Valery Legasov : The Savior of Chernobyl

Looking Beyond The HBO Series’ Representation Of Valery Legasov

The 2019 HBO miniseries Chernobyl revolved around the infamous Chornobyl Nuclear meltdown. The show tried providing a detailed look into the harrowing incident that led to countless deaths and long-term effects. However, did the show get everything right about the disaster and Valery Legasov’s role in managing it? Well, I am also looking for answers. Let’s look together. 

The Meltdown

The meltdown began on April 26, 1986. This incident took place during a test. During the test, several factors went wrong, and there was an accidental drop in the power. However, the team restarted power and continued the test with a prohibited configuration of the control rod. However, routine tests were completed, and the reactor was shut down.  

Somehow, these routine tests initiated a chemical reaction. Subsequently, this reaction heated up the chambers beyond the optimal temperature.  As a result, the situation escalated, and there was a total nuclear meltdown. Following the meltdown, there was a nuclear core fire. This fire continued till May 4, 1986.  

The immediate death toll was not massive. The explosion killed two engineers and left two in the hospital, along with 237 workers who tried to stop the fire from spreading. These workers were primarily trying to look for ways to stop the fire from spreading.  Out of these 237 workers, 134 exhibited Acute Radiation Syndrome or ARS. However, this death toll would gradually rise with time.  

The meltdown initiated mass evacuation. A total of 49,000 people were evacuated from Pripyat. Subsequently, an additional 68,000 people from the exclusion zone. This was one of the biggest anbd most elaborate mass-execution of that time. Even after so many years, the small city of Chornobyl is inhabitable.  

Immediate Effects 

The 1986 Chornobyl disaster is one of the biggest nuclear disasters of all time. The wide-scale release of radioactive materials led to countless deaths over a period of over three decades.  

The meltdown and subsequent core fire resulted in the dispersal of nuclear material into the atmosphere. A Swedish source first broke this news first. Two days after the disaster, the workers of Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden found nuclear particles on their clothing. Forsmark was located 1100 Kms away from the Chernobyl Power Plant.  

As per official sources, Belarus received a significant chunk of radiation. This resulted in widespread contact with Acute Radiation Syndrome or ARS. Out of the 203 people admitted, around 31 people died due to Acute Radiation Sickness.  

The situation quickly spiraled out of control, and this resulted in mass execution. Thousands of people had to leave their homes in order to escape the ‘death cloud’ of radiation. Hence, the short-term effects included death as well as the sociological aspect of the disaster.  

Long Term Effects 

The most exciting part of the Chornobyl disaster is its long-term effect. The Chornobyl disaster was one of the most extensive and elaborate nuclear disasters of all time.  

 Approximately 300,000 people had to leave their homes and relocate somewhere else. However, people who had nowhere else to go stayed in the fallout zone.  

As per medical statistics, there was a gradual increase in cancer. This compelled the government to conduct regular screenings. Genetic deformation was also on the rise. Therefore, there were drawn-out political and medical repercussions that continue to haunt citizens to this day. 

The ‘Hero’: Valery Legaslov

The ‘Hero’ Valery Legaslov

The meltdown happened in a blink of an eye. Nuclear materials were released into the atmosphere in a matter of minutes. However, it took years to come to terms with what actually happened. The HBO miniseries was all about that journey. 

One of the most prominent characters of the miniseries was Dr. Valery Alekseevich Legasov.  The series definitely showed him as one of the only voices that rose against Soviet Russia for its incompetency and lies. Is it so? 

The government chose Valery Legasov to look into the events that led to the meltdown. Valery Legasov was the primary investigator sent by the government. Valery was given the responsibility to come up with an answer. Answers that would eventually lead him to his death.  

Who Was Valery Legasov? 

Valery Alekseevich Legasov was born into a family of Civil Workers in Tula, Russia, on September 1, 1936. Legasov became a doctor of chemical science at the age of 36 and went on to become a full member of the Academy of Sciences when he was 45.  

At the time of the disaster, Legasov was already the first deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy. This institute was also responsible for manufacturing the RBK reactors.  

Legasov was primarily a specialist in chemistry and molecular physics. As a result, he was the perfect man for the job. However, he only managed to do so much before succumbing to his fate.  

His Role During The Disaster 

His Role During The Disaster 

It is natural for makers to take some creative liberties while formulating a miniseries like Chernobyl. As a result, it is important that we take only some things at face value because the truth is quite different than that. 

Legasov was given the responsibility of investigating the meltdown and preventing it from happening. As a result, he led a team of scientists to investigate the point that initiated the catastrophe.  

While investigating, Legasov found major design flaws in the reactor and its chambers. These flaws worked as catalysts for the meltdown. Moreover, negligence also played a part in the whole thing. In fact, several factors came together that led to the catastrophic failure.  

His primary role during the whole thing was to understand what led to the failure and the preventative measures that could have been taken. However, that was not enough to stop the nuclear fallout and the rising death toll.  


Knowing that you and your organization have been instrumental in the death of the innocent should take a toll on you. I think the limited series managed to capture this beautifully. The final years of Legasov were the lowest point of his life. 

Legasov wanted to tell the truth. However, the government and his peers were uncooperative. As a result, the scientific community of Soviet Russia alienated and ostracised Legasov. 

How long can a man go on with such heavy emotions? Legasov was found hanging in his office two years after the meltdown. Suicide was recorded as the official cause of death. However, several sources claimed that Legasov was pushed to the brink of suicide by the KGB.  

After a long and tiring journey, he lost. Eventually, he was found dead in his office. He killed himself by hanging. This initiated a whole row of discussions regarding Legasov and the dubious events that led to his death.  

The End 

With that, you have reached the end of my article about the reluctant hero, Valery Legasov. A gray character who did try to stop the disaster from happening but eventually failed. Yet, his investigation and findings are instrumental in preventing history from repeating itself. Keep following our page for more such content.

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Samik has been a literature student all along and uses his fluidity to write about multi-niche topics. Aspiring to be a professional writer, he tries to analyze his topic from a critical standpoint but still adds a hint of personal perspective to the end product. Being a person having a general inclination toward global politics and documentary filmmaking, he also wishes to write and document more about numerous conflicts that are brewing in the different corners of the globe.

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