We were huge fans of Chernobyl, HBO’s five-part miniseries about the 1986 nuclear reactor explosion. We weren’t alone, either; the series now has the—frankly, dubious—honor of being the highest-rated show on IMDb, having presumably bumped off The Shawshank Redemption. It has its critics, though. A compelling New Yorker piece criticizes “its failure to accurately portray Soviet relationships of power.” Less articulate is The Kremlin, who, per this piece from The Moscow Times, has used its media arm to launch a “mini-crusade” against the series, which has apparently become a source of fascination in Russia.
“The fact that an American, not a Russian, TV channel tells us about our own heroes is a source of shame that the pro-Kremlin media apparently cannot live down,” writes the Times’ Ilya Shepelin. “And this is the real reason they find fault with HBO’s Chernobyl series.”
Part of this crusade is a Russia-produced series from the country’s NTV channel. Directed by filmmaker Alexei Muradov, their project will focus not on the aftermath of the explosion, but instead on what Shepelin calls a “conspiracy theory” that inserts American spies into the narrative.
Of his story, Muradov says, “One theory holds that Americans had infiltrated the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and many historians do not deny that, on the day of the explosion, an agent of the enemy’s intelligence services was present at the station.” The heroes, then, will not be the scientists, soldiers, and civilians who helped prevent a further spread of radiation, but rather the KGB officers trying to thwart these CIA operatives.
As Shepelin notes, Russia’s leadership rarely honors Chernobyl’s survivors. “Just go to the official Kremlin website to see how often President Vladimir Putin mentions the Chernobyl survivors—many of whom are still alive and suffer from a variety of radiation-induced illnesses,” writes the Times’ Ilya Shepelin. “Putin’s sole references to them occur on the major anniversaries of the Chernobyl accident. He last mentioned them in 2016, on the 30th anniversary of the disaster, and again in 2011, on the 25th anniversary.”
Reading this, of course, just makes HBO’s series, which chronicles the ways in which Soviet leadership valued its own image above its citizens, resonate that much more.