The Chernobyl disaster was the world’s most tragic and devastating nuclear accident to date. This world-changing explosion took place on April 26, 1986, at Chernobyl, a nuclear power plant located in Ukraine. When a nuclear reactor exploded, it released an incredible amount of radiation that gravely affected the town of Pripyat. It acted as a death sentence for those individuals who were responsible for the clean up.


Two individuals working at the plant that night lost their lives as a direct result of the explosion, according to the World Nuclear Association. An additional 28 firefighters suffered from acute radiation poisoning, eventually leading to their deaths, after cleaning up the site without proper protection.

Today, there is still disagreement regarding exactly how many people were ultimately affected by the explosion. The History Channel states that the radiation that made its way into the atmosphere was catastrophic, the equivalent of 50 Hiroshima bombs. The World Health Organization estimates that the death toll of this accident could be upwards of 4,000 people, including those still living with severe health problems as a result of the accident. At this point, there have been 3,940 cancer and leukemia deaths documented as a result of the radiation exposure.

Many still do not understand the details of the accident or who was directly involved.

Here are the key players in the Chernobyl disaster, and the role they played in this historic event.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

Viktor Bryukhanov

At the time of the accident, Viktor Bryukhanov was serving as the director of Chernobyl. Bryukhanov was in charge of the reactor that exploded that night and would bear a lot of the blame. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for negligence, and served half of that sentence before being granted amnesty.

He was highly critical of the powers in the nuclear industry.

Although Bryukhanov has never denied that mistakes were made at the plant that night by staff members, he was critical of how the accident was narrated by the powers in charge. In a 2006 interview, he warned that the bigger issue was the nuclear industry itself. He believed that there were lessons to be learned from Chernobyl that should have affected the industry worldwide. That didn’t happen, though, and he was fearful that more tragedies would take place as a result.

Bryukhanov accused the Soviet Government of a cover up.

While he wasn’t able to provide evidence supporting his claims, Bryukhanov said he believes there was a larger cover up happening. He said that around the world powerful people in the industry were not being honest about the causes behind nuclear accidents. Rather, he believes that nuclear power is risky and that no one is being upfront about just how great that risk could be.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

Valery Legasov

At the time of the accident, Valery Legasov was serving the Soviet Government as a nuclear specialist. After the explosion, he was commissioned to investigate the cause. According to Cosmopolitan, he is partially responsible for initiating the evacuation orders throughout Pripyat that saved the lives of many of the people living there.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

He was haunted by the details of the Chernobyl accident.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Legasov took his own life one day after the two-year anniversary of the accident. An inside source reported that Legasov was overcome by guilt as he investigated the accident. He was expected to release his report on what had caused the explosion one day after taking his life.

He was recognized after his death for his work.

A decade after the accident, and eight years after his death, Legasov was recognized for his work investigating the explosion in Chernobyl. In 1996, he was named Hero of The Russian Federation. It is truly a tragedy that he died so tormented by the details of the event and didn’t live to be recognized for his work mitigating the effects of this devastating catastrophe.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

Anatoly Dyatlov

In the weeks and years following the Chernobyl disaster, Anatoly Dyatlov would come to be known as the person who was largely at fault for what happened that day. As the engineer in charge of the nuclear reactor that exploded in April 1986, he was accused of taking unnecessary risks during an experiment involving the reactor.

According to the Washington Post, the Soviet Government reported that he had bullied his coworkers into ignoring safety measures that could have prevented the tragedy.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

In 1992, Dyatlov confirmed to the Washington Post that there had been a cover up.

Although Dyatlov would serve a short sentence in jail, in 1992 he went on record insisting that he was wrongly blamed for what happened at Chernobyl. He believed he did everything right but was not fully informed of the potential dangers at the Chernobyl plant and it was actually the design of the reactor that caused the explosion.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

Dyatlov’s health went into severe decline after the event.

Because of his exposure to dangerous levels of radiation, Dyatlov would live the rest of life with various disabilities. In a 1992 interview with the Washington Post, it was reported that he was only able to take a few steps at a time. He is also described as exhibiting nervous symptoms common to other survivors, such as obsessively removing dust off the table in front of him. He would cough often and had to take breaks from talking to catch his breath. He eventually died of heart failure in 1995.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

Viktor Proskuryakov and Aleksandr Kudyavtsev

In the moments immediately following the explosion, Dyatlov, the engineer responsible for maintaining the reactor that exploded, sent two workers to try to evaluate the status of the reactor and intervene. In his 1992 interview with the Washington Post, he explained that he and about a dozen people were in the control room. It was 1:24 a.m. In a panic, he recalled making a few different orders, one of which he would come to regret.

These two trainees became the first casualties of the Chernobyl disaster.

Unsure of what was happening down in the reactor hall, Dyatlov told two trainees, Viktor Proskuryakov and Aleksandr Kudyavtsev, to try to intervene manually. He said that as soon as they left the room, he regretted his decision and tried to follow them and call them back. They were already out of sight and there was nothing he could do to save them.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

They died shortly after due to exposure to catastrophic levels of radiation.

The Firemen Who Initiated The Cleaned Up Of The Accident

Proskuryakov and Kudyavtev wouldn’t be the only individuals who lost their lives performing heroic acts in an attempt to mitigate the damage caused during the Chernobyl disaster. Professional firemen from the surrounding towns of Pripyat, Chernobyl, and Kyiv quickly responded to the catastrophe.

Because of their courageous acts, the fire was under control by dawn the next day.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

But the death count quickly rose as a result.

The firemen onsite were not provided with proper protective clothing. They attempted to control the fire without the gear they needed to keep themselves safe. Because of this, 27 firemen would receive radiation burns that would hospitalize them after the first night of clean up.

Twenty-eight men would lose their lives in the days immediately following the explosion.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

As many as 60,000 people may have been affected by the Chernobyl disaster.

In addition to firefighters, individuals called liquidators were recruited to help with additional clean up and mitigation. Although the World Health Organization estimates that around 4,000 people were killed as a result of radiation exposure from Chernobyl, a Le Monde report states that these liquidators, who were key players in their own right, should be included in the estimates. As many as 60,000 individuals are now disabled or dead due to their involvement in these efforts.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

Boris Sherbina

Deputy Prime Minister and Vice Chairman of the USSR’s Council of Ministers Boris Sherbina is believed to have played a major role in the decisions made during the days that followed the explosion. When he arrived in Pripyat an estimated 18 hours after the first explosion, the History Channel reports that no real decisions had been made about what to do next.

Sherbina made the call to to approve the evacuation.

Sherbina’s story is a complicated one. It seems that he, along with other officials, spent a lot of time going back and forth about whether or not Pripyat should be evacuated. Finally, at 1 a.m. on April 27th, a city-wide announcement was made — in an hour, busses would start arriving at homes to evacuate citizens.

They were given less than an hour to prepare. 

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

Leonid Toptunov

Having worked at Chernobyl for only two months, Leonid Toptunov was the engineer responsible for the reactor controls the night the explosion occurred. According to the History Channel, he was well-trained and knowledgeable. He was an expert in his field. Unfortunately, he made several small mistakes that added up to cause this catastrophe.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

A series of mistakes would result in the explosion of Chernobyl’s Reactor 4.

It’s true that Toptunov made a series of small mistakes when operating the reactor that night. What is even more tragic is that he had no awareness of the design flaws that existed and how bad things would become as a result. He couldn’t have known how quickly the small mistakes he had made would add up, nor the consequences his mistakes would have.

Toptunov may have been bullied into a fatal decision.

Having missed a pivotal step during execution of the test, Toptunov was trained to follow protocol and shut down the process. It is believed that his supervisor, Anatoly Dyatlov, pressured him and even threatened him to get him to continue with the test and increase the power of the reactor.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

When Toptunov hit the shutdown button, it caused a power surge in the core that triggered the explosion.

Staying onsite, Toptunov and other workers attempted to fix what they believed to be a water flow issue after the explosion. This resulted in their exposure to high levels of radiation that would ultimately take their lives. Toptunov died in May 1986 and was recognized with a For Courage honor after his death.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]

Lyudmila Ignatenko

Ignatenko is the wife of firefighter Vasily Ignatenko, who died as a result of his exposure to radiation. Despite being instructed to stay away from her husband to avoid being affected by the radiation, she stayed with him until he died on May 13, 1986.

Ignatenko rose to fame after sharing her story in the book Voices of Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster.

She described in great detail what it was like watching her husband, disfigured and suffering, die such a terrible death. She was also pregnant at the time, according to Mirror. She lost her daughter to heart problems days after giving birth, symptoms which are believed to be the result of radiation exposure.

Today, Ignatenko lives in Kyiv with her son.

Ignatenko was told she would never have children because of the damage she sustained during the time she spent with her husband in the hospital. Although she has lived a fairly private life since her interview for Voices of Chernobyl, she is said to be living in Kyiv with her 20-year-old son. She stated that she thinks of her daughter and husband every single day.

[image_with_caption text=”iStock” image=””]


Leave A Reply