9 Books & Documentaries That Will Teach You Even More About Chernobyl Than The Series Did
If you've been glued to your screens since the first episode of Chernobyl aired, you were probably left dumbfounded (and horrified) at how events played out. Although the nuclear disaster of 1986 is etched in a lot of people's memories, the ins and outs of the accident were a little hazy to most. Not anymore, thanks to the series' creator, Craig Mazin. His ability to capture both the survivors and surroundings of Chernobyl have left people wanting to know more. Luckily, he has revealed all the books and documentaries that taught him about Chernobyl.
As Metro reports, Mazin's Chernobyl is now the highest rated TV show to ever grace IMDb. Due to a cover-up by the Soviet Union, it was a story that had, save for the work of a few authors and filmmakers, rarely been told in its entirety. The series has been praised for its authentic portrayal of Ukrainian life and although certain criticisms have been made, it can't be argued that Mazin has kickstarted a Chernobyl knowledge quest.
So if you'd like to hear a retelling of events directly from survivors, watch brave men attempt to remove radioactive graphite from the roof, or find out what really happened to Lyudmilla Ignatenko and her husband Vasily, here's a few docs and books recommended by Mazin himself on Twitter.
1. 'The Voice of Lyudmilla'
The scenes involving Lyudmilla Ignatenko and her firefighter husband Vasily were some of the most heart-wrenching moments in Chernobyl. In 2001, Swedish director Gunnar Bergdahl released a documentary narrated by Ignatenko herself.
In The Voice of Lyudmilla, Ignatenko — who lost both her husband and baby as a result of the nuclear disaster — details the events of her life and returns to where it all began. As Mazin points out in his Twitter thread, her son (doctors had previously said she would not be able to conceive) also features. Unfortunately, the full documentary seems a little tricky to find.
2. 'Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future' by Svetlana Alexievich
According to the Washington Post, the Soviet Union tried to downplay what happened at Chernobyl, but Svetlana Alexievich dedicated years of her life to speaking to survivors of the disaster. This book is humanity's version of events with eyewitness accounts from clean-up workers (also known as liquidators), those who lost parents and husbands, firefighters, and more.
Mazin says: "Absolutely essential, and heartbreaking reading. There's a reason Ms. Alexievich has a Nobel Prize."
After the lunar rover-type robots failed to clear the roof of highly radioactive graphite, it was left to 3,828 bio-robots (otherwise known as human volunteers) to remove the debris by hand, as Screen Rant reports. Chernobyl.3828 is a short documentary dedicated to the people who were left to take on the highly dangerous task.
"It was practically a bible for me," Mazin wrote on Twitter, "and almost all of [General] Tarakanov's instructional speech to the men in Episode 4 is taken verbatim from his actual words."
4. 'Chernobyl 01:23:40' by Andrew Leatherbarrow
"Andrew's book is a fantastic combination of travelogue and historic and scientific recounting of the Chernobyl disaster, and I found it incredibly helpful," Mazin wrote on Twitter.
The book — which takes its name from the precise time the emergency shutdown button was pressed — accessibly explains the events of the nuclear accident all the way until the "trial" at the very end. The author also travelled to Pripyat, adding a personalised element to the text.
5. 'Chernobyl - Chronicle of Difficult Weeks'
Three days after the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded, film director Vladimir Shevchenko arrived to document the scene of destruction, reports the Guardian. His footage captured a helicopter colliding with a crane cable and, as Mazin states, "is where [he] first saw the hand-lettered sign urging the miners to work 24/7."
A year later, Shevchenko died from a radiation-related illness. Thanks to this exposure, his film, Chernobyl - Chronicle of Difficult Weeks, is now regarded as one of the most dangerous pieces of cinematography in the world. Even his camera is out of bounds, having been shut away in a lead-lined box, reports the Guardian.
6. 'Midnight in Chernobyl' by Adam Higginbotham
A much newer read (it was only published earlier this year), this is based on over a decade's worth of research and interviews. Described as "a non-fiction thriller", it seeks to uncover the real truth behind a disaster that put millions of lives in danger and a government that attempted to keep it hidden.
7. 'Come and See'
"A Soviet classic, and in my opinion, the greatest war movie ever made," Mazin said in his thread. "It somehow manages to be restrained and unblinking all at the same time. Hard to watch. Important to watch."
Released in 1985, Come and See isn't a documentary, but rather a film. It tells the disturbing story of a young boy who battles German forces during World War II as part of the Soviet resistance. Instead of focusing too much on violence, the film depicts psychological torture in all its horror. According to The Calvert Journal, it took eight years to receive official approval and it wasn't uncommon for audience members to faint during screenings.
It's not easily available to watch online, but you can buy the DVD for less than a tenner.
8. 'Ablaze' by Piers Paul Read
According to Mazin, Ablaze is "a very well done book from a Western historical perspective." However, he did point out that, as with a number of books he used for research, this one is "a bit outdated simply because of when it was written." But the moment-by-moment account of events and exploration of what happened to both the people and area surrounding Chernobyl makes this 1993 book a must-have on your bookshelf.
9. 'Surviving Disaster'
This BBC film stars Adrian Edmondson as nuclear physicist Valery Legasov: the man who ultimately told the truth and paid with his life. "It's a somewhat different vibe than ours, but I think it's terrific," Mazin tweeted.
The storyline of the 2006 release — which shows the fatal errors that led to the explosion and the corruption that came afterwards — follows a similar sort of path to Chernobyl, but is worth a watch for its differences.
Plenty of research material to keep you busy.