The Chernobyl disaster that occurred in Ukraine in April 1986 remains the worst nuclear accident in history, leading to several deaths and long-lasting effects in the area. HBO’s ‘Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes’ now delves into the incident through recently discovered footage and features interviews of people who lived to tell the tale. Lyudmilla Ignatenko was the wife of Vasily Ignatenko, a firefighter who lost his life during the disaster.
However, Lyudmilla survived and shared her story in ‘Voices from Chernobyl,’ a 1997 book. HBO’s ‘Chernobyl‘ was adapted from the same book, depicting in stunning fashion what happened to the Vasily after the accident. So, if you’re curious to find out where the real Lyudmilla might be today, here’s what we know.
Who is Lyudmilla Ignatenko?
Lyudmilla and Vasily had been married for less than two years when the tragic incident forever changed their lives. Vasily was a firefighter, and the couple lived in the dormitory of the station where he was employed. When the accident happened on April 26, 1986, Vasily left to put out the fires at the reactor in Pripyat, Ukraine. But later that morning, Lyudmilla learned of her husband being taken to a hospital; he had been exposed to the radiation at the plant.
When Lyudmilla first arrived, she wasn’t allowed to see her husband. But she pleaded with the radiologist and didn’t disclose that she was pregnant. Instead, Lyudmilla lied and mentioned that she already had two children, a son and a daughter. The doctor eventually let her see Vasily but warned her not to touch him. She remembered seeing his face swollen and unrecognizable from the exposure. Over the next two weeks, Lyudmilla saw her love die a slow, brutal death. Lyudmilla remembered Vasily having lesions on his body, his skin cracking, boils forming, and his hair falling out.
Lyudmilla later said, “The last two days in the hospital — pieces of his lungs, of his liver, were coming out of his mouth. He was choking on his internal organs. I’d wrap my hand in a bandage and put it in his mouth, take out all that stuff.” Two weeks later, Vasily died and was buried in a zinc casket under cement tiles in Moscow, Russia, because he was still a radioactive threat. About two months after Vasily’s death, Lyudmilla, then 21, gave birth to their daughter, Natashenka, who died just hours after being born due to liver cirrhosis and congenital heart disease.
Where is Lyudmilla Ignatenko Today?
Lyudmilla’s story gained sudden traction in 2019 with the airing of HBO’s ‘Chernobyl.’ But with that came media attention that she didn’t look forward to. Furthermore, Lyudmilla maintained that she didn’t permit the creators to do her story. She added, “When I found out there would be a film about me, I felt hurt and uneasy. There were people hounding me at my flat. It got to the point where journalists would jam the door open with their foot and try to record interviews with me.”
The renewed attention also brought people who accused Lyudmilla of killing her child. She added, “They were asking why I had been at my husband’s bedside knowing that I was pregnant at the time. But tell me, how could I leave him? I thought my baby was safe inside me. We didn’t know anything about radiation then.” Furthermore, Lyudmilla said that the filmmakers offered to pay her $3000 after the show was shot.
However, Lyudmilla was doubtful and eventually turned them down. Another concern for her was that the call came from Russia, and the tension between Russia and Ukraine cannot be overstated. After Vasily’s death, Lyudmilla never remarried. However, she gave birth to a son who is currently in his 20s. While Lyudmilla lived in Kiev, Ukraine initially, she had to move to a more secluded region due to the flurry of media at her home.
Recently, there was some concern regarding Lyudmilla’s safety due to the Russia-Ukraine war. However, given that she participated in the documentary and was in contact with James Jones, the filmmaker responsible for the documentary, in February 2022, we think she still lives somewhere in Ukraine with her son. Understandably, though, Lyudmilla has chosen to keep her life private for the most part.
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