What to Expect from Russia's Anti-American 'Chernobyl' Series

The acclaimed drama has started a television Cold War. How will the Soviets respond?

Chernobyl
HBO

No matter how universally acclaimed a piece of pop culture is, it’s never going to sit well with everyone. In the case of HBO’s Chernobyl series, the Russian government took issue with the dramatization of the 1986 nuclear disaster. They believe that the show has demonized the Soviet regime and people, and that’s just not on.

As for the Russian people, well they actually enjoyed Chernobyl as much as the rest of the world (it boasts a 9.1 rating on KinoPoisk, the Russian equivalent of IMDb). That said, the country’s politicians are still calling for the show to be banned. And to rectify the “lies” propagated by the American machine, the nation’s state television will release its own retelling of the horrific events.

The HBO series has been unanimously praised for its truthful storytelling and attention to detail. The Russian version, meanwhile, will take more creative liberties. The show will follow a CIA agent out to gather intelligence on the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, as well as the Russian counterintelligence agent sent to track him down.

According to director Alexey Muradov, the show will expose the truth — a truth that’s been ignored for far too long.

“There is a theory that the 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,” Muradov told the Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Naturally, there’s a host of wild conspiracy stories surrounding the Chernobyl disaster. Some discuss aliens, others mention vampires. The “theory” that Muradov is referring to, however, is more down-to-earth.

As noted by Mysterious Universe, American civil engineer and Chernobyl researcher Philip Grossman believes that the plant was secretly manufacturing nuclear weapons. Grossman revealed that the whole area surrounding Chernobyl was actually a military site designed to detect enemy missiles and to launch Russia’s own if necessary.

But when the CIA found out about what was really going on, they decided to put a stop to the Russian threat by orchestrating the disaster and all the human suffering that followed in its wake. Grossman also suggests that they might have accomplished this by infecting Russian computer systems with malware, as this was commonplace during the Cold War.

Grossman’s theory is rather far-fetched and not substantiated by any credible evidence. Still, if you want to find out more about his findings, check out the documentary Mysteries of the Abandoned: Chernobyl. Of course, powerful members of the Russian state and press believe these events to be true, and their show will present this alternative recollection of the story.

The Russian series will also focus heavily on the “Chernobyl liquidators,” the Soviet emergency and military personnel who helped deal with the tragic aftermath of the accident. National newspapers have accused the HBO series of overlooking their heroic efforts, so expect the new show to tell their story and instill some national pride in viewers.

It’s pretty evident that Chernobyl has struck a chord among viewers, then — for better and worse. When a nation’s state sponsors a counter show inspired by a far-out conspiracy theory, you know it’s made a strong impression beyond the realm of pop culture discourse.

What the Russian iteration contributes to the debate remains to be seen, but should you decide to watch the show, I’d recommend taking its depiction of events with a pinch of salt.

Kieran is a Daily Curator for the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.