I’ve watched in a long, long time. Is powerful and traumatic. Get some tissues for episodes 3 and 4 when the dogs’ scenes are happening.

Have you seen Chernobyl on HBO? What did you think of it?

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