‘Chernobyl 1986’ is set amidst the calamitous explosion and subsequent meltdown of one of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant reactors. Apart from following the story of the protagonists, the film also delves into the heroic actions of many of the other individuals who risked their lives in the explosion’s immediate aftermath by attempting to stabilize the situation and avert further explosions.
Perhaps the most memorable of these characters is engineer Valera, who inspires the film’s protagonist Alexey to undertake the borderline-suicidal mission of going under the unstable reactor to empty the reservoirs. The character of Tropin, who seems to be in charge of the entire operation, also stands out as a key player in the events that unfold. Let’s take a look at whether these characters are based on real people or not.
Are Engineer Valera and Tropin Based on Real People?
In the aftermath of the reactor 4 explosion, engineer Valera finds himself in the unenviable position of having to select one of his men to go on a near-suicidal mission to help drain the water reservoir under the nuclear reactor. Failing to do so will result in the molten nuclear core, which is melting the reinforced concrete floor it is sitting on, coming into contact with water, causing a much bigger explosion than before and decimating the other nuclear reactors as well. The outcome is unthinkable, as is ordering his men to give up their lives. In the end, Valera volunteers to go himself and embarks on not one but two dangerous missions which eventually help save the lives of millions and avert an even bigger disaster.
Valera’s character seems to be largely inspired by senior engineer Valeri Bespalov, who was one of the three divers that volunteered to go under the molten core and drain the water before the superheated core reached it and exploded. He was joined by shift supervisor Boris Baranov and mechanical engineer Alexei Ananenko, who both heroically volunteered as well. The mission was a success, and the three divers averted a cataclysmic explosion that would have allegedly made the Chernobyl disaster many times worse than it actually was.
In the film, the character of engineer Valera succeeds in opening the valve to release the water but perishes before he can surface. In reality, it was reported that all three divers made it out alive and went on to live for many years. Interestingly, one of the other characters of the trio, the military diver Boris, seems to be inspired (in name) by the shift supervisor Boris Baranov, who also waded through the radioactive water under the reactor. Once again, the real Boris survived, whereas the one in the movie perishes from intense radiation poisoning. All three of the actual divers who went under the reactor were reportedly alive till at least 2015, though there have been counterclaims.
The fact that Valera (and to some extent Boris) dies in the film seems to hint that his character also takes inspiration from other heroic volunteers who helped in the aftermath of the explosion and tragically lost their lives. The total death toll of the disaster remains a hotly debated issue, and the deceased characters in the film are most likely there to remind us of just how heroic the decisions of their real-life counterparts were.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the character of Tropin, a mysterious government official who is in charge of the disaster relief effort. He offers volunteers an apartment in Moscow in exchange for risking their lives and pointedly implies that the “exchange” is a fair deal. He also repeatedly supports the bureaucracy, and when an engineer points out that government corruption played a role in the accident, he even claims that corruption itself is like nuclear radiation — invisible, ever-present, and everlasting.
Tropin is also a fictional character who seems to be the catchall for the (speculative) role government corruption and mismanagement played in causing the disaster. In the film, it is found that parts of the reactor, that were supposed to be built out of reinforced concrete, were instead made from metal sheets to meet construction deadlines.
In reality, the Soviet government was reportedly responsible for coverups that resulted in multiple technical faults in the nuclear power plant not being addressed. Therefore, Tropin the character remains as enigmatic as the multiple allegations of suspected high-level corruption. He is last seen (fittingly) getting into the back of a black sedan and being driven away from the disaster site while the rescue workers continue to risk their lives.
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