“I had to prepare the staff – and they were absolutely unprepared,” he recalls of his summons to the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident on April 26, 1986 and the order to extinguish the fire. reactor n ° 4. By the time Chebushev arrived at the plant, he said, the fire trucks at the site – which had been pulled from all over Ukraine and other parts of what was then the Soviet Union – were already covered with radioactive debris.
Now 71, Chebushev still lives in Kurchatov, Russia, his home at the time of the explosion, located about 1,000 kilometers east of Chornobyl. He survived the disaster but suffered from radiation poisoning.
The Russian city also served as a replacement for Chornobyl during production of the film, as it contains a still operating nuclear power plant with several identical reactors to the one that exploded 35 years ago. The filming took place in a reactor which was never completed and which has been abandoned since the disaster.
“No one understood the layout of the factory. It would have been a death sentence for them, ”said Chebushev, who was in charge of the Kurchatov fire department – which familiarized him with the layout of the Chornobyl plant.
Her fictional character in the film is played by Russian frontman Danila Kozlovsky, who also directed the new feature film, Chernobyl: abyss.
Film described as “fantasy” by a firefighter on stage
The film, whose original title in Russian translates to When the storks have fallen, is now playing in Russian cinemas after an extended production schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first part of the film is a love story involving Alexey, played by Kozlovsky, and an old girlfriend, played by Oksana Akinshina, who struggle to reconnect after years of estrangement. Then the reactor explodes, throwing their lives into disarray and forcing Alexey to make a life or death decision.
He teams up with an engineer and a military diver on a near-suicide mission to drain water from a tank beneath the flooded reactor in an effort to prevent a catastrophic explosion.
Chebushev discussed the role of consultant on the film, but said he declined because the producers were not historically specific about the work of the cleaning crews.
In particular, he said, a scene where the trio of heroes dive into radioactive water and then hold their breath and swim under the reactor never happened. Instead, the men waded through the water to reach the valves that needed to be opened, he said.
Chebushev and other cleaners – known as Liquidators – recently had a private screening and met Kozlovsky and other cast members.
But he said he had come out of the unstable experience.
“I had to laugh,” Chebushev told CBC News in an interview. “In the film, Danila [Kozlovsky] was evacuated to Switzerland for treatment there – but for me, well, they organized a flight to Kursk (Russia). ”
He called the production “fancy” that downplayed the mistakes and lies that Soviet authorities told in an effort to cover up the scale of the disaster.
Chebushev said people didn’t see themselves as heroes back then because they had no idea what they were being asked to do.
“It’s terrifying when people have no idea what they came for. The people they sent to deal with it contracted acute radiation sickness, and within six months. [many] were dead, ”he said.
WATCH | The trailer for Chernobyl: abyss:
Disagreement on the number of victims
The official Soviet tally of 30 deaths vastly underestimates the thousands of deaths in the months and years following cancer or other forms of radiation, according to subsequent United Nations reports. To date, there is little agreement on the true number of victims.
Russian film release comes two years after critically acclaimed HBO miniseries Chernobyl, which focused on attempts by Soviet authorities to take security shortcuts and later mask the extent of the contamination caused by the disaster.
HBO’s treatment has been praised for its realistic portrayal of Soviet society and painstaking recreation of the smallest details of the lives of its characters – though some Kremlin-connected observers have complained about the anti-Russian overtones in the production and others, including prominent Russians. American journalist and Putin critic Masha Gessen criticized him for oversimplifying events.
Shortly after the launch of the HBO series, famous Russian producer Alexander Rodnyansky announced that his company, Non-Stop Production, had already been working on a Russian version of a cinematic treatment of the Chornobyl disaster for several years – but with a different goal.
“We really know what happened in 1986 – every Soviet citizen knew that the reason for the disaster was the Soviet system. He was ineffective, ”Rodnyansky told CBC News in a recent interview at Moscow’s Oktyabr Cinema the night of his movie. created.
Instead, he said, his film is about ordinary people who have been asked to do extraordinary things.
“Our movie works really well with the HBO series because these are the different aspects of what happened,” he said. “Our story tells how normal people – the hostages of this [Soviet] machine – find themselves able to stop the disaster. ”
But several of the cleaners who spoke to CBC News said they remain haunted by the experience and most Russians don’t like how the cover-up has doomed so many liquidators to untimely deaths.
‘I wake up at night and I can’t forget Chornobyl’
In that sense, says Nikolai Tarakanov, the film was a missed opportunity.
“This film does not teach us anything,” said Tarakanov, a former Soviet general who was among the highest on the ground in Chornobyl in the aftermath of the disaster.
In the HBO production, her character – played by British actor Ralph Ineson – is shown ordering workers in severely contaminated parts of the destroyed power plant.
“I wake up at night and can’t forget Chornobyl,” Tarakanov told CBC News in a touching interview in his Moscow apartment.
“I had to tell them: ‘There is a decree from the Ministry of Defense ordering the disposal of radioactive fuel. I’ll give you a moment to think about it. “”
Tarakanov, 87, almost cried when he remembered the soldiers who were no longer alive.
“No soldier refused during the 20 days of work – they removed 10 tons of radioactive fuel! Ten tons! “
More than two decades after the explosion, he said, Russian President Vladimir Putin cut liquidator pensions, a move he said left him “ashamed”.
Senior nuclear officials have mixed feelings
Many residents of Kurchatov were offered spare parts in Chornobyl’s film, including 24-year-old Natalia Krulova, who works as a commercial engineer at the city’s nuclear power plant.
She told CBC News she found the film enjoyable, but wondered if it was too politically sensitive in Russia to make a film that cast a bad light on authority figures.
“The movie didn’t show like… the HBO movie that when the tragedy happened they tried to cover it up,” she said.
“I think they’re scared… to talk about what they haven’t talked about before. “
WATCH | Remembering the Chornobyl disaster 25 years later:
Perhaps not surprisingly, senior executives at Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear power company, which operates the nine Chornobyl-type reactors in the country, also had mixed feelings about the end product at the ‘screen.
“I don’t like disaster movies, in general,” said chief engineer Alexander Uvakin, who oversees the Kursk nuclear power plant in Kurchatov.
“We use the example of Chornobyl when we train our workers – that we have to show real respect for the nuclear atom we are working with and take it seriously. Otherwise, the consequences could be catastrophic. “
Rodnyansky, the film’s producer, said most of the feedback he received was overwhelmingly positive, including from those who were in Chornobyl 35 years ago.
“It’s a time machine for them,” he said. “They were really grateful to the [movie makers] which provided them with a lot of respect.
“This is our attempt, our attempt, to say thank you to these people. “