‘Chernobyl 1986’ follows the turbulent story of a young couple amidst the devastating nuclear disaster that takes place near the small town of Pripyat where they live. Olga has a 10-year old son, who Alexey suspects is his. However, before they can discuss things further, the nearby nuclear power plant explodes, sending the town into chaos. Alexey is forced to tear himself away from Olga and help with the rescue operations while the heartbroken mother tries to save her child, who seems to be suffering from radiation poisoning after witnessing the explosion firsthand. Is this remarkable and tragic couple based on real people? We decided to dig around, and here’s what we found.
Are Alexey Karpushin and Olga Savostina Based on Real People?
In the film, Alexey Karpushin is a senior firefighter who gets transferred from his posting at the Pripyat fire station to Kyiv days before reactor 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explodes. He also reunites with his past lover, Olga, and grapples with the knowledge of a 10-year-old son that they might have conceived but he wasn’t told about. Once the nuclear disaster occurs, Alexey arrives at the site sometime after his team and is horrified to find them blackened and dying of severe radiation exposure. Despite briefly climbing to the roof of one of the neighboring reactors, he survives the nuclear radiation and later embarks on 2 dangerous missions in an attempt to release the coolant water from under the reactor and avert an even more disastrous explosion.
It seems that the character of Alexey is fictional but takes inspiration from many of the heroic firefighters that were part of the efforts in the aftermath of the Chernobyl explosions. Like many of his real-life counterparts, Alexey also fearlessly enters the deadly radiation-laden site to save his fellow firefighters and climbs to the roof. In reality, six firefighters reportedly climbed to the roof of the reactor: Vladimir Pravik, Viktor Kibenok, Vasily Ignatenko, Vladimir Tischura, Nikolai Titenok, and Nikolai Vashchuck.
However, what possibly proves that Alexey is fictional is that all the actual firefighters that made their way to the roof perished shortly afterward, whereas the film’s character survives with relatively minor radiation poisoning. The burning asphalt that Alexey experiences on the roof, which has melted due to the heat, is accurate and present in accounts describing the disaster.
Interestingly, some of Alexey’s colleagues seem to be based closer to actual people, most notably the character of Tigran, who is one of the first on the scene and describes staring directly at the core. In reality, it is reported that Lieutenant Vladimir Pravik and a few others climbed into the reactor to attempt to put out the fire at the glowing core itself. As a result of the intense radiation, Pravik’s eyes turned from brown to blue, much like we see happening to the character of Tigran, whose eyes appear strangely iridescent whilst he describes his time inside the collapsing nuclear reactor.
Lastly, Alexey volunteers for the deadly mission involving him swimming and wading through radioactive water to drain the coolant reservoir. This aspect of the film’s protagonist has been inspired by the three divers who actually volunteered to go back inside the unstable nuclear power plant to drain the reservoir and avert another explosion. The names of the real divers were Valeri Bespalov, Alexei Ananenko, and Boris Baranov.
Olga Savostina is the character featured opposite Alexey and works as a hairdresser in the days leading up to the explosion. She has a 10-year-old son named Alex, who we find out is probably Alexey’s from when they dated a decade ago. Olga is repeatedly jilted by the firefighter, who makes grandiose promises to her but never seems to follow through. Just before he finds out about the explosion at the nuclear power plant, he plans on leaving Pripyat and moving to Kyiv, despite the mother of his child refusing to come along with him.
Olga’s character in the film is driven by the circumstances surrounding her as she finds herself thrown into one tumultuous situation after another — first when Alexey forces himself back into her life and then when her son Alex falls sick from radiation poisoning. She eventually leaves Pripyat and moves to Kyiv along with most of the town’s other residents. Her character is fictional and gives context for the immense suffering many real people like her doubtlessly faced during the disaster.
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