The characters of the television series Chernobyl:
Professor Valery Legasov, First Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy
Soviet scientist tapped to answer questions about RBMK reactors at a national-level government briefing about the accident at Chernobyl who is the first to realize the grave danger the "minor" accident represents. His outburst at this briefing results in him being volunteered along with Boris Shcherbina to personally inspect and report on the situation at Chernobyl.
- The Atoner: Legasov commits suicide on the second anniversary of the accident.
- In episode 4 it's revealed Legasov knew of a particular flaw in the RBMK reactor ten years prior but allowed the KGB to suppress that information under the excuse of "national security." It explains how he realized how bad the reactor explosion was the second he read about it.
- Episode 5 goes even further by revealing that he himself was very much an Old World Communist career man who threw colleagues under the bus to advance his own career and respectability. Even keeping the truth of the RBMK reactor flaw was a part of it. Charkov calls him out on this hypocrisy, but by that point it pretty much has no effect. He is a dying man who has nothing left to lose while the USSR has everything to lose, and he has zero intention of letting lies simmer any longer.
- Awesomeness by Analysis: Legasov immediately understands the nature and magnitude of the disaster after reading a single preliminary briefing.Gorbachev: Yes, and, uh, this concern stems entirely from the description of a rock?
- Blood from the Mouth: Seen holding a handkerchief to his mouth throughout the first-episode prologue; when he puts it down, it's seen to be spotted with bloodstains, revealing that he's been suffering from long-term exposure to radiation.
- Byronic Hero: Although less Anti-heroic than the norm, qualifies. He's an intelligent, educated man who is passionate about his beliefs even when saying them out loud contradicts with the authority, is increasingly depressed by everything he has to do and witness but feels that he has to push on and do what he must, is burdened by guilt about his own past actions, and all of this ultimately leads him to a tragic fate.
- Cannot Tell a Lie: Lying troubles him and he is unconvincing when he does.
- Can't Stop the Signal: With the Soviet government refusing to acknowledge any flaws with the RBMK reactors, and knowing he will be dead soon from radiation sickness anyway, Legasov publishes his final will and testament before committing suicide, hoping that his death will create enough public outcry to finally force the government into taking action.
- Classical Anti-Hero: He was written to contrast with the standard perfect Science Hero, and his demeanor is more vulnerable, with moments of making mistakes or being cowardly to go along with his moments of being the Only Sane Man.
- The Chains of Commanding: Brought in merely to advice on how RBMK reactors work, he ends becoming Shcherbina's deputy in practice and he is overwhelmed by the risks and costs of the decisions he has to take, himself.
- Cornered Rattlesnake: Charkov tells Legasov doesn't have the courage to defy the Kremlin and blow the whistle on the whole mess. Legasov is already dying by then, so he spares himself a miserable death by hanging himself and exposes the Kremlin's incompetence with his dying memoirs.
- Decoy Protagonist: Subverted, as discussed in the podcast. He's the first character to be introduced, only to kill himself minutes later and then not show up for almost the whole episode. But then he shows up and actually does turn out to be the protagonist.
- Didn't See That Coming: In Episode 2, he makes a near apocalyptic mistake despite it being scientifically sound. To put out the fire, he requests Boris to fly in five thousand tons of sand and boron to smother the core. The sand and boron would eventually melt as he expected, but what he didn't expect were the water tanks still being full at the time - made even worse by the fire trucks constantly spraying and flooding the plant with water. The molten sand and boron would've caused a thermal explosion powerful enough to pop the other cores, essentially making half of Europe virtually uninhabitable for thousands of years. Insanely luckily for him (and pretty much all of Western civilization), Ulana Khomyuk spotted the flaw in his plan and with the help of three incredibly brave and lucky plant workers the tanks were emptied before the lava reached them.
- Subverted in real-life, as he was well-aware the destroyed pumps would have filled the lower compartments with radioactive water. The military wanted to drop Lead blocks on the ruined reactor, of all things. Lead would contain the radiation, though Legasov pointed out dropping heavy blocks from that height would simply smash through the floors like a bullet, causing a steam explosion.
- Doomed Protagonist: We know from the start about his eventual suicide, and we later find out that we know he's doomed anyway from being so close to the reactor for so long.
- Doomed Moral Victor: His very public denunciation of Soviet bureaucracy at the climactic trial gets him all but unpersoned by the KGB. His account of the events at Chernobyl ultimately goes public and forces real change, but only after he has killed himself to avoid a slower, more painful death by cancer.
- Driven to Suicide: Showing symptoms of radiation sickness and overwhelmed by the gross negligence surrounding the incident at Chernobyl, and especially the government response, Legasov kills himself on the second anniversary of the disaster.
- Enraged by Idiocy: Shows a rare moment of anger when he finds out that the evacuation zone has been arbitrarily made a thirty-mile radius by a career politician with no knowledge of the science behind it. The reality is that, based on the wind direction, parts of that evacuation zone will be completely unnecessary and displace people from their homes for no reason, while in other directions there will be dangerous levels of radiation far beyond the demarcated zone.
- Establishing Character Moment: From the second he receives the phone call in the middle of the night, Legasov corrects Shcherbina on a technical term ("control system tank, not system control tank") and immediately states that if dosimeters are reading 3.6 Roentgen it's very much something to be worried about.
- Fate Worse than Death: Following Legasov's testimony, that the accident at Chernobyl was caused not simply due to human error, but by the Soviet system itself, which allowed for the construction of faulty nuclear reactors and the appointment of incompetent management, he's taken to a small room by the KGB, where Deputy Chairman Charkov personally berates him. Charkov then informs Legasov that since he's become internationally renowned after his testimony at Vienna, he can't just be shot, imprisoned, or dismissed. Instead, Legasov will keep his position and title in the ministry of science, but he will be forbidden to do any meaningful work, and all that he's done, and what little he will do, will be attributed to his subordinates, and he will simply fade into obscurity.
- Fire-Forged Friends: Legasov and Shcherbina start their collaborations by butting heads since Legasov is aware of all the dangers that the reactor failure may cause while Shcherbina is a career bureaucrat who adheres more readily to the climate of misinformation within the party. However, as they collaborate to minimize the damage of Chernobyl, they notice each others' qualities and become comrade-in-arms of a sort.
- Fish out of Water: Legasov is a scientist by nature, and is ill-prepared to deal with dirty politicians and their tactics. Bryukhanov and Fomin easily shut him down when he voices his concerns about the disaster by using the Chewbacca Defense and Shifting the Burden of Proof, forcing Shcherbina to help him pry the truth out of them.
- Foil: To Dyatlov. Where the Chernobyl engineer refuses to accept reality and does nothing to solve the crisis, Legasov is fully aware of what's happening and does everything he can to fix it. Legasov is also willing to admit when he makes a mistake - such as using boron and sand to stop the reactor fire without knowing there was still water beneath it all, an issue that could cause a lethal steam explosion if the resulting lava reached it - and is also willing to fix the problem, while Dyatlov never admits he did anything wrong.
- Heroic Suicide: His suicide, along with his last will and testament, creates enough of a public stir to force the Soviet government to enact the necessary changes to their reactors to stop any more meltdowns from happening.
- Hesitant Sacrifice: Legasov is reluctant to tell the truth to the court, knowing the potential consequences. Khomyuk calls him out on this, pointing out just how many people made such sacrifices without any hesitation.
- Historical Beauty Upgrade: The real Legasov had more exaggerated features (ears, nose, and jawline). In the podcast, Mazin said the production team tried to downplay this as much as possible to not glamorize Chernobyl, but all actors are unusually attractive looking to some extent.
- I Lied: At the trial, he's questioned as to why his testimony, which featured Brutal Honesty about the reactor's glaring design flaws, contradicts his testimony at Vienna. He bluntly states that the former testimony was a lie.
- Incurable Cough of Death: Begins coughing up blood and losing hair by the final episode, making it very clear that he doesn't have long to live.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: Legasov retreats to the hotel bar in Episode 2 and starts pounding vodka after the first inspection of Chernobyl confirms his worst fears.
- Kindhearted Cat Lover: Valery's companion seen before the accident and two years later is a cat. Valery leaves extra food out for the cat so it won't starve before someone arrives and discovers he's hanged himself.
- Mr. Exposition: Half his time on screen is to explain nuclear science in layman's terms. The show is able to sell these blatant info dumps because Shcherbina doesn't know a thing about reactors and demands explanations, allowing the viewer to learn along with him.
- Not So Above It All: Generally acts as the Only Sane Man calling out the other characters on valuing politics over people's lives, but we later see how he helped to cover up the design flaw in RBMK reactors and has acted similarly throughout his career.
- Not So Different: As Charkov points out in episode 5, he threw many of his colleagues under the bus to increase his own standing within the Communist Party in the past. He doesnt deny it, but is ashamed of himself nonetheless, and knowing hell be dead in a few years anyway, does everything he can to save the millions of lives threatened by the disaster in Chernobyl, and prevent another such disaster from occurring ever again.
- Odd Couple: By episode 3, the impulsive, intellectual Legasov and grumpy, weary Shcherbina have become this. Legasov's idealistic tendencies and adherence to scientific principle are no match for the Soviet political mentality. Shcherbina, on the other hand, knows how the machine works, and how to work the machine, but he's totally out of his element in dealing with the crisis and knows it. Separately, they are powerless to mitigate the disaster but as a unit are able to carry out an effective plan. By episode 2, whenever a decision has to be made, they begin glancing toward one another for confirmation, with Legasov providing the scientific facts and solutions, and Shcherbina providing the political muscle. By episode 3, they respect each other enough to talk honestly to each other about the problems they face on both sides. As much as Legasov educates Shcherbina about nuclear physics, Shcherbina tries to coach Legasov on the political reality of the situation. He even becomes a protector of sorts for Legasov, blunting the Professor's tendency to shoot his mouth off in front of powerful Soviet officials who could make him disappear. A minor example of this is when he tells Legasov to straighten his tie before their next briefing with the senior party members. Legasov doesn't care about such details in the face of the Chernobyl disaster, but because of the people they're dealing with, Shcherbina knows that appearances count.
- An Offer You Can't Refuse: In Episode 5, Charkov shows Legasov what awaits him if he stays on the party line at the trial: he will be decorated a Hero of the Soviet Union and made director of the Kurchatov Institute.
- Oh, Crap!:
- At first when he reads the preliminary report on the disaster. Despite the report downplaying the seriousness of the situation to a downright ridiculous degree, he fully understands the horrifying implications behind what it mentions from even just a quick glance at it, and is greatly shaken.
- When he catches the first glimpse of the ground zero of the disaster during the helicopter ride to the site, he notices the smoke and the blue glow emitting from the plant, and lets out a quiet, but utterly horrified "What have they done?"
- One Last Smoke: Has a few puffs on a cigarette before hanging himself.
- Only Sane Man: Is one of the few to truly grasp how dangerous the entire situation is. He's also not concerned about the petty politics that many of the bureaucrats around Chernobyl are playing: He's trying to avoid a planet-wide nuclear catastrophe.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Legasov does this to the entire Soviet state during his testimony at Dyatlov's nationally televised trial, stating that the entire reason the Chernobyl explosion happened in the first place was because the workers were not told that the AZ-5 button, which was supposed to serve as a fail-safe during an emergency situation, could actually trigger a disaster; all sixteen of the other existing RBMK reactors have the same design flaw. The Soviet Union lies constantly whenever they're confronted with an unpleasant truth, such as having to admit that the disaster even happened at all, and the only reason that Legasov didn't tell the truth in Vienna was because he was ordered by the authorities to lie.
- Resigned to the Call: He knows the risks of going to the reactor but hides his fear and goes anyway. Besides his own death, he is increasingly stressed by the horrors he sees and his guilt for knowing he could have prevented it all, but goes on anyway because he feels that it is his duty as a scientist to keep finding out more.
- Science Hero: Tragic variety.
- Unperson: Downplayed. Charkov tells him that he is essentially too high-profile to made to disappear, so he will be allowed to stay alive and keep his job and credentials, but while he'll still exist, his title at the institute will be reduced to an empty title with no importance, and any and all work he has done or might do in the future will be credited to others.
- The Worm Guy: Gets volunteered because of his knowledge of science relevant to what is going on in Chernobyl.
- Your Days Are Numbered: The final episode heavily implies that he has learned he is terminally ill due to prolonged radiation exposure while managing the Chernobyl crisis. It's part of what motivates him to speak out against the state's malfeasance at the trial, he no longer has anything left to lose other than face.
- When She Smiles: Shcherbina is pleasantly surprised to see the constantly anxious and distressed Legasov smiling while they both watch the lunar rovers begin clearing the plant roof from debris.
Deputy Chairman Boris Shcherbina
High-level Soviet bureaucrat dispatched to Chernobyl to personally report on the situation after Legasov disrupts his briefing with dire warnings of nuclear disaster. At first, Boris is more than happy to believe and repeat the party line that the accident is a minor glitch, but after arriving at the plant he begins to understand the true scope of the crisis.
- The Alcoholic: Shcherbina is a major boozer even by Soviet standards. Anytime something goes wrong, he slams the vodka. Hell, anytime something goes well he slams the vodka.
- The Apocalypse Brings Out the Best in People: Before the disaster, he is just another career politician who repeats the party line. The events of the series show him to be a lot more than that.
- Armor-Piercing Question: He begins to unravel the actual problem when he asks Bryukhanov: "Why did I see graphite on the roof?"
- Badass Bureaucrat: The grumpy career politician shows with each episode he got where he is because he knows how to read people and play the game. Display incompetence and he'll politely instruct guards to escort you to Party Headquarters. Prove you know what you're talking about and he'll bite your head off, but then he'll stomp off to conjure up five thousand tons of boron and sand so you can save the day.
- Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Shcherbina is introduced as yet another loyal party member fervently denying the truth at all costs out of a misguided sense of patriotism, being rude to Legasov and even threatening to have him killed. After Legasov unquestionably vindicates all his points, however, Shcherbina changes tune and starts to actually listen to him and becomes a much more level-headed (and humane) figure.
- Berserk Button:
- Already agitated by Legasov's insolence, he throws a fit when the subordinate scientist calls him by his first name. By Episode 3, however, Shcherbina and Legasov are on a mutual first-name basis.
- Big Good: As Legasov puts it:Legasov: Of all the ministers and all the deputies, entire congregation of obedient fools... they mistakenly sent the one good man. For god's sake, Boris, you were the one who mattered most.
- Blood from the Mouth: In Episode 5, Shcherbina is shown coughing repeatedly during the trial. Later, he shows Legasov his handkerchief and there is a large splatter of blood on it.
- Brutal Honesty: Glukhov, working naked because of the heat in the tunnel even though that will leave him and the rest of his mining crew more exposed to radiation, asks if his people will be "looked after" when the work is done. Boris seems to almost utter some sort of reassuring platitude before instead saying "I don't know." The foreman then turns around and goes back to work. This echoes his own advice to Legasov when first meeting Glukhov, as Shcherbina knows that the common working man prefers and respects honesty to political BS.
- Character Development: On their way to Chernobyl, Shcherbina asks Legasov to explain, in the simplest terms possible, how a nuclear reactor works. A year later, at the trial for the plant management, Shcherbina is the one giving a fairly more advanced lecture on how a nuclear reactor works.
- Cryptic Background Reference: Shcherbina realizes that Fomin and Bryukhanov are downplaying the situation when they try to pass graphite for burned concrete. Shcherbina says that they made a mistake: he may not know much about nuclear reactors, but he knows a lot about concrete. He then has them escorted out of the plant without further explanation. The real Shcherbina was familiar with concrete because both him and his father had long careers in construction.
- Death Glare: Shcherbina's default expression. He gives the impression he was born glaring, and spends the first half of Episode 2 trying to kill Legasov with it after Legasov's testimony earns them both a mandatory trip to Chernobyl. But after the scientist is repeatedly proven right, Shcherbina starts using the glare (and the bureaucratic might behind it) on anyone who gets in Legasov's way.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Shcherbina and Legasov initially butt heads due to Boris accepting the Party propaganda and Valery seeing right through it. Once Legasov's doom-mongering is repeatedly proven right, Shcherbina softens to him considerably. Most pointedly, when the first helicopter accidentally flies over the exposed core - an act that Shcherbina was ordering his own helicopter pilot to do earlier and that Legasov stopped, even when under threat of execution - and then crashes almost instantly, Shcherbina gives Legasov a knowing look. They soon become Fire-Forged Friends.
- Dramatic Shattering: Smashes a phone after yelling to party command about how the rovers have stopped working, having discovered that they gave West Germany the propaganda radiation levelnote rather than the real numbernote , as this was their last and best hope of clearing the roof without having to send human workers up.
- Dramatic Sit-Down: When Legasov (in a moment of frustration) lets slip that he and Shcherbina will likely be dead in five years due to the radiation they've already been exposed to, Shcherbina's iron resolve visibly cracks and he has to sit down. He's so stunned it takes him half a minute to respond to a phone call, with further news that he needs to be sitting down for.
- Establishing Character Moment: Has essentially two: the first on the phonecall to Legasov in episode 1 telling him he's on the accident committee. Boris cuts Valery off every time he speaks and tells him he's not to open his mouth except to answer questions. The second happens after the duo arrive at Chernobyl in episode 2 and Bryukhanov and Fomin start bootlicking and accuse Legasov of spreading panic and disinformation, not knowing that minutes earlier Boris threatened him with execution and he didn't bend. He calls on them to prove Legasov wrong, and they fail spectacularly. Boris may be a pig-headed bureaucrat, but he can smell bullshit even through radioactive smoke.
- Fire-Forged Friends: Legasov and Shcherbina start their collaborations by butting heads since Legasov is aware of all the dangers that the reactor failure may cause while Shcherbina is a career bureaucrat who adheres more readily to the climate of misinformation within the party. However, as they collaborate to minimize the damage of Chernobyl, they notice each others' qualities and become comrade-in-arms of a sort.
- Guile Hero: Uses his political knowledge in order to get the material he needs and keep away the KGB and other government threats.
- Guttural Growler: He has a deep and raspy voice, probably related to his heavy smoking, and also by way of being played by Stellan Skarsgård. It lines his no-nonsense persona.
- HeelFace Turn: At first, Shcherbina is motivated only by his own career and is just as obstructionist as other members of the government, but once he gets a good look at the reality of the disaster, he becomes Legasov's strongest and most constant ally.
- Heroic BSoD:
- Has one after Legasov accidentally blurts out that they'll both be dead within five years from the level of radiation they've already been exposed to.
- He actually manages to forget because the monumental task at hand, but has it again when he is diagnosed with cancer and starts coughing blood in the final episode.
- He's Back: He spends the next several scenes after the first Heroic BSoD mentioned above in quiet shock, choosing to let Legasov and Ulana take point during the meeting with Gorbachev, and only seems to rouse from it again when he needs to give a Rousing Speech to the assembled workers to convince three to go on a Suicide Mission to prevent a steam explosion that would kill millions.
- Hero of Another Story: It's not mentioned in the series, but Shcherbina's experience from handling the Chernobyl crisis made him Gorbachev's go-to man to oversee the Soviet disaster relief efforts after the 1988 Armenian Earthquake only two years after the first disaster.
- Hidden Depths:
- Shcherbina initially comes across as another ignorant, self-aggrandizing bureaucrat, but as soon as he visits the site and realizes the gravity of the situation, he quickly proves to be incredibly dedicated to containing the disaster.
- He appears to humor Legasov by asking rather haughtily how a nuclear reactor works, and shortly after condescendingly says he doesn't need Legasov anymore. The first chance he gets to use said knowledge however, he proves that he actually does take Legasov seriously. As the second episode goes on, it becomes clear Shcherbina genuinely does take the accident seriously; he just wasn't aware of how bad it was at first.
- He gives a pretty inspiring speech to convince some of the reactor workers to go to their deaths, saying that millions of lives are at stake and that a willingness to sacrifice themselves for the good of the motherland (and the greater good in general) has always been what has set the Russian people apart. It works.
- Historical Beauty Upgrade: In addition to being much shorter than the 1,91 m / 6' 3'' ft Stellan Skarsgard, the real Shcherbina was pudgy and balding.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: His initial hostility towards Legasov. In real life, the two were cordial and respectful towards one another from the get-gonote .
- Humble Hero: He confesses that he always felt like an inconsequential man, which prompts Legasov into giving a touching retort where he remarks that Shcherbina was the one who mattered most.
- I Know You're Watching Me: Knows Moscow Centre is monitoring his invective-filled phone call after Joker's failure, but is just too furious with the higher-ups' Head-in-the-Sand Management to care.
- I Just Want to Be Special: During his last conversation with Legasov, he admits that all he's ever wanted was to matter. For his decisions and position to matter something to the state. Being handed the Chernobyl clean-up efforts and being lied to about the details made him feel even less important and completely expendable. But at the end of the day, Legasov assures him that when he needed something, Boris was the guy who made shit happen - red tape be damned. As a result, during that crisis he was the most important man in any given room.
- Incurable Cough of Death: During the trial of the three Chernobyl managers, Shcherbina suffers from a persistent cough. He later confirms that he has about a year left to live, as the radiation is finally catching up to him.note
- I Need a Freaking Drink: As a darkly humorous Running Gag, any time Shcherbina has a drink (which is pretty often), he pours one for Legasov. Note that he doesn't ask Legasov if he wants one, Shcherbina just pours it and slides it in front of him.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Boris is initially gruff, blunt and dismissive, especially towards Legasov, but after arriving on site and seeing the catastrophe first hand takes decisive action. He doesn't exactly become friendly, but it's clear he now respects Legasov's advice, and is the only senior official who seems to realize he's supposed to protect the people and not his reputation or the party.
- When walking with Legasov to discuss the accident in episode 3, Boris gives food to the dogs following them that were left behind during the evacuation.
- Misery Builds Character: Invoked, in reference to east Slavic culture itself, during his inspiring speech to convince three plant workers to volunteer for what seems to be a Suicide Mission.Shcherbina: This is what has always set our people apart. A thousand years of sacrifice in our veins. And every generation must know its own suffering.
- Not So Stoic: Tries his best to stay composed or simply irritated by the colossal disaster he has to handle but he still cracks a few times.
- When Legasov lets slip that they'll die in five years due to the amount radiation they've already absorbed, Shcherbina nearly goes catatonic.
- After the Joker's fiasco he lashes at the higher up in Moscow for it. This is also O.O.C. Is Serious Business as Shcherbina knows about the Soviet politics and how they can ruin your life simply for pointing out their mistakes but he is too angry to care.
- Odd Couple: With Legasov, above.
- Oh, Crap!: When Legasov at first tries to convince him that he should order a full scale evacuation of Pripyat, Shcherbina tries to calm him down, telling him that Professor Ilyin from the commission has ensured him that the danger is minimal, so it won't be necessary. Legasov sharply reminds him that Ilyin is a medical professor, but not a physicist. Shcherbina then tries to point that if it is safe enough for the two of them to stay in the area, it is probably safe enough for the citizens of Pripyat. A frustrated Legasov responds by telling him that just by coming here, they are very likely both going to die in about five years. After this the severity finally gets through to Shcherbina, who just stands stunned with his mouth agape in horror. He then has to sit down for a moment to gather himself.
- Pet the Dog: Shcherbina gets several over the course of the series, showing that he is not the heartless apparatchik he seemed in his first scenes. He listens to Legasov after he realizes he is telling the truth, supports Pripyat's evacuation after seeing children playing out in the open in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, feeds some meat to the dogs left behind by the evacuated residents, and refuses to lie to the miners.
- Protectorate: He establishes one over Legasov by the fifth episode; for example, intervening so the court will allow Legasov to finish his testimony. As Legasov puts it in the same episode: the government hears Legasov, but it listens to Shcherbina.
- Rage Breaking Point: Shcherbina spends much of the series banging his head against the Soviet wall of bureaucracy, but it's not until he learns the Central Committee wasted everyone's time negotiating for a useless robot because they couldn't admit how bad the disaster actually was that he finally blows up and screams at the Central Committee to go fuck themselves.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Shcherbina is described as a slow, pig-headed bureaucrat and lives up to the reputation in the beginning, cutting off his subordinates, readily repeating false information because it's convenient, and generally acting as though the crisis at Chernobyl is a nuisance. He changes his tune after Legasov countermands an order to overfly the reactor under threat of execution. Then after landing, he performs an epic shutdown of the sycophantic local authorities who botched the incident based on the back-of-the-napkin explanation given earlier by Legasov. Most tellingly, he is horrified to learn that as far as West Germany children are being kept indoors because of the danger of radiation while the citizens of Pripyat go about their daily lives. This causes Boris to relent and order the evacuation of the city, effectively making himself accountable for anything that happens from that point on.
- Right Man in the Wrong Place: He is a bureaucrat that knows nothing of nuclear reactors and was only sent there to assess the damage. When he sees how catastrophic the damage is and how it'll get worse he takes charge, motivates people into giving their lives and mobilize the resources needed. Legasov lampshades Moscow sent the best man for the job by mistake.
- Rousing Speech: When one of the core technicians asks Legasov why they should feel compelled to go on a Suicide Mission through highly radioactive water mixed with fuel from the exposed core, Shcherbina gives a pretty commanding one.Shcherbina: You'll do it because it must be done. You'll do it because no one else can. And if you don't, millions will die. If you tell me that's not enough, I won't believe you. This is what has always set our people apart. A thousand years of sacrifice in our veins. And every generation must know its own suffering. I spit on the people who did this, and I curse the price I have to pay. But I'm making my peace with it, and now you make yours. And go into that water. Because it must be done.
- The Social Expert: He knows how to act towards every class in the Soviet Union, not just the bureaucrats, but also scientists and working class. He doubts Legasov at first, but still gives him a chance to prove himself to see if he has to listen to his expertise or Fomin's, he can motivate the workers to give their life by simply telling them the truth in they wanted instead of political flattery and he is careful around the spies and government officials who are willing to put Chernobyl's containment at stake if they feel that their position is endangered.
- The Team Benefactor: His connections to the government means he's able to secure any personnel and resources that the relief effort needs.
- They Call Me Mister Tibbs: Initially snaps at Legasov for calling him Boris, though they are later on a First-Name Basis.
- Token Good Teammate: For the Soviet government in general. Legasov says as much, noting that they accidentally send the one good man to Chernobyl instead of the many more selfish people.
- Tranquil Fury: The moment he realises that Bryukhanov and Fomin not only lied to him but also severely underplayed the magnitude of the disaster to save their hides he immediately orders their arrest without letting them say a word.
- The Watson: Doesn't know the first thing about atomic physics, necessitating Legasov to explain it to him so he can do his job. By the time of the trial, he has familiarized himself with enough of the science that he can eloquently and completely explain the precise functions of a nuclear reactor, with Legasov taking over the minute details of the disaster.
- Your Days Are Numbered: It is revealed in the final episode that he has contracted a fatal malady (presumably some kind of lung cancer, seeing as how he is now coughing up blood) due to his extended exposure to radiation at the Chernobyl site.
Doctor Ulana Khomyuk
Nuclear physicist working in Belarus four hundred kilometers from Chernobyl who realizes something has gone dangerously wrong, somewhere, when radiological alarms go off in her lab and the detected isotopes could only come from a nuclear reactor. When local authorities are unwilling to act, she jumps in a car and drives to Chernobyl to learn the truth, and warn whoever's in charge they may inadvertently trigger an even bigger disaster.
- Awesomeness by Analysis:
- Through discussion with her assistant and testing of samples swabbed from her window, Ulana is able to deduce there's been a major accident at a nuclear reactor. She initially dismisses Chernobyl as the source as it's too far away to produce the contamination they're seeing without the core being exposed. She calls the plant to see if they've heard any news but gets no answer...
- Ulana later deduces that the coolant water, combined with the water from the fire engines, will have pooled under the reactor. When the still-fissioning fuel melts through the bottom of the reactor in two days' time, it will cause a steam explosion large enough to destroy the three remaining reactors at the site, killing millions of people and rendering vast swathes of the USSR uninhabitable.
- Brainy Brunette: Just look at the picture.
- Composite Character: Ulana is a fictional stand-in for several scientists who discovered the disaster on their own and banded together to help with its containment.
- The Conscience: To Legasov - she helps to convince him to tell the truth during the trial despite how risky it is.
- Dude Where Is My Respect: The local Communist Party boss blows off Ulana when she tries to tell him just how very, very bad things are in Chernobyl. She gets mad and says, "I'm a nuclear physicist. Before you were deputy secretary you worked in a shoe factory!" This, however, is undercut when the deputy secretary says, "Yes, I worked in a shoe factory, and now I'm in charge. Here's to the workers of the world!" Ulana gives him up as a lost cause and goes up the chain.
- Establishing Character Moment: Khomyuk is introduced in Episode 2 while asleep at her office desk, having pulled an all-nighter in the hours before. Her male assistant wakes her up, puts a thermos of tea or coffee on her table, and snarks at how she works far too much.
- Foil: To Lyudmilla, the other female protagonist of the series. Whereas Lyudmilla is uninformed, clueless, and powerless amidst all of the chaos from the disaster, Khomyuk is educated, aware of the what's going on, and is in a position to influence events occurring on the highest levels of Soviet society.
- Glasses Pull: Khomyuk is interviewing a horribly burned, dying Toptunov about the accident. She asks how old he is, and Toptunov—covered with ghastly burns, almost all of his hair gone, the top layer of his skin gone—gasps "25". A shocked Khomyuk pulls her glasses off before gathering herself and asking more questions.
- Good Is Not Dumb: In episode 5, she points out to Legasov that she is not opposing Shcherbina's plan of making a deal with the KGB to fix the plants in exchange for hiding the truth about why Chernobyl exploded, whatever Shcherbina thinks. She is just sceptical about the KGB having any reason to stay true to their promise when they don't have the publicized truth as a bargaining chip against them.
- Hidden Depths: In Episode Three, she chews out Lyudmilla for ignoring the dangers of touching Vasily, due to his radioactive contamination. By Episode Four, its revealed that shes been checking up on Lyudmilla, who is a widow by that point, and looking out for her during her pregnancy. She might be a tough-as-nails scientist, who pulls no punches when it comes to the dangers of radiation, but shes also a caring, sympathetic woman.
- Ignored Expert: Khomyuk's first reaction to the radiation readings is to alert the local party official, who disregards her as needlessly alarmist.
- I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: "I'm not a nurse, I'm a nuclear physicist."
- I Surrender, Suckers: Heroic version. When threatened with arrest for trespassing on the exclusion zone, she encourages the soldier to do it and bring her to his leader(s) so she can inform them on additional danger.
- Misery Builds Character: Ulana's official backstory (not mentioned in the show) has her gaining her resolve from growing up in World War II Belarus. A small medal at her desk identifies her as a survivor of a siege - namely, Minsk's.
- Mr. Exposition: When the role doesn't fall to Legasov, she explains what is going on in the plant and what could happen in a worst-case scenario.
- Science Hero: Along with Legasov.
- Second Episode Introduction: She appears at the beginning of the second episode when she detects a spike in radiation levels from her workplace in Minsk.
Chernobyl Power Plant:
Deputy Chief Engineer Anatoly Dyatlov
Reactor Engineer in charge during a safety test at the Chernobyl reactor that goes disastrously wrong.
- Accidental Truth: He calls Legasov a liar during his trial in a futile attempt to deflect fault from himself. Legasov did lie at Vienna and years before Chernobyl by order of the KGB.
- Achievements in Ignorance: Dyatlov holds the dubious distinction of being the only person ever to unwittingly blow up a nuclear reactor, something he wasn't even aware was a possibility.
- Adaptational Backstory Change: Dyatlov was involved in another nuclear accident earlier in his career, which likely led to his son's death from leukemia. This has prompted speculation that Dyatlov's actions on the night of the explosion were borne out of an irrational fixation on "conquering the atom." Mazin omitted this backstory because it amounted to armchair psychology and would have undermined the narrative.
- Asshole Victim: Even laid up in the hospital and covered with radiation burns, he's a jerk. When Ulana walks in, he assumes she's a nurse and bitches about the hospital's food. When she identifies herself, he rolls away from her and tells her not to come back unless she brings a butter and caviar sandwich.
- Badass Boast: Dyatlov isnt above using threats and intimidation to get the Control Room staff to do his bidding, as witnessed by this exchange with Akimov:Dyatlov: I don't know if I can make things better for you. But I can certainly make things worse.
- Bad Boss: Dyatlov instantly blames Akimov and Toptunov for "blowing up the hydrogen tank" and later sends them to manually open the coolant valves, an action that will certainly result in their deaths given how long they'll have to be down there. That would be defensible if it did any good, but by this point two different people have told him that the reactor has blown up and there is nothing left for the coolant to cool.
- Dyatlov is verbally and physically abusive towards his staff too, throwing objects at them whenever there's anything in his hands, calling them morons and slowpokes for following protocol, and blackmailing them into submission every time they challenge him.
- That said, unlike in the show, the real-life Dyatlov didn't try to blame Akimov and Toptunov for what happened; see the Artistic License page for more details.
- Believing Their Own Lies: Dyatlov is in such level of self-denial — the reactor did NOT explode, there is NO graphite on the ground, the radiation levels are normal and coming from the feedwater — that when he vomits from radiation sickness he can't even accept that and simply apologizes before falling unconscious.
- Blatant Lies: Dyatlov tries to dodge any blame at his trial by claiming he was on the toilet during the test. No one believes him for a second.
- Cryptic Background Reference: Dyatlov tries to reassure his subordinates claiming that he's "seen worse". In the original script, Dyatlov would have been revealed to have survived radiation poisoning from another accident twenty years before, but this was excised from the final cut, leaving the reference orphaned.
- Disease Bleach: Dyatlov's gray hair becomes white during his hospitalization for radiation poisoning.
- Dirty Coward: During his trial, he immediately tries to weasel out of any blame by: 1) Claiming he was on the toilet and not in the control room and never gave any commands. The literal, final words of half a dozen dying (and in unimaginable agony) men independently corroborate his direct involvement and presence in the control room, and all of it is on paper. No one in the courtroom buys it for even a second. 2) Immediately trying to pin all the blame on Legasov, claiming he was hiding something from him. Considering the fact that nearly everyone in the courtroom considered him and Boris national heroes at that point, he's instantly shut down.
- Dutch Angle: Shown this way the very first time he appears onscreen, moments after Reactor #4 has blown up, as the panicked control room technicians try and figure out what is going on.
- Establishing Character Moment: Dyatlov is stone cold in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, ordering his panicked subordinates to get back to work, even as it becomes ever more apparent that the safety test has gone disastrously wrong.
- Foil: To Legasov. Dyatlov is an uncaring Bad Boss who commits serious errors that causes a disaster, fails to work with others, and never accepts blame. Legasov works hard to prevent that disaster from getting worse, takes advice and assistance from others that he knows would relieve the situation, and even when he makes a mistake readily admits to it and works on other solutions to correct what he did wrong. He is also an abusive, demanding fool responsible for the disaster - versus Legasov, who is an informed, dedicated scientist taking full responsibility for averting further disasters.
- Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: When Perevozchenko burst into the control room claimed he just saw the core explode, Dyatlov thinks he is in shock and orders to take him to the infirmary.
- Hate Sink:
- Not a single individual who lays eyes on this man has anything but contempt for him. His subordinates despise and fear him, his superiors think he's a joke, and the scientists sent to clean up his mess ultimately feel he's a reckless jackass who very nearly destroyed half of Europe at the mere promise of a promotion. And that's before we get into his abuse of his workers and the blatant lying. On the flip-side, the audience hasn't loathed an HBO character this much since Joffrey Baratheon. It's a testament to Paul Ritter's fantastic performance.
- It continues after his trial, with Legasov pointing in his opening narration that he has become one in-universe. In an interesting twist, Legasov actually considers his status as The Scapegoat to be a double injustice: first because there were many more people who deserved punishment for their parts in the accident and its aftermath, but second because Dyatlov deserved death for his own crimes, rather than the comparatively lenient ten years in a labor camp that he got.
- Deconstructed. As despicable as he genuinely is, as Legasov notes above, the existence of a Hate Sink allows people to ignore the systemic issues that were also responsible.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: The real Dyatlov was most certainly a nasty piece of work who never took responsibility for his role in the disaster and wasn't a pleasant guy to work under. With that said, his major Kick the Dog moment—blaming Akimov and Toptunov for the disaster during his trial—goes against what really happened: Dyatlov adamantly insisted that Akimov and Toptunov were entirely blameless, that they only ever did what was instructed of them (and as best as they could with what they had), and that the flaws in the reactor designs caused their deaths. He even sent a letter to Toptunov's family, expressing condolences for his death and stating that he was an effective worker.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Zig Zagged. In the first episode, he is asked to go to see the core himself and report what he finds after insisting the core is still there, only to vomit and be taken out of the room, leaving Sitnikov to do it instead. Then he's one of the people who is severely ill due to radiation, but he survives while many others do not. In the end, he gets put in a labor camp and his eventual death much later is ultimately due to the radiation, though.
- Implausible Deniability: Dyatlov denies that Sitnikov saw graphite despite Dyatlov having seen the graphite himself.
- I Reject Your Reality: Dyatlov refuses to accept that the core has exploded. Even after multiple eyewitnesses tell him so and even after he has, in fact, seen it with his own eyes. He's so deep in denial that he then proceeds to send men to their deaths enacting containment protocols which are futile because there is nothing left to contain, misleads his direct superiors about what's happening, and outright screams in the face of one of his subordinates when his version of events contradicts what's happening in front of them. Given an absurd callback in Episode 4, after months have passed and Dyatlov is in the hospital, after barely surviving severe radiation poisoning. When Ulana starts her interview, he somehow finds it in himself to shoot back, "How do you even know there was an explosion?!"...and in response, Ulana shows him an aerial photo of a massive hole in the side of the reactor building. He just glares at her. It's not clear if even he really believed there was no explosion — or if the Soviet mentality of denying any fault is just that deeply ingrained into him that it's a reflex response.
- Jerkass: The guy has almost zero redeeming qualities as he's either a complete ass to everyone, threatening them, sending them to their deaths without a single care, or outright denying reality itself. More often than not, it's all of the above. He's rude, curt, arrogant and stubborn. According to his surviving coworkers, this was very much Truth in Television. Of particular note is that Dyatlov never admitted to any culpability for this disaster, right up to the day he died. He even wrote a book insisting that the disaster was solely the fault of the RBMK's design flaws, not the plant personnel (in other words, himself).
- Karma Houdini Warranty: He survived the accident and was released from prison in 1990 before dying of multiple organ failure from radiation in 1995.
- Kick the Dog: Tells Khomyuk that Akimov and Toptunov are to blame for everything that went wrong in the control room. This is after they are both dead, which is entirely his fault.
- Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Dyatlov presents himself as a genius of nuclear reactors who's forced to work with incompetent fools who keep trying to follow the stupid protocols, deliberately messing up his test. In everyone else's reality however, he has very little idea of what's actually going on inside the reactor core and his behaviour is suicidally reckless. For example, he thinks that a background radiation level of 3.6 roentgen per hour is acceptable while refusing to consider it could be higher since the dosimeter only goes that high, and the glowing air above the reactor is from the Cherenkov effect. A sleepy Legasov, on the other hand, notes that 3.6 roentgen means the situation is much worse than everyone realizes, and he needs only one look to know the glowing air is from the extreme radiation ionizing the air's electrons (and then de-ionizing, with the energy released as photons in the blue wavelength) while the Cherenkov effect applies to underwater reactors only.
- Never My Fault: Dyatlov might as well be the poster child for this trope. On top of his absurd denial that the explosion even happened, he tries to pin the disaster on Toptunov and Akimov during the immediate aftermath, his questioning, and trial. In Real Life, after his release from custody, Dyatlov wrote a book absolving his staff of blame for the tragedy — but he was likely still trying to cover his own ass in practice using the by-then publicized flaws in the RBMK reactor.
- Outliving One's Offspring: Though it was left out from the final product, his son died from leukemia as in real life.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: Dyatlov is a rare Played for Drama version. He is stubborn, tyrannical, and completely in denial about the consequences of his actions, so he just keeps making everything worse and sending people to their deaths. He even refuses to believe that there's graphite on the ground when he himself saw it, and has the audacity to question the explosion of the reactor until he is presented photographic evidence months later. Sadly, this is truth in television, as to the end of his life Dyatlov blamed the accident and its aftermath on everyone but himself.
- Psychological Projection: A very acute version of it. He brushes pretty much everyone trying to inform how utterly the terrible the situation is off as "delusional", but himself is in so deep denial about what has happened that it can pretty much only be described as a delusion.
- The Scapegoat: Legasov views Dyatlov's ultimate punishment as a double injustice: while he should have been executed rather than thrown in a gulag for the deaths his callous idiocy caused, he was merely the tip of the iceberg when it came to criminal stupidity, and was a convenient fall guy because he was such an obvious douchebag, gave the orders that directly led to the disaster, and didn't have important friends.
- Selective Obliviousness: Absolutely refuses to believe that the reactor could have actually exploded.
- Smug Snake: Is rudely dismissive of anyone beneath him, and outright lies to superiors to protect his ego even if it means people will die.
- Social Climber: He insisted on performing the test immediately in the worst conditions possible instead of waiting for a better day because he wanted a promotion.
- Sophisticated as Hell: His terse dismissal of Ulana Khomyuk when he realises she's not a nurse, but a nuclear physicist investigating the disaster.
- Surrounded by Idiots: How he sees himself. In reality, it is he who is wrong and everyone else who is right, but is too afraid to disobey him.
- Too Dumb to Live: He suggests that he go on the roof and look directly down into the core to check on it, just to prove that the core didn't explode and it was just a tank rupture. He then proceeds to void the contents of his stomach and collapse. This leads Fomin and Bryukhanov, somehow still in denial, to draft poor Sitnikov to do it instead. It doesn't end well.
Director Viktor Bryukhanov
Director in charge of the Chernobyl plant.
- '80s Hair: Sports a very hip, 80's feathered hairdo and power suit that makes him look like he's auditioning for a Wham video.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: He's polite and friendly to everybody who has more power, toes the party line when anybody is looking but will throw you under the bus with the same smile on his face if it will save his skin.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: His entire modus operandi is immediately blaming someone for something, practically to Black Comedy levels. Almost as immediately as he arrives, he begins to throw the reactor crew under the bus under the direction of Dyatlov. He, along with Fomin, already has a list of suspects prepared for Shcherbina by the time he arrives, and immediately tries to undermine Legasov as an alarmist spreading disinformation. When Shcherbina questions the graphite on the roof, Bryukhanov immediately turns and puts Fomin on the spot to explain the graphite.
- Establishing Character Moment: Bryukhanov is asleep during a critical test at his own power plant, and his first reaction to knowing that something happened at all is to order Fomin be woke up because "if I'm awake, he is too" — i.e. he is in charge, but he knows nothing about nuclear power, and his first reaction is to hide behind someone else to deflect responsibility or just plain "misery loves company". The first thing he mentions once Fomin and Dyatlov are in the conference room with him is the amount of higher-ranked people he will have to call because of the accident, putting his reputation first instead of trying to find a way to contain the disaster.
- Foil: To Shcherbina. Both are Soviet-era bureaucrats but where Bryukhanov is more eager to pass the blame to others and fails to take the disaster seriously (only seeing opportunity to kiss higher-ranking ass), Shcherbina takes the disaster seriously, works tirelessly to find material and men to resolve the crises, and ultimately rails against higher-ranking officials who keep fouling up clean-up efforts because they're too busy saving face. Bryukhanov cares only for getting promoted to jobs he's not fit for, while Shcherbina is a bureaucrat who turns out to care about making sure the job gets done and properly.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: He is portrayed advising against evacuating Pripyat but he advocated the opposite in reality. However, this was only published in English after filming had already begun. Mazin admitted that had he read this beforehand, he would have written the scene differently.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: Runs a nuclear power plant, has no idea how nuclear power works. He was an architect by trade, and was given the management position after supervising the plant's construction.
- Professional Butt-Kisser: It doesn't matter whose ass it is, if it's higher than Bryukhanov's nose he will kiss it. This is especially evident when the elderly Politburo member asks if anyone knows the real name of the plant and Bryukhanov eagerly answers. He's also the first to jump to his feet to applaud the Blatant Lies spewing from the top. In Episode 2, his brown nose is locked and loaded for Shcherbina's arrival, even though he was disparaging Shcherbina moments before he landed. And, of course, Bryukhanov is standing by with a list of "those responsible" for the accident.
- Slept Through the Apocalypse: He was asleep when reactor 4 exploded.
- Suit with Vested Interests: In Episode 5, it's revealed that Bryukhanov had a lot riding on the safety test going smoothly and on time. Especially when during the trial when it comes out that he falsified the reactor's safety report, saying it passed this particular test when it actually failed, so it could go on line as scheduled.
Chief Engineer Nikolai Fomin
Chief Engineer at the Chernobyl plant who drafted the safety exercise that led to the accident.
- The Alleged Expert: According to the podcast, all his education on nuclear engineering amounted to... a correspondence course. Mazin speculates that he was promised the position through political bickering, and that the course was the bare minimum that could be used to justify occupying it.
- Bad Boss: Fomin refuses to believe Sitnikov's report of the explosion and orders him to climb onto the plant roof to survey the site, which the latter obeys despite knowing that the rising plume will give him a fatal dose of radiation. The fact that, in order to ensure he goes up there, he's accompanied by an armed soldier doesn't help matters.
- Beleaguered Assistant: In every scene he shares with Bryukhanov, he is interrupted while trying to speak.
- Blatant Lies: Tries to pass the graphite chunks as "burned concrete".
- Chewbacca Defense: Fomin's speciality besides bullying his subordinates. His line of logic goes something like "if you can't explain how the reactor exploded, then it didn't explode." Too bad for him, Legasov doesn't need to explain how it exploded because first, the evidence is literally everywhere around them, and second, it's not relevant at the moment because there's man-made volcano spewing out dangerous amounts of radioactive smoke every second and their biggest priority should be covering the damn thing up.
- Dirty Coward:
- Nervous and eager to placate Bryukhanov at every turn, but my does he grow a spine when dealing with subordinates who have to listen to him, especially if they think they are undercutting him. He accuses Colonel General Pikalov of putting on a show to make them look bad, but not to his face, of course.
- Fomin keeps his eyes down through almost the whole trial, and especially towards the end.
- Once Pikalov reveals the dosimeter recorded 15,000 roentgen and Boris has him and Bryukhanov dragged away, he starts yelling off-screen that Dyatlov was the one in charge the night of the accident.
- Epic Fail: His attempt to pass off the graphite as burnt concrete. Shcherbina instantly sees through the bullshit because he has a background in working with concrete and what he saw on the roof sure as hell wasn't concrete.
- Establishing Character Moment: Fomin meets his boss Bryukhanov about an hour after the disaster. Fomin's first words are, "Whatever the cause, the most important thing is that you and I—" before Bryukhanov blows past him. Fomin is immediately established as a weasel covering his own ass.
- Foil: To Khomyuk. Where Khomyuknote is a legitimate nuclear scientist who knows what she's doing and is trying to save lives, Fomin is a bureaucrat whose actual knowledge about nuclear engineering is minimal at best, and is more interested in saving his own ass. Fomin is supposed to be an expert on nuclear engineering but really isn't and tries to bluff his way out of trouble, while Khomyuk is an expert on nuclear engineering who uses her skills to uncover the truth about the disaster and bluffs her way into the situation to try and fix things.
- Implausible Deniability: Fomin condescendingly demands to know how Sitnikov would think a reactor core can explode - not melt, literally explode - since that is "impossible". And when Shcherbina asks why is there graphite around the collapsed building (which would only be there if the reactor blew up, something Fomin has been already informed about by Sitnikov and rejected), he tries to dismiss it as "burned concrete".
- Jerk Ass Has A Point: In Fomin's defense, Dyatlov did change the parameters of the safety test on his own, to where the reactor would go out of control. Fomin still commits grave mistakes that gets others killed and under-reports the severity of the disaster in order to save his own ass.
- Karma Houdini: Possibly of the entire disaster. After he completed his hard-labor sentence at a Soviet gulag, he immediately went back to work at another power plant in an administrative position. At the very least by then, all of the RMBK reactors have been remedied of their flaw and no further (known) risky tests have been conducted under his watch.
- It is worth noting that happened to the real-life Fomin is both a bit more dramatic, yet also somewhat unclear. According to the available sources, he had a mental breakdown immediately following the incident and attempted to commit suicide. He then had yet another nervous breakdown following his sentencing and attempted suicide again. His unstable mental state resulted in him only serving one year in prison, after which he was instead transferred to a mental institution, where he was locked up for the next three years. Along with Dyatlov and Bryukhanov, the new Russian state granted him amnesty in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union, after which point he appears to have more or less disappeared from recorded history. The series' claim that he got work at another power plant ultimately appears inconclusive.
- Never My Fault: Fomin, established in the first episode as a weasel covering his own ass (see Establishing Character Moment above) continues this in Episode 2. After Bryukhanov and Fomin have been reassuring Shcherbina that everything is under control, Colonel General Pikalov returns from his ride through the plant and reports that the radiation levels are an extremely lethal 15,000 roentgen. Fomin immediately tries to pass the buck, screaming, "It was Dyatlov!" as Shcherbina's men drag him away.
- Smug Snake: As much as or even more so than Dyatlov. Certainly more abusive.
- Social Climber: The same as Bryukhanov and Dyatlov. They go ahead with the safety test because it will mean promotions for the three of them. After the other two leave, Fomin walks behind the director's desk and intently eyes his chair.
Night Shift Supervisor Aleksandr Akimov
The shift supervisor of the plant's night crew. He is forced to delegate power on Dyatlov during the experiment and is instantly blamed by him when something goes wrong.
- All for Nothing: Spends the whole night turning valves to cool a core that doesn't exist anymore, and dies of Acute Radiation Syndrome as a result.
- Alliterative Name: Although he is rarely called by his first name. Toptunov calls him "Sacha," which can be short for Aleksandr.
- The Atoner: In contrast to Dyatlov who is in total denial of the scale of the accident, Akimov knows they are responsible (although he is not as forthcoming as Toptunov) and heads down to manually open the water valves to cool a reactor core that has already exploded.
- Beleaguered Assistant: Briefly (and forcefully), to Dyatlov.
- Body Horror: He suffers from an even harsher case of ARS than Toptunov and Ignatenko. His legs become black earlier and his face disintegrates while he is still awake.
- The Cassandra: Does everything short of beg Dyatlov not to make them go through with the safety test. Dyatlov has to tell him multiple times what amounts to 'fuck off.'
- Cruel and Unusual Death: An even nastier case of ARS than other characters, if that is possible.
- Facial Horror: Khomyuk says that his face was "gone" by the time she interviewed him, though it's never shown to the audience. If it's too gruesome for even HBO to show...that paints a pretty clear picture.
- Fat and Skinny: Fat to Toptunov's Skinny.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Only his necrotized feet are seen while Khomyuk interviews him at the hospital. She later tells Legasov that his entire face had fallen off by the time she spoke to him.
- Ignored Expert: Dyatlov disregards his input and overrules him at any turn. Most importantly, Akimov correctly theorises that the reactor is stalling due to poisoning from Xenon 135, which causes instability and unpredictable swings in power; cancelling the test and shutting down the reactor is the only safe course of action. Dyatlov overrules him.
- Madness Mantra: After the accident, he keeps telling everyone that they did everything "right", as in, by the book. He is sort of right: they would have done everything according to instructions to the letter if not for Dyatlov overruling him.
- Protectorate: He takes Toptunov under his wing, doing his best to keep him calm and focused on the job at hand.
- The Scapegoat: Dyatlov immediately accuses him and Toptunov of blowing up the control system tank, even though he only followed Dyatlov's instructions.
- Shame If Something Happened: Dyatlov scares him into continued submission by saying that he may not be able to improve things for him, but he can make them worse. Episode 5 reveals Dyatlov gave him a similar threat even before the reactor exploded, saying that Akimov and Toptunov would not be working at Chernobyl, or at any other power plant, ever again if they did not raise the power up to 700 megawatts, specified for the test.
- Those Two Guys: Almost always seen, or referenced together with Toptunov.
Senior Engineer Leonid Toptunov
Akimov's young right-hand man at Reactor 4.
- All for Nothing: Turns the valves with Akimov, with the same results.
- The Atoner: He does recognize they must done something wrong, even if it was still right according to procedure.
- The Baby of the Bunch: Twenty-five and quite visibly younger than the other workers, flashbacks in the final episode reveal that he received a good deal of teasing for it around the workplace, while Akimov does his best to reassure him when they're assigned to the reactor test under Dyatlov's supervision.
- Body Horror: By the time Khomyuk meets him, his lips and outer skin are basically gone, and he's red and bleeding.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Also suffers from ARS.
- Deadly Nosebleed: A minor blood vessel in his nostril breaks after talking to Khomyuk.
- Fan Disservice: His full body shot while suffering from ARS at the hospital, with only a small cover on his genitalia.
- Fat and Skinny: Skinny to Akimov's Fat.
- Heroic BSoD: Already reduced to sobbing apologies by the sheer stress of the situation, Toptunov is left almost catatonic by the aftermath of the disaster. By the time Khomyuk interviews him, he can barely react to anything anymore.
- Tears of Fear: Starts crying while working the valves alongside Akimov, evidently realizing that he's completely screwed.
- The Scapegoat: Blamed by Dyatlov for the explosion, along with Akimov.
- Those Two Guys: Almost always seen or referenced along with Akimov.
- Wise Beyond Their Years: Khomyuk is surprised to learn that he was the Senior Engineer at the Reactor despite being only twenty-five.note
Senior Mechanical Engineer Aleksandr Yuvchenko
A large worker at Reactor 4.
- Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Did Yuvchenko return to help Degtyarenko after being left behind by Kudryavtsev and Proskuryakov, or did he go into Heroic BSoD immediately? In real life, Yuvchenko did not carry Degtyarenko (or any other worker), as there were others tending to the wounded, so he went to turn on the water (which he could not, since the room was in ruins), then to inspect the damage outside, and then run into Kudryavtsev and Proskuryakov while trying to return to the control room.
- All There in the Manual: Yuvchenkos fate isnt at all clear from events shown on screen. Without foreknowledge of the Real Life disaster, youd be forgiven for thinking hed simply died either in the plant itself or in hospital. In real life...
- The Big Guy: Towers over the other workers, is built like a rugby player, and is capable of carrying wounded over his back or opening and holding a big containment door by himself.
- Big Guy Fatality Syndrome: Yuvchenko gets 'dirty' first from transporting an early radiation victim (it is easy to mistake the marks on his uniform for blood - they are actually radiation burns), starts bleeding from his hip after holding the reactor's door, and sits down for One Last Smoke. In real life..
- Body Horror: Yuvchenko holds the door to the reactor room open, then starts bleeding profusely from the parts of his body exposed to the doorway as soon as he closes it.
- Composite Character: A minor example in that his actions after the explosion are combined with those of other plant worker, Gorbachenko, who carried a wounded colleague (Shashenok in reality, Degtyarenko in the show). Yuvchenko found both Degtyarenko and another disfigured worker he could not identify, but directed others to help them.
- Heroic BSoD: Stolyarchuk finds him sitting down among the ruins and covered in radiation burns after being left behind by Kudryavtsev and Proskuryakov. Stolyarchuk asks if he needs help, but Yuvchenko just asks for a cigarette and says that "it's over".
- Hero of Another Story: The Real Life story of Yuvchenko and his family in the aftermath of the disaster is quite remarkable in its own right.
- Last-Name Basis: Listed in the credits as Yuvchenko only.
- One Last Smoke: Yuvchenko sustains a huge amount of radiation burns from holding a huge metal door open and is incapacitated. When he's discovered, he forlornly asks for a cigarette, and rejects medical help by simply stating that "it's over". In real life...
- Redemption in the Rain: Symbolically, after his last smoke, he and Stolyarchuk get drenched by the water of the firefighters for a brief moment. Both of them would survive and live to tell their story.
Senior Control Engineer Boris Stolyarchuk
One of the workers within the control room the night of the accident, he was in charge of controlling the level of water passing through the pumps.
- All There in the Manual: Much like Yuvchenko, his fate is not made explicit after the first episode.In real life...
- Manly Tears: Being unable to convince Akimov and Toptunov to not waste their lives opening the valves to pump water to the now non-existent reactor, he can't help but weep.
- Only Sane Man: One of the few to actually believe that the reactor exploded instead of the hydrogen tank without needing visual confirmation.
- Redemption in the Rain: After finding a now despondent Yuvchenko who has resigned himself due to his radiation burns, both get lightly sprayed by hoses of the firefighters. He and Yuvchenko would live beyond the year 2000.
- Refusal of the Call/Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Downplayed. He is asked to help pump water by Akimov and Toptunov, but he refuses because he knows the water will do nothing. He begs them to not do it, but they go themselves anyway.
Deputy Chief Operational Engineer Anatoly Sitnikov
One of the higher-ranking workers, he's charged with assessing the level of radiation released in the disaster, and keeping Fomin and Bryukhanov informed on the crisis.
- Cassandra Truth: Dyatlov, Fomin and Bryukhanov all dismiss his warnings of high radiation levels, trying to blame faulty equipment, even though he insists used several different pieces of equipment and double and triple checked all the readings, and ignore his testimony of graphite on the ground — even when Dyatlov pukes his guts out and collapses right in front of them.
- Facial Horror: Suffers a fatal dose of 15,000 roentgen to the face.
- Face-Revealing Turn: After being forced to look down into the exploded reactor core, Sitnikov turns around to face the camera, revealing that his face is now scarlet and livid with radiation burns.
- Got Volunteered: With Dyatlov too sick to perform the job himself, Sitnikov is told that he is to ascend to the roof of the reactor building and assess the damage from there. It's not even phrased as an order, but as an established fact. For good measure, he's sent up in the company of an armed guard just to make sure that he goes through with it.
- Heroic BSoD: Sitnikov is left almost catatonic with despair after looking into the reactor, and it's clear from the look on his face that he knows he's a dead man walking. He doesn't even stir from his stupor even during the debriefing, in which Fomin and Bryukhanov are screaming at him in a blind panic because they cannot ignore the very visible damage the radiation has done to his skin.
- Ignored Expert: His attempts to inform the higher-ups of the danger result in him being screamed at by Dyatlov, ignored by Brykhanov and all but gaslighted by Fomin.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Called along with the rest of the day shift to help a crisis created by the night shift. He retrieves the good dosimeter, does a recon on his own and figures what happened. Yet his superiors refuse to believe him and send him to a horrible death.
- Oh, Crap!: Responds with deer-in-the-headlights fear to being assigned to a Suicide Mission.
- Readings Are Off the Scale: The first of the plant workers to bring this to his superiors' attention, alerting them to the fact that their high-range dosimeter burnt out and the mid-range one has already maxed out. He's ignored.
- Thousand-Yard Stare: Sports this expression when he finally looks away from the reactor, and maintains it even while his panicking superiors scream at him; the poor man knows he's already dead and there's nothing in the world that can be done to save him.
- Trauma Conga Line: Unbeknownst to him, he is denied the chance to helm the test himself during his shift and earn a promotion. The delay and Dyatlov's actions cause the disaster, and he is brought in to help. He realizes the core exploded but is not believed, and is then told to perform a suicide mission that was actually Dyatlov's idea. He is still not believed despite having radiation burns on his face, and suffers the ultimate, cruelest death by Acute Radiation Poisoning. All for doing something he did when he should be sleeping with his wife.
Engineers Alexei Ananenko and Valeri Bezpalov, Shift Supervisor Boris Baranov
Three Chernobyl employees who volunteer to open the sluice gates to drain the bubbler pools underneath the reactor, preventing a massive thermal explosion, but exposing themselves to lethal levels of radiation.
- Badass Normal: Three power plant employees who voluntarily risk an all but certain death to prevent a far worse disaster unfolding.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: They successfully open the sluice gates despite their flashlights dying on them, and all three survive their exposure.
- No One Could Survive That!: Despite everyone, including themselves, believing that they were dooming themselves to death by ARS, all three survived their ordeal. Ananenko and Bezpalov are still alive as of 2018 where they recieved medals for their bravery at an Ukrainian state cermony, while Baranov died in 2005 of a heart attack.
- Oh, Crap!: Episode 2 ends with both of their battery powered flashlights dying from the radiation, leaving them trapped panicking in a pitch-black maze of pipes, while their dosimeters are practically screaming from the radiation.
- Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: They were subjected to this in the years after the incident, as the Soviet state was in a great big hurry to cover up and hush down the event as much as possible, and so, in what was either a rather haphazard bit to prevent both nation and international press from trying to seeking out the divers for interviews or just some sort of bureaucratic mishap, it was intially reported that they had all three died from ARS in the weeks following their mission. This version of the story ended up being the one that was most frequently reported, even in Western media, and so became the commonly accepted story of the divers' fate. It ended up getting dispelled though, when the still very much alive Ananenko and Bezpalov atttended a Ukrainian state cermony in 2018 under great media attention.
- Suicide Mission: Open the bubbler pool sluice gates, allowing them to be drained, averting a thermal explosion that would make the initial disaster seem mild in comparison, but at the cost of absorbing so much radiation that all three will die within a week. They all survived.
- Those Three Guys: Almost always seen, or referenced as a group.
- Vodka Drunkenski: All three are each given a bottle of vodka after opening the gates.
Firefighter Vasily Ignatenko
One of the first responders to arrive at the plant after the explosion. Like the rest of the firefighters, he shows up equipped to fight what is supposed to be burning tar on the roof.
- And I Must Scream: When he enters the final stage of ARS, screaming is just about all he can do as any morphine administered literally leaks out of him before it reaches his brain. Several nurses were required to hold him down when it began.
- Body Horror: During his final moments, his body looks like a cadaver in late stages of decomposition... and he is still lucid.
- Contamination Situation: He receives such a lethal dose of radiation while trying to put out the roof fire that he himself becomes a source of contamination in practice.note
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Combined with Body Horror, Vasily easily experiences the absolute worst effects anyone can go through when exposed to insane amounts of ionizing radiation: First his body experiences light surface burns akin to solar burns, then boils, then apparent recovery...followed by deterioration so severe even morphine is useless. The last we see of him, patches of his skin have turned black as he's literally melting in his hospital bed.
- Happily Married: To Lyudmilla.
- Historical Beauty Upgrade: Shortly after the series aired, BBC News' Russian language division conducted an interview with the real Vasily's mother, Tatiana. At the beginning of the video, the journalist shows her the show's trailer, and she comments that her son had a much rounder face than his actor Adam Nagaitis.
- Hope Spot: He is reunited with his wife during the "Walking Ghost" phase of radiation, when he appears to be healthy but is actually in an irreversible path to a painful death.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: He wasn't even on duty at the time of the plant fire, but he went there anyway. And despite realizing that something very wrong was going on, he still volunteered to help put out the fire on the roof, which exposed him to record levels of radiation.
- Only Sane Man: He immediately twigs onto the fact that something is very, very wrong when he tastes metal in the air and sees random bits of graphite scattered about - enough to warn his comrades not to handle the stuff, though too late. Unfortunately, heroism comes with the territory of being a firefighter and he got too close to the reactor one too many times...
- Sacrificial Lion: Competent, professional, reports for duty even though he's not on shift, and genuinely in love with his pregnant wife. Guess who's ordered into the heart of the raging fire at the nuclear plant? Sadly, Truth in Television.
Wife of Vasily Ignatenko, who happens to be awake in the middle of the night when the blast occurs. When her husband Vasily is called in to help with the fire, she urges him not to go because even from a distance she can see it's no ordinary fire.
- Adaptation Explanation Extrication: The reasons she holds a pair of shoes at Vasily's funeral are because he was supposed to be buried in them, but his feet were too swollen; and also because she left for Moscow with nothing and had no photograph or service cap to represent her husband like the other wives and relatives did.
- Adult Fear: Lyudmilla gets a huge helping of this. She's pregnant at the time of the disaster and has to contend with her husband Vasily being one of the first responders to the fire, as well as potential harm to her unborn child. She loses both her beloved husband AND her baby.
- Lyudmilla talks to her neighbours who can't sleep with all the sirens and are going to watch the plant burn miles away as the fire is an unusual colour. With their young son and infant daughter. She later runs in on the father at the hospital; both he and the baby have burned skin from the radiation and are in great pain. He pleads for the relatively unscathed Lyudmilla to take his baby away with her.
- Determinator: Be in no doubt, Lyudmilla will stop at nothing to find and care for her beloved husband.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Well...as much as possible from an unimaginable crisis. Shortly after the death of her daughter, she was reported to have died as well from ARS. In truth, she bore another child - a son - who grew up but both have health issues from her exposure. It's not clarified whether her fate was a Soviet cover-up, or if she simply faked it.
- Happily Married: To Vasily.
- Imperiled in Pregnancy:
- Though not an immediate concern because the actual levels of radiation aren't publicly known, Lyudmilla's unborn child is being bombarded with radiation along with everyone else in Pripyat.
- Again when she goes into labor while in a public park in the middle of winter.
- Her Heart Will Go On: Her husband dies from ARS. She eventually gets to earn her happy ending.
- Heroic BSoD: After everything she's been through, when her and Vasily's baby dies she's shown sat in the hospital whilst staring at nothing in particular.
- Idiot Ball: More like idiot snowball. She's repeatedly warned by the hospital staff and Ulana not to stick around Vasily for too long, or especially touch him as his condition continues to deteriorate. She promptly ignores literally every piece of advice in spades while pregnant.
- Justified in part that not a lot of people back then understood how dangerous radiation exposure was. She wasn't the only one who kept exposing themselves during the early stages of the crisis. And that was her husband in there. Furthermore, Lyudmilla angrily points out to a doctor that no one else had bothered to check up on Vasily in the hours since she was allowed to visit him. The doctor admits that she had been preoccupied attending to the rest of the firemen.
- Love Makes You Dumb: Lyudmilla is warned by the doctors to not touch her husband and to spend no longer than 30 minutes with him. She hugs him immediately afterwards. Partially justified however by the fact that she was not told the reason why being near her husband was dangerous for her and the KGB was acting to prevent any sort of information that could compromise the Soviet's reputation to slip out.
- Morning Sickness: Implied to be the reason Lyudmilla is awake when Chernobyl explodes.
- My Secret Pregnancy: Lyudmilla hides her pregnancy from everyone, even her husband, so she can stay by his side at the hospital.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Her hard work to follow her husband and stay with him so he won't die alone results in her daughter being poisoned by radiation and dying after birth.
- Outliving One's Offspring: "The Happiness of All Mankind" ends with a depressed Lyudmilla sitting next to an empty cradle after the death of her daughter.
- Someone to Remember Him By: Cruelly subverted. While Lyudmilla's pregnancy comes to term, months after Vasily's death, her daughter dies four hours after birth because of having been exposed to radiation while in the womb.
- Trauma Conga Line: Prior to the disaster she has a loving husband, with whom she lives in one of the most modern and desirable towns in the Soviet Union and she is expecting their first child. By Episode Four, her husband is dead, shes been evacuated to an old, dirty apartment in Kiev and when she finally gives birth, the baby survives for only a mere four hours.
- Tragic Keepsake: Vasily's funeral shoes.
An old Communist Party member consulted on how to manage the crisis in the early hours.
- Allegorical Character: On two levels.
- A representation of the Soviet Union itself, and the generation that lived through the Russian Revolution, in particular. He wears a red tie, flag pin (used on screen to indicate either Party members or politicians), and is played by an actor in his mid-70s, the same age the Communist Party had in 1986.
- Of the two responses discussed by the managing plant in the beginning, the one that decided to keep it under wraps and not evacuate the town. The younger man he discusses with represents the more 'alarmist' position that advocated for the opposite.
- All There in the Script: His name is never mentioned on the screen.
- Believing Their Own Lies: Zharkov gives a speech to the local Soviet officials in Pripyat about how their system of socialism is the envy of the world and absolutely everything they claim it to be. He then justifies refusing to let information about the catastrophe get out by cutting the phone lines and closely regulating travel in and out of the area because naturally the workers of the Soviet Union don't want to worry about such things and would probably thank them for it. He gets a round of applause.
- Blind Obedience: His entire speech advocates the Soviet mentality of not thinking about anything that the Soviet state says, simply take it as a solid fact and do as it says.
- Break the Haughty: During the meeting, he's smug and self-assured. During the evacuation, he looks frightened and humiliated.
- Evil Old Folks: A despotic dinosaur.
- Karma Houdini: Is one of the local bureaucrats who advises against evacuation and cutting the phone lines to cover up the accident. We later see him among the thousands being evacuated in Episode 2, with no sign he will be punished for making things worse.
- Karma Houdini Warranty: Assuming he did not die from radiation related diseases, he would probably live to see the disolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of Communism around the world.
- This Is Going to Be Huge: His misreading of the situation makes him think that the local powers will be rewarded for keeping the crisis secret and (unbeknownst to him) obstructing its response and causing a greater disaster.
A fireman in Vasily's unit.
- Body Horror: He picked up a chunk of graphite — blown out from the reactor core, and just about the most radioactive piece of debris there was. At first, he started to get curious why his hand was getting numb and tingly, and minutes later is screaming in pain from a horribly burned hand, with the radiation having passed through his thick glove.
- Composite Character: There was a firefighter named Misha who spotted a chunk of graphite, but he was a driver. He saw another firefighter picking it up.
- Curiosity Killed the Cast: He picks up graphite and inspects it out of curiosity, unaware that it will almost certainly kill him.
- Fingore: Gets his hand and fingers scorched by handling a lump of radioactive graphite.
- First-Name Basis: Misha is short for Mikhail. He is not given a last name.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The graphite burns his hand. As a result, he cannot continue holding the hose and has to be replaced by Vasily. Vasily holds the hose right next to a chunk of graphite, where Misha previously stood, and is later included among the handful of firefighters that follow Pravik to the roof. While Vasily would have probably come down with some level of radiation poisoning, it was Misha's curiosity that ultimately led him to suffer a horrible death from ARS.
Dr. Svetlana Zinchenko
A doctor at the Pripyat hospital who is on duty on the night of the accident.
- Allegorical Character:
- Personifies the later, post-WW2 generation of Soviet doctors who was more up to western medicine standards, and which was overhelmingly female. Her older, male colleague personifies the older generation.
- She is also used to show how the USSR suffered from a lack of medical material even when the doctors knew what the proper treatment was. For example, she understands the danger that is to be in contact with acutely radiated people and their clothes, but doesn't even have discardable latex gloves to put on, and suffers radiation burns in her hands after taking the firefighters uniforms to the basement unprotected. As a result, she also shows the toll the disaster had on the responders.
- All There in the Script: Her name is not mentioned on screen and she is not seen again after Pripyat is evacuated. However, in the script for Episode 5, Khomyuk is reviewing her notes from her interviews with the victims and she starts to hear the voices of those who've died, including Toptunov, Vasily, and Sitnikov. Among those is Zinchenko, thus implying that she succumbed to ARS afterwards.
- Fingore: After disposing of the firefighters' irradiated uniforms, she discovers that her hand is turning livid with radiation burns. It's evidently not as severe as Mischa's case, but it's heavily implied to leave her with a case of ARS. The screenplay for Episode 2 makes this more explicit, as her hands need to be bandaged afterwards, and her condition has deteriorated by the time Pripyat is evacuated.
- Hospital Hottie: 4chan nicknamed her "Iodine Cutie".
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: One of the few characters with a clue of what's going on and doing her best to help, including getting the firefighters' heavily irradiated clothing as far from everyone else as possible. It is implied she gets a fatal radiation dose for her trouble.
- Only Sane Woman: When she sees the fire from Chernobyl, she asks another doctor if they have any iodine tablets. The doctor replies no and asks why they should have any.
- Uncertain Doom: She is not seen after Pripyat hospital is evacuated. A Deleted Scene in the script counts her among those who died, but it is unknown if this is canon.
- Women Are Wiser: She is a knowledgeable female doctor contrasted with an ignorant male doctor.
- Worst Aid: Averted. She is the only one who recognizes the seriousness of the injuries and immediately starts taking off the firefighters' clothes because they are contaminated.
Colonel General Vladimir Pikalov
The commanding general of the Soviet Army's Chemical Troops, who are sent to contain the fire at Chernobyl.
- Chest of Medals: He is a senior general of the Soviet Army. Naturally, this is a given.
- Composite Character: His role seems to be merged with that of General Nikolay Antoshkin, who was in charge of the helicopter drops.
- A Father to His Men: Upon being informed how dangerous it is to approach the burning core, immediately states that he will take the risk instead of ordering one of his soldiers to do it.
- Four-Star Badass: Technically a three-star, but boy does he fulfil this trope. When a truck is fitted to gain accurate radiation readings at the plant, Pikalov volunteers to drive it himself rather than have one of his men do so. He ends up recording over 15,000 roentgen, which would have been a lethal dose had his truck not been lined with lead. He survived the aftermath of Chernobyl, became a Hero of the Soviet Union, and died in 2003 at the age of 78.
- Frontline General: He doesn't order his men to take a risk he wouldn't take himself when recording the actual radiation levels.
- Old Soldier: A battle-seasoned veteran of World War II. He fought at Stalingrad, Kursk, and Berlin.
- Power Trio: With Legasov and Shcherbina. Pikalov is the top military official working with the pair from Moscow. Legasov provides the scientific knowledge, Shcherbina cuts through the red tape, and Pikalov executes the plan in the field. After the initial response is complete and the work becomes a less specialized, more logistical issue, he passes the baton to General Tarakanov and the Liquidators.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: His record is impeccable in the show in this regard. He volunteers for hazardous duty rather than ordering a subordinate to do it, and he lets Khomyuk speak to Legasov and Shcherbina after she breaks the security perimeter.
- The Stoic: Whether volunteering to deliver the dosimeter to the core, reporting back that the plant staff underreported the radiation levels by four orders of magnitude, or keeping a subordinate from taking on an insolent miner who just mouthed off to him, his demeanor never breaks. The only exception is when he delivers news to Legasov and Shcherbina that his helicopters have detected Zirconium-95 in the reactor smoke, indicating that the core meltdown has begun. He looks mildly concerned.
Major General Nikolai Tarakanov
The general in command of the "liquidators," military and civilian personnel who performed clean-up duties in the aftermath of the incident.
- Badass Baritone: Par for the course if you're portrayed by Ralph Ineson.
- The Brigadier: His rank is Major General, but in the Soviet Army, it is a one-star rank, making it the equivalent of Brigadier General.
- This trope actually refers to a character's personality as opposed to rank, but Tarakanov fits it perfectly anyway. He's a totally professional military leader but very respectful of Legasov and Shcherbina, carrying their orders out to a tee all while exposing himself to the same risks as they are by staying. As per the trope, he even tosses up Five Rounds Rapid as a solution for dealing with the graphite on the roof.
- Early-Bird Cameo: During the Politburo meetings of the first three episodes, Tarakanov is prominently focused on by the camera and he asks several questions, but it's not until Episode 4 that he interacts with other characters in earnest.
- A Father to His Men: Ensures that the liquidators do not take undue risks and personally thanks them when their duties are finished. The briefing and thank you speech are taken from real documentary footage.
- Frontline General: He is shown very close to the roof when he gives the liquidators their instructions on how to clear it.
- Hero of Another Story: While it is not mentioned, Tarakanov helped coordinate relief efforts following the 1988 Armenian earthquake, efforts which were also headed by Boris Shcherbina.
- Power Trio: Fills this role after Pikalov in Episode 4. Legasov is the scientific brain of the operation, Shcherbina is the political mastermind, and Tarakanov is the guy in the field making things happen. Tarakanov is shown to be much more involved in brainstorming with the main characters than his predecessor, which makes sense as the operation has gone from directing specialized chemical troops to a much larger mix of general support personnel. Regardless, Legasov and Shcherbina obviously hold him in respect as they did with Pikalov, and you know you're "one of the guys" when Boris pours you a drink.
A new Soviet Army conscript that was drafted to help clean up Chernobyl.
- Allegorical Character: Although he is not one specific historical character, Pavel represents the thousands of young conscripts that were brought up in the months after Chernobyl to help with the decontamination efforts, who were (and still are) known as "The Liquidators", and serves as a face for the toll that the disaster took on his generation.
- Ambiguously Brown: Has somewhat Asian looking facial features, implying he might be from somewhere in Central Asia or Siberia. His actor is Irish, however.
- Audience Surrogate: He is put on pet killing duty even though he doesn't even know how to load his firearm. This way, he serves as a window to introduce this aspect of the cleanup to a modern audience who might find trouble identifying with the POV of a grizzled veteran like Bacho.
- First-Name Basis: He is almost always referred by his first name in the series, but at the end of the third episode, the recruiting officer reads Pavel's identification papers loud: "Pavel Ivanovich Gremov".
- Heroic BSoD: Refuses to shoot puppies discovered in the abandoned area, even though he knows the animals can't be allowed to get exposed to radiation and spread it elsewhere.
- Innocent Blue Eyes: His clear blue eyes helps to underline his status as the newbie of his small unit.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: After refusing vodka from Bacho on the morning of his first day, he acquiesces and downs a couple of glasses by lunchtime after shooting his first pet.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Is in quite a funk after shooting his first dog. Bacho consoles him by telling him It Gets Easier.
- New Meat: Literally. He has barely a month or so of experience in the Soviet Army (having been called up for military service in June) when he was sent to Chernobyl.
- The Quiet One: He only has about 10 lines of dialogue.
- The Watson: The audience learns how the pet killing is done, and how the pets survive in the abandoned area, from Bacho's explanations to Pavel.
- Younger Than They Look: By the end of Episode 4, after a few months working as a liquidator, he already looks like an old war veteran, a sharp difference to the boy like appearance he first had when he was conscripted.
A Soviet Army soldier who had fought in Afghanistan and now has been assigned to the Liquidators.
- Allegorical Character: Represents the veterans of the Soviet-Afghan War, which was concurrent with the Chernobyl disaster and also played a critical role in fostering the collapse of the Soviet Union.
- Ambiguously Brown: He looks somewhat Middle Eastern, but his name and dialogue suggest that he's Georgian. The actor is Swedish of Lebanese descent.
- Deadpan Snarker: Displays a wry, world-weary sense of humor when showing Pavel the ropes.
- Dirty Business: Accepts the necessity of his job, but he clearly doesn't enjoy it. He sincerely tells Pavel that he'll kill him if he lets any of the animals he shoots suffer before their deaths.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Is constantly drinking vodka and encourages Pavel to join in. It' Truth in Television: The liquidators were practically showered in drink - they were told it would help protect them against radiation (it wouldn't, but it would certainly help them cope with the horrible situation).
- A Father to His Men: Even though he's only got two men under his command, he takes care of them anyway. When he discovers that the fresh-faced Pavel has no real military experience at all, he immediately takes him under his wing and basically treats him as a younger brother. When Pavel can't bring himself to shoot a litter of puppies, Bacho tells him to wait outside while he does it himself.
- It Gets Easier: When he shot his first man in Afghanistan, he confesses he was so frightened he couldn't touch the trigger for a day. He then explains that he ultimately got over it and he's more comfortable with killing now. He says the same to Pavel when it comes to shooting contaminated dogs and is proven right.
- Mr. Exposition: A lot of his time is spent explaining Pavel the situation and what they must do.
- Must Have Nicotine: Even in a show where Everybody Smokes, he stands out for exclusively smoking filterless Meteor.
- Sergeant Rock: He's a Senior Warrant Officer (three stars insignia) who is a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and it definitely shows. Bacho is shown intimidating other troops from different units into giving him what he wants and needs, such as the makeshift lead armor to protect against radiation.
- Shoot the Dog: Bacho is in fact employed to shoot dogs. However, he shoots said dogs because they are contaminated with radioactive material and letting them wander out of the containment zone would contaminate even more areas. He recognizes that it is a dirty business and while he takes the "shooting puppies" part in stride, he also orders his men to never let the dogs suffer.
General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev
The leader of the Soviet Union, who was only selected the previous year.
- The Chains of Commanding: Legasov stresses that he will need to order men to their deaths in order to contain the disaster, leading to the image quote above.
- The Ghost: Doesn't appear after Episode 3, but Shcherbina demands a Kremlin official over the phone to "tell fucking Gorbachev!" while venting his rage at the Politburo's refusal to reveal the actual extent of the radiation levels to the West Germans.
- Cool Old Guy: Gorbachev was historically known to be extremely cool-headed and open-minded, much to the dismay of some of the old-world Communists at the time (and to this day even...), and that's on full display in the series. He won't suffer emotional outbursts from people he doesn't know for even a second, but will allow them to recompose themselves and present their case calmly and logically.
- Distinguishing Mark: His famous port wine-stained birthmark on his bald head.
- Glasses Pull: Gorbachev is told by Legasov and Khomyuk that in 48-72 hours the hot pile of slag that is the reactor core will hit the water under the reactor, and will cause a radioactive steam explosion that will render all of Ukraine and Belarus, home to sixty million people, uninhabitable. Oh, and by the way, that's after it kills all of the two million or so people in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Gorbachev, obviously struggling to remain calm as this news hits home, limits his freakout to pulling his glasses off.
- The Needs of the Many: The only plan that will empty the water tanks in time and save eastern Europe from complete annihilation will lethally poison the few who attempt it. It's a question of a handful versus a million, but Gorbachev's face says that knowledge doesn't help.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The next time we see him in Episode 2, he's visibly furious and chews out his subordinates after Sweden alerted the United States about something wrong within the Soviet Union.Gorbachev: Ten minutes, and I'm back on the phone. Apologising to our friends, apologising to our enemies. Do you have any idea of the harm this has done? Do you have any idea what is at stake!? Our power comes from the perception of our power!
- Oh, Crap!: When Legasov explains in simple terms what exactly would happen to the areas affected by the possible explosion.
- Poor Communication Kills: People attempt to pull it on him, but he manages to avert it. At first, he isn't informed about the severity of the disaster, but he's willing to give Legasov his time to speak, because he's the nuclear physicist in the room. Legasov tells him the whole truth and is authorized to use whatever resources needed to contain the radiation.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: At first, Gorbachev seems pretty unconcerned with what's happening at Chernobyl, if only because the upper echelons of the Soviet government have been outright misleading him about how bad the accident actually is. When Legasov (who can tell how bad it is just by flipping through a preliminary report) freaks out when they try to adjourn the meeting, he castigates the professor for speaking out of turn, but decides to hear him out nonetheless. He is the expert, after all, and they are not. Instead of dismissing Legasov's concerns, he orders Shcherbina to go to Chernobyl and report directly to him. Once he is able to grasp the seriousness of the disaster, he grants Shcherbina and Legasov anything they need to combat it, even when they say they will need all of the liquid nitrogen in the Soviet Union. He also dispatches Legasov to go with Shcherbina after bluntly asking the latter if he knows how a nuclear reactor works.
- In a later meeting, when Legasov and Ulana tell him just how bad it could get, he's visibly horrified and orders Legasov to do whatever it takes to try and stop it from getting any worse.
- This stems from the fact that Gorbachev was the youngest leader in Soviet history and the first to have been born after Red October. As part of the post-revolution generation, he did not live through the era of high-level political maneuvering characteristic of Stalin, where people would do anything to save their own skin.
- Sadistic Choice: If the molten, radioactive sludge hits the full water tanks, the explosion will be worse than nuking Eastern Europe — the Ukraine and Belarus will be uninhabitable, and the death toll will reach millions. There's only three days, maximum, to make a decision, and the only hope of maybe putting it out in time is a plan that will irradiate everyone involved to death inside a week. And it's Gorbachev who has to send them to their deaths.
Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Charkov, KGB
High-ranking official of the Soviet KGB, present at the briefings Legasov and Shcherbina give at the Kremlin.
- Allegorical Character: Serves a representation of the Soviet Union, something of an Evil Counterpart to Zharkov. Specifically, he embodies the totalitarian flip side of Zharkov's precious worker's utopia.
- Big Bad: Becomes this in the final episode, as representative of an obstructive government that doesn't want the truth to get out.
- Cruel Mercy: How he decides to deal with Legasov. Since executing him would cause an international embarrassment, he decides to remove Legasov from all positions of influence and let him live out his remaining days in anonymity, all while others are credited for his work. Ultimately subverted when Legasov does something he didn't expect.
- Deadpan Snarker: When Legasov points out that he has arrested Ulana, Charkov points out that as Deputy Chairman of the KGB, he does not have to deal with arresting people anymore.
- Didn't See That Coming: While he's busy planning to effectively isolate Legasov from his colleagues, and eventually put the Professor's life and work into obscurity, Legasov takes his own life. His audio tapes detailing everything about the disaster circulate through the Union, sending shock-waves through its nuclear industry. The design flaws of the RBMK reactors can no longer be kept secret.
- Dissonant Serenity: Russians are stoic by nature but Charkov is unnervingly emotionless during all of the briefings. He never raises his voice, always speaks with gentle reassurance, and smiles as if he's got Death himself under surveillance.
- Very subtly subverted in the episode 2 Politburo briefing where Legasov and Kholmyuk explain the the danger of a thermo-nuclear explosion due to the water underneath the reactor. When Kholmyuk said the explosion would be between 2 and 4 megatons, you see him very briefly look down with his mouth slightly open in shock. He has his composure back a few seconds later when he is next in shot and doesn't lose it again. Chillingly, he doesn't bat an eyelid when it is explained that to avert the disaster a suicide mission will be required.
- The Dreaded: Charkov and his agents represent a danger as omnipresent and lethal as the radiation from Chernobyl for anyone foolish enough not to take appropriate precautions. Shcherbina is especially wary and respectful of their influence throughout the series, and is constantly reminding Legasov and Khomyuk of the danger they represent.Shcherbina: Lastly, Professor Legasov and I have been vigilant to protect the security interests of the state. And since the unfortunate release of information directly following the accident, we believe there has been no further lapse. Comrade Charkov, we hope we have lived up to the highest standards of the KGB.
Charkov: You have.
- Faux Affably Evil: He never drops his polite tone even when it's clear he's very pissed off at Legasov for exposing the Kremin's incompetence in front of the international community and is threatening to punish him for it.
- Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Many of the characters wear large, heavily rimmed glasses but Charkov's are tinted just enough to slightly obscure his eyes. You do not want to give him a reason to look at you.
- Early-Bird Cameo: He first appears during the meeting with the Central Committee in the second episode with several camera shots focused on him, but it's not until the next episode that he's formally introduced.
- Grand Inquisitor Scene: Gets a very Nineteen Eighty-Four-esque when he decides to personally interrogate Legasov after the trial.
- Hannibal Lecture: His speech to Legasov after he gets arrested for criticizing the government during Dyatlov's trial."You're one of us, Legasov. I can do anything I want with you. But what I want the most is for you to know that I know. You're not brave. You're not heroic. You're just a dying man who forgot himself."
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: He is actually fictional. However, he looks much like his would-be superior, the unnamed-in-the-show KGB Chairman, Viktor Chebrikov.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: His purpose is to get in everyone's way so he can cover up the truth and make sure the Central Committee keeps their good image.
- "Reason You Suck" Speech: Subverted with Legasov; He gives him one, sure, but it has no teeth since he can't kill him for speaking out against the state and even his Cruel Mercy is pretty hollow since they both know Valery is a dead man walking. Legasov gets the final word both literally and figuratively.Legasov: And if I refuse?
Charkov: Why worry about something that isn't going to happen?
Legasov: "Something that isn't going to happen"? [laughs] Oh, that's perfect! We should put that on our money.
- Tempting Fate: He brags to Legasov that the latter doesn't have to balls to defy the KGB. Less than a year passes before he's proven very wrong.
Deputy Secretary Garanin
A Communist Party official in Minsk.
- The Alcoholic: Either this or was trying to diss Khomyuk before throwing her out - or both. Despite stereotypes, pouring himself some vodka in his desk and sipping it in front of a stranger was very poor form in the Soviet Union.
- Allegorical Character:
- Of small government officials in the USSR, capable of coming from the humblest origins as long as they made sure they followed the party line.
- Also of science negationists, be it out of ignorance, anti-intellectualism, political gain, or all of the above.
- Asshole Victim: His hostility to Khomyuk ensures he doesn't receive iodine pills from her, unlike his secretary. A Deleted Scene would have shown him worried about radiation during the May 1 celebrations, but forced to keep quiet and participate in them.
- Chest of Medals: He has a handful of medals of his chest (all of them civilian), to signify his status. He was supposed to put them all for a parade in a Deleted Scene.
- Demoted to Extra: He wasn't actually meant to appear in more than two scenes, but one of them was still cut.
- Dude Where Is My Respect: He flaunts his administrative superiority when Khomyuk calls him out on his negation of the danger despite being presented with evidence and his own ignorance on the subject.
- Fat Bastard: He is uncooperative, a Jerkass, and morbidly obese.
- I Reject Your Reality: Outright tells Khomyuk, "I prefer my opinion to yours."
- Jerkass Has a Point: While an asshole right out of the gate, making it abundantly clear that he does not respect her profession at all, you can kind of see where he's coming from in not taking her all that seriously. Minsk is a major, heavily populated city and evacuating it at the behest of a single scientist with tenuous evidence isn't exactly a reasonable course of action for the city government to take, particularly when you consider that Moscow (which has been horrifically misinformed) has already told him that the problem is not particularly serious.
- Know-Nothing Know-It-All: He determines the situation is not that bad because other higher ranking politicians have told him so. When a nuclear scientist tells him it is bad after all, his reaction is not even to think he'd consider and transmit that information to his superiors, but to cuss scientists out.
- Last-Name Basis: His first name is never stated.
- The Masquerade: He knows that something is going on in Chernobyl, but has been told to keep quiet. The deleted scene drives the point further by having him voice his concern about having people parade downwind from the catastrophe, but being talked into joining and exposing himself to the radiation just to keep the public ignorant.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: He refuses to follow Khomyuk's advice or even to share her concerns with his superiors.
- Rags to Riches: Khomyuk points out that before he became deputy secretary, he worked in a shoe factory. In the podcast, Craig Mazin states that this was extremely common for many Soviet politicians. If you did your job at the factory well, eventually you would become a shift leader. Then you would become the foreman of the factory. Then you would be appointed to the board of directors for the factory. From there, political advancement.
- Sleazy Politician: Subverted, if not deconstructed. He has the looks and the manners, but he follows the party line and as far as we know, he does not abuse his office for personal gain nor did he get it in an illegal or immoral way. And yet, it is this very respect for the norms that is endangering his people.
The prosecutor for the trial of Dyatlov, Bryukhanov, and Fomin.
- The Man Behind the Man: He's the one calling the shots in the trial, as the judge waits for Stepashin's acquiescence before making any real decision.
- Not So Stoic: Stepashin is an authoritative presence, but is as unemotional as one would hope a prosecutor would be. However, he won't stand for even the slightest hint of chaos in the courtroom, reminding Legasov of his status as a witness, not a prosecutor when he tries to engage with Dyatlov. When Dyatlov tries to weasel out of the consequences by claiming he was at the toilet at a critical moment, Stepashin is also clearly angered by the attempt at deception. He seems downright offended by such a blatant lie, and angrily rebukes Dyatlov with the evidence available.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Gives one to Dyatlov when he claims to not be in the room during the test.
Crew Chief Andrei Glukhov
- A Father to His Men: Glukhov is fiercely protective of the welfare of his mining crew. He insists on starting work immediately, before all the equipment has arrived, so that his men can get home quicker and pointedly asks Shcherbina if they will all be taken care of after their task is finished. When Pikalov refuses to allow the miners to use ventilation fans to cool the scorching temperature of 50'C / 122'F inside the tunnel underneath the reactor core, Glukhov, a working-class civilian, even has the audacity to swear and chew out a high-ranking military officer!
- Allegorical Character: Personifies the miners of Chernobyl and showcases the unexpected power they had in the 1980s USSR, due to the importance of their work for the Soviet economy.
- All for Nothing: He and his men were brought in for a very specific purpose: Dig beneath the plant and install a heat exchanger to prevent the radioactive sludge from contaminating the groundwater. The chance of the lava melting through the concrete was about 40%, thus better safe than extremely sorry. In the end, dozens of his men ended up dead from radiation exposure...and the lava never melted through the concrete, rendering the heat exchanger pointless.In real life...
- Almighty Janitor: Glukhov is a crew chief for a crew of miners. And yet, he is not only unintimidated by soldiers coming with assault rifles but pressures the Coal Minister into telling his crew the truth. All officials who have to deal with Glukhov and the miners tread carefully with him.
- Armor-Piercing Question:
- When the coal miners arrive in Pripyat, Pikalov's troops issue them breathing masks. When he meets Legasov and Shcherbina, their foreman Glukhov notices that two of the leading authority figures on the site aren't wearing them, prompting him to ask, "If these really work, why aren't you wearing them?" Both of the men are speechless.
- The same conversation has Shcherbina and Legasov tell him that the miners will have to dig 12 meters deep. When he asks why, the answer is "for your own protection", because of the radiation. Glukhov points out that a, they aren't 12 meters below ground right now, b, nor will the miners be for a while till they get to that depth.
- Gets an Armor-Piercing Response that earns some begrudging respect because Legasov and Shcherbina aren't giving him orders over a telephone from somewhere safe.
- He does it again when he asks Shcherbina if the government will take care of his men when their work is done (and implicitly, they become sick), but in a roundabout way, it is Shcherbina's reply ("I don't know") that leaves him speechless.
- When the coal miners arrive in Pripyat, Pikalov's troops issue them breathing masks. When he meets Legasov and Shcherbina, their foreman Glukhov notices that two of the leading authority figures on the site aren't wearing them, prompting him to ask, "If these really work, why aren't you wearing them?" Both of the men are speechless.
- Awesomeness by Analysis: Is an extremely sharp observer and doesn't mince a single word. Boris promptly warns Legasov not to lie or dance around the truth with him. He does so anyway and is effortlessly humiliated for it.
- Badass Boast: The Coal Minister himself shows up at the mine with armed guards to request the services of the miners. Glukhov tells them they don't have enough bullets to kill them all, and whoever is left will tear them apart.
- Big "SHUT UP!": An apparent fan of this.
- When the Minister of Coal goes to draft the miners to dig under the reactor to make way for the heat exchanger, Glukhov defiantly refuses to go outside the mine without being told what the job is. When a soldier accompanying the Minister says they have no right to speak that way Glukhov responds: "You, shut the fuck up!" and adds that if even he and his companion shoot them, they won't have enough ammo to kill everyone, and the remainding miners "will beat the living piss out of you!"
- Similarly, when a soldier tries to intervene while Glukhov is arguing with Pikalov over the fans, Glukhov immediately cuts him with a giant "Who the fuck is talking to you?!"
- Brutal Honesty: He has no patience for the government's bullshit and never withholds his opinions on things, even when speaking to armed soldiers.
- Comically Missing the Point: When Legasov tells Glukhov that working naked exposes the miners to more radiation, Glukhov counters that they're still wearing the hats.
- Comic Relief: In an inherently grim and depressing series where the funniest thing to happen is Shcherbina's constant frustration with Legasov, Glukhov is the first intentionally humorous character. Given the circumstances, it's all Gallows Humor, but having spent two decades in one of the most hazardous professions in the world, he can't help but be a little fatalistic.
- Deadpan Snarker: Miners produced the energy which ran the country and they knew it. Glukhov doesn't hold his opinions or snide comments back no matter who he's talking to.
- Establishing Character Moment: He's introduced telling a joke about absurdly inefficient Soviet technology, demonstrating that he doesn't have a particularly high opinion of the Soviet Union."Comrades, what's as big as a house, takes 20 liters of fuel every hour, puts out a shitload of smoke and noise, and cuts an apple in three pieces? (beat) A Soviet machine made to cut apples into FOUR PIECES!"
- Famous-Named Foreigner: There was an Andrei Glukhov working at the Chernobyl power plant.
- Frontline General: He goes down to business and does the same work and in the same conditions as his men.
- Full-Frontal Assault: When denied fans despite the temperature in the tunnel rising to 50ºC/122 F, due to the increased risk of breathing radioactive particles, he and his men resort to working in the nude so they don't pass out. Glukhov is quite unashamed of it, stating that his father and grandfather worked the same way.
- Male Frontal Nudity: No Scenery Censor here, this is HBO!
- Nice Hat: It is the one piece of the uniform he keeps on (besides shoes), and he makes notice of it.
- Working-Class Hero: Glukhov is an embodiment of the Soviet miners who risked their lives to save the millions of people in Europe from the worst outcomes of the disaster.