A real-life character in HBO's 'Chernobyl' says reporters have accused her of killing her baby. Here's her side of the story.

A real-life character in HBO's 'Chernobyl' says reporters have accused her of killing her baby. Here's her side of the story.



In one of the opening scenes of HBO's miniseries "Chernobyl," a firefighter named Vasily Ignatenko is called to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant to put out a fire. His pregnant wife, Lyudmilla, is concerned about the color of the flames, which she can see from her window, but Vasily assures her the problem will be over quickly.

The characters are based on a real couple that fell victim to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which sent plumes of radioactive material throughout the Ukrainian city of Pripyat, which was part of the Soviet Union at the time.

Vasily died of severe radiation poisoning 14 days after the accident - a tragedy the series depicts truthfully.

The real-life Lyudmilla still lives in Ukraine, but in an interview with the BBC - her first since the series aired - she said she had to move from Kiev to a more remote region after journalists hounded her following the release of the HBO series.


Lyudmilla told the BBC some of those journalists suggested "that I had killed my baby."

Lyudmilla said she didn't know radiation could hurt her child

Lyudmilla's behavior in 1986 incited some controversy after the HBO show was released in May.

That's because she begged Vasily's radiologist to let her see her husband after Vasily was admitted to the hospital for radiation poisoning. Lyudmilla didn't mention to the doctor that she was pregnant (she even lied and told the radiologist she already had two children).

Two months later, Lyudmilla gave birth to a daughter, who died after four hours from congenital heart malformations and cirrhosis of the liver (both of which have been linked to radiation exposure).

"They were asking me why I had been at my husband's bedside knowing that I was pregnant at the time," Lyudmilla told the BBC of the questions she got from reporters after the show aired. "But tell me, how could I leave him? I thought my baby was safe inside me. We didn't know anything about radiation then."


The show got some other details wrong, according to Lyudmilla

In one scene in "Chernobyl," Lyudmilla holds her late husband's shoes as he's buried, since the shoes couldn't fit around his swollen feet.

But the real-life Lyudmilla told the BBC that the shoes were actually beside Vasily when he was buried. She added, however, that the knitted grey jumper her character wears in the scene is similar to one she owned.


Lyudmilla also provided a detail that wasn't included in the film: While Vasily was dying in the hospital, he stood up and gave her three carnations from underneath his pillow.

"They were the last flowers he brought me," she told the BBC.


Lyudmilla said she didn't give HBO permission to use her story

Lyudmilla told the BBC that the "Chernobyl" filmmakers reached out to her to have a conversation after the show had already been filmed. They offered her $3,000, she said, which made her skeptical.

"I told him nobody pays money for nothing and hung up," she said.

Lyudmilla added that she was concerned about why the call came Russia, given the military tensions between the two countries. Ultimately, Lyudmilla said, she didn't give HBO permission to use her story.

In a statement provided to the BBC, HBO said it had "multiple exchanges" with Lyudmilla and that she never objected to having her story included in the film.

Lyudmilla gave her personal account of the tragedy in the 1997 book "Voices from Chernobyl."


She never re-married, but she has one child - a son who is now in his 20s.