What happened in Chernobyl? The Sky Original drama Chernobyl is based on a haunting true story


THE horrifying nuclear catastrophe in Chernobyl claimed the lives of 31 and left thousands of people and animals exposed to potentially fatal radiation.

A new Sky drama has given a fresh boost to the haunting Ukrainian ghost town 33 years on – much of it unwanted. Here’s what we know about the disaster and why tourists are flocking there in droves.

An abandoned fairground amongst derelict buildings in Chernobyl

Deserted Chernobyl has become an unlikely tourist hotspot
Deserted Chernobyl has become an unlikely tourist hotspot
AP:Associated Press

What was the Chernobyl nuclear disaster?

When an alarm bellowed out at the nuclear plant on April 26, 1986, workers looked on in horror as the control panels signalled a major meltdown in the number four reactor.

The safety switches had been switched off in the early hours to test the turbine but the reactor overheated and generated a blast – the equivalent of 500 nuclear bombs.

The reactor’s roof was blown off and a plume of radioactive material was blasted into the atmosphere.

As air was sucked into the shattered reactor, it ignited flammable carbon monoxide gas causing a fire which burned for nine days.

The catastrophe released at least 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Soviet authorities waited 24 hours before evacuating the nearby town of Pripyat – giving the 50,000 residents just three hours to leave their homes.

After the accident traces of radioactive deposits were found in Belarus where poisonous rain damaged plants and caused animal mutations.

But the devastating impact was also felt in Scandinavia, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, France and the UK.

An 18-mile radius known as the “Exclusion Zone” was set up around the reactor following the disaster.

The steel sarcophagus keeping radiation in
The steel sarcophagus keeping radiation in

How many people died in Chernobyl?

At least 31 people died in the accident – including two who were killed at the scene and more who passed away a few months later from Acute Radiation Syndrome.

The actual death toll is hard to predict as mortality rates have been hidden by propaganda and reports were lost when the Soviet Union broke up.

In 2005, the World Health Organisation revealed a total of 4,000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure.

About 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer have been seen since the disaster – mainly in people who were children or teenagers at the time.

It's been 33 years since the nuclear disaster
It’s been 33 years since the nuclear disaster

Did the Chernobyl radiation cause animal mutations?

Farmers noticed an increase in genetic abnormalities in farm animals immediately after the disaster.

This spiked again in 1990 when around 400 deformed animals were born – possibly as a result of radiation released from the sarcophagus intended to isolate the nuclear core.

Some animals were born with extra limbs, abnormal colouring and a smaller size.

Animals that remained in the exclusion zone became radioactive – including as many as 400 wolves, which is the highest density wolf population on the entire planet.

The Eurasian lynx – once believed to have disappeared from Europe – thrived in Chernobyl as there were no humans to run them out.

Birds were also affected by radiation, with barn swallows having deformed beaks, albinism and even smaller brains.

The radioactive animals all live in the “Red Forest”, which got its name after the trees turned crimson in the fallout.

It is now safe to visit the barren ghost town
It is now safe to visit the barren ghost town

Chernobyl – the Sky Original series

The co-production between Sky and HBO is a five-part dramatisation of the accident in 1986.

It has been billed as telling the untold story of the lives of the people who saw it first hand.

Jared Harris plays the atomic scientist Valery Legasov while Paul Ritter takes on the part of deputy chief engineer Dyatlov.

Emily Watson plays Ulana Khomyuk, a fictional amalgam of Soviet-era scientists who spoke out.

It is directed by Johan Renck.

The five-part thriller premiered on May 6 on Sky Atlantic.

For those who missed the gripping drama, it can now be watched on Sky catch up, Amazon Prime and NowTV.

With gruesome scenes of mutation and death people took to twitter to express their shock over the drama and the event itself.

Is it safe to go there now?

The site and Pripyat have been safe for tourists to visit since 2010.

Since the Sky drama aired, social media influencers have flocked to the ghostly site.

Many have been blasted as disrespectful for taking sexy selfies in the death zone.

There are around 160 villages in the Exclusion Zone but the basement of the hospital in Pripyat remains one of the more chilling stories.

The firemen were taken to the hospital for treatment and their clothes, which had been stripped off, were discarded.

Later radiation readings at the site reached 7,000 millisieverts – the risk of haemorrhage starts at 1,000 while death begins at 4,000.

The ghost town also includes a school that features in Call of Duty – an abandoned Ferris wheel and homes frantically deserted when evacuation began.

Tourists have to be screened before they enter the Exclusion Zone and are told not to touch anything within the cordon.

Holiday companies offer packages that give an official tour of the Exclusion Zone.


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