This page lists tropes applying to specific characters in the Chernobyl miniseries.
Vnimanie! All spoilers unmarked. Proceed at your own risk.
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 Apocalypse Brings Out the Best in People: As Charkov reveals in Episode 5, Legasov has spent much of his life as a devout Party man; it's Chernobyl that finally shatters his faith in the system and brings him to openly challenge it.
- 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.
- Brutal Honesty: When it's pointed out to him during the trial that his testimony contradicts the testimony he'd previously given at Vienna, Legasov quite calmly admits that the testimony he'd given at Vienna had been lies.
- 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, and is burdened by guilt about his own past actions. All of this ultimately leads him to a tragic fate.
- Cannot Tell a Lie: Lying troubles him and he is unconvincing when he does. He gets over this by episode 5 when he successfully lies to Charkov about Shcherbina and Khomyuk's involvement in his testimony, and before that had no problem lying to the world scientific community when speaking about the accident at a conference in Vienna. The real Legasov lampshaded this to his colleagues from the Kurchatov Institute after returning from Austria.Legasov: I did not lie in Vienna, but I did not tell the whole truth.
- 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 make—particularly sending workers to their deaths.
- 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 again and actually does turn out to be the protagonist.
- 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-induced cancer, isolated from his friends and life's work, and overwhelmed by the gross negligence surrounding the incident at Chernobyl, Legasov hangs 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:
- In his first scene. While arranging his cassette memoirs in their newspaper wrapping, he notices that cassette #6 is upside-down compared to the rest of them and corrects it before wrapping the bundle. Even minutes before his death, he is meticulous and cares about order and clarity.
- During their first phone conversation, 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, contrasting him with the two other antagonistic characters who have commented that the level of radiation is "not great" but not too bad.
- The scene in the helicopter where he warns the pilot not to fly over the core in defiance of Shcherbina's orders is also great setup for Legasov's defiance of the broader Soviet state later on as well as his Science Hero qualities.
- Fate Worse than Death: Following his testimony, where he reveals that the accident at Chernobyl was caused not simply by human error, but by the Soviet system itself, which allowed for the construction of faulty nuclear reactors and the appointment of incompetent management, Legasov is 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 appearance in 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. All that he's done and what little he will do will be attributed to his subordinates, and he will simply fade into obscurity. However...
- 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 other's 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.
- HeelFace Turn: While he was originally complicit in covering up the design flaws of the RBMK reactors, when Chernobyl's reactor #4 exploded, he was one of the main voices pushing for changes needed to avoid such a situation from repeating.
- 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.Legasov: I went willingly to an open reactor. I've also given my life. Is that not enough?
Khomyuk: I'm sorry, but it is not.
- Historical Beauty Upgrade: The real Legasov had more exaggerated features (ears, nose, and jawline). In the podcast, Mazin says 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.
- 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.
- Kindhearted Cat Lover: Valery's cat is his companion seen before the accident and two years later (an in the very first shot of the show). He 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" Remark: As Charkov points out in episode 5, he threw many of his Jewish 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: The impulsive, intellectual Legasov and grumpy, weary Shcherbina eventually become this. Legasov's idealistic tendencies and adherence to scientific principles 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 they are able to carry out an effective plan. In Episode 2 they begin glancing toward one another for confirmation whenever a decision has to be made, 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.
- 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.
- 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 continues forward because he feels that it is his duty as a scientist to keep finding out more.
- Science Hero: Tragic variety.
- Unperson: Legasov is subjected to a downplayed version by the KGB as punishment after coming clean at the trial. He won't be executed or made to outright disappear, because he represented the Soviet Union to the world at the IAEA conference about Chernobyl, so just straight up shooting him and then deleting all records of his existence would simply attract too much attention (which would be rather "embarrassing"). He will therefore be allowed to live and keep his job and his credentials—except he won't be allowed to do anything ever again with either of them. His job will be reduced to an empty title and he will receive no actual work. He will be left alone in his apartment, he won't be allowed friends, no one will talk to him, no one will talk about him. What the KGB doesn't count on is Legasov's Thanatos Gambit.
- Thanatos Gambit: Knowing that he'll be dead soon from radiation exposure anyway, Legasov commits suicide after leaving tapes explaining the mess at Chernobyl, intended for someone to find and release them, shocking the nuclear industry and forcing the Soviets to act—which is exactly what happens.
- The Worm Guy: Gets volunteered because of his knowledge of science relevant to what is going on in Chernobyl. Shcherbina calls him up, confirms that he's an expert in nuclear physics, and promptly informs him that he's been appointed to the committee in charge of the disaster fallout.
- Your Days Are Numbered: From the moment he arrives at Chernobyl, his life expectancy begins decreasing with each minute he spends exposed to the open reactor. By the prologue, he's coughing blood and losing hair—but he kills himself before the radiation can do it for him.
- 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 of debris.
Boris Shcherbina, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Head of the Bureau of Fuel and Energy
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 right he slams the vodka.
- The Apocalypse Brings Out the Best in People: Before the disaster, he's 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:
- Upon arriving at the Chernobyl site, and having just come to appreciate how severe the situation is, Scherbina confronts Bryukhanov and Fomin, who attempt to accuse Legasov of fearmongering. Scherbina simply asks them, "I understand you think Legasov is wrong. How shall we prove it?" The two men are at a complete loss as to how to reply.
- Even before this, he demonstrates that he's not just the dumb careerist empty-suit from Moscow they dismissed him as and knocks them utterly off-balance when he suddenly throws in a question they both weren't expecting him to ask and were desperately hoping he wouldn't know he even should ask: "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.
- 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, indicating his inevitable death from cancer.
- Conditioned to Accept Horror: He is used to the machinations and politics of the Soviet Union, which means that he is extremely calm when faced with them.
- Character Development:
- In their first briefing together, Shcherbina attempts to dismiss Legasov's Sudden Principled Stand and Gorbachev tells him to back off and let Legasov finish. In Episode 5, it's Shcherbina who supports Legasov's Sudden Pricipled Stand in the courtroom and insists to other officials that he be heard.
- 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". The real Shcherbina was familiar with concrete because both he 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.
- Deuteragonist: He's the second-most important character in the series after Legasov, the protagonist.
- Establishing Character Moment: Has essentially two: the first on the phone call 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 arrives 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 other's 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 befits 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.
- Heroes' Frontier Step: Shcherbina is initially presented as yet another propaganda-believing party man, but he proves himself a Badass Bureaucrat over the course of the series, and it starts with him, having finally gotten confirmation of the severity of the situation, storming off—he's not pulling a Screw This, I'm Outta Here!, he's setting wheels in motion on a scale that no other character can thanks to his party connection.Legaslov: Where are you going?!
Scherbina: I'm going to get you five thousand tons of sand and boron!
- Heroic BSoD: After Legasov blurts out that they'll both be dead within five years from the level of radiation they've already been exposed to, he enters a state of shock from which he does not emerge for many hours, even delegating their briefing with Gorbachev to Legasov and Khomyuk. He doesn't shake it off until the plant workers require more convincing than Valery can provide to dive under the reactor and drain the control tanks.Shcherbina: I'm making my peace with it, and now you make yours.
- He's Back!: He spends the next several scenes after his Heroic BSoD moment in quiet shock, choosing to let Legasov and Khomyuk 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.
- 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.
- 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 Hero Upgrade: The real Scherbina was much more of an Obstructive Bureaucrat than this version, and held up the evacuation of Pripyat by several days. He was also a stern taskmaster who ran the men working to contain the situation to the ragged edge by enforcing Moscow's impossible timetables.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: His initial hostility towards Legasov. In real life, the two were cordial and respectful towards one another from the get-go.note
- Humble Hero: He confesses that he always felt like an inconsequential man, which prompts Legasov to provide a touching retort where he attests that Shcherbina was "the one who mattered most".
- 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 have some significance 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, he 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.
- 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 likely die in about five years due to the amount of radiation they've already absorbed, Shcherbina nearly goes catatonic.
- After the Joker fiasco, he lashes at the higher up in Moscow for it. This is also OOC Is Serious Business as Shcherbina knows about Soviet politics and how they can ruin your life simply for pointing out their mistakes but is too angry to care.
- Odd Couple: With Legasov, above.
- 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.
- Redemption Equals Death: He starts out as another Soviet bureaucrat trying to uphold the status quo but after seeing severity of the situation by himself, he spends the rest of the series doing everything he can to fix the situation, exposing him to enough radiation that will eventually kill him in the process.
- 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 this, saying that 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.
- Skeptic No Longer: Is at first dismissive of the damage that's been caused by the accident, but by the time he's had a chance to see the wreckage—to say nothing of the blue glow—and interrogate Fomin and Bryukhanov, he's fully on board with how deadly the situation might be.
- 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 Stoic: Even his few moments of being Not So Stoic (such as when Legasov tells him they will all be dead soon, probably in a couple of years) are usually still deadpan and nonchalant; with the one mentioned, he simply collapses into a chair and stares at nothing for a few minutes.
- 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.
- Vodka Drunkenski: Vodka is his drink of choice and he is shown drinking it whenever something good or bad happens.
- The Watson: Doesn't know the first thing about atomic physics, requiring Legasov to explain it to him so he can do his job (and the audience can understand the show). 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 for 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, Belarusian Institute for Nuclear Energy
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, Khomyuk 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, but when she attempts to call them and discovers that their phones are out, she quickly realizes that something big must have happened.
- She later figures out 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: Khomyuk, who essentially represents the collective wisdom of all the scientists who helped mitigate the disaster, has wavy dark brown hair.
- Brutal Honesty: She's not one to mince words, to the point that Legasov and Shcherbina are often startled by her bluntness. Her response to Legasov when she's trying to convince him to tell the whole truth at the trial, knowing that he may very well be shot for doing so, is telling:Legasov: I went willingly to an open reactor. I've also given my life. Is that not enough?
Khomyuk: I'm sorry, but it is not.
- Composite Character: Khomyuk is a fictional stand-in for the dozens of scientists who worked with Legasov to manage the cleanup, collect testimonies, and figure out what happened at to the reactor.
- The Conscience: To Legasov—she helps convince him to tell the truth during the trial despite how risky it is.
- Determinator: As Legasov correctly observes in the KGB prison, Khomyuk's scientist's nature will keep her from giving up on a task, no matter how hopeless, futile, or traumatizing the process might be.Legasov: I think, despite the lies, the stupidity, even this, you are compelled. The problem has been assigned, and you will stop at nothing to find the answer. That is who you are.
Khomyuk: A lunatic, then.
Legasov: A scientist.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: The local Communist Party boss blows off Khomyuk 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!" Khomyuk 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 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 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.
- 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 skeptical 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 3, she chews out Lyudmilla for ignoring the dangers of touching Vasily, due to his radioactive contamination. By Episode 4, 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.
- Intrepid Reporter: She is incredibly thorough and determined while interviewing the plant workers, returning multiple times to Dyatlov for his version of events even after being harshly rebuffed, and voicing her intention to repeat her interviews with Akimov and Toptunov to ensure their information is accurate—before learning they have died while she was being detained by the state for threatening to tell "everybody" about the fallout of Chernobyl. Throughout the series she speaks on behalf of fact and evidence, insisting that the true story of the disaster be told.
- 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: Khomyuk's official backstory (not mentioned in the show) has her gaining her resolve from growing up in World War II-era 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.
- Naïve Newcomer: Subverted. She might be a relative outsider in comparison to Legasov and (especially) Shcherbina, who treat her as this when she first arrives, but she proves quickly that she can more than hold her own in an argument. Even in her attempts at persuading Legasov to go public with the flaws in the RBMK reactor design, she is not ignorant of the possible consequences, but rather considers them a necessary sacrifice for the greater good. She is also aware that any dissent from her—a rank-and-file female scientist—will either go unnoticed or will be easily covered up. If the more celebrated and decorated Legasov were to break ranks it will be harder to ignore. It ultimately has the desired effect.Khomyuk: I know how the world works, despite what Shcherbina thinks.
- Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Downplayed. She is a physicist, but she also does most everything else (one of the side effects of her being a Composite Character).
- Science Foils: She and Legasov are similar in their backgrounds in and respect for nuclear physics, but they serve as foils to each other in the ways they go about bringing the truth to light. (Khomyuk favors a more idealistic, direct approach.)
- Science Hero: One of the series's two physicist main characters.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Of the three protagonists, Khomyuk best embodies this attitude. She is perpetually committed to finding the truth at any cost—personal or political.Khomyuk: To hell with your deal. And to hell with our lives. Someone has to start telling the truth.
- 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.
- The Smurfette Principle: Possibly justified as she is a relatively high-ranking scientist in the Soviet Union, but she is the only woman shown in a position of significant power or scientific research, and the only woman among the main cast, excluding the civilian Lyudmilla. The podcast explains that Khomyuk was made female as an acknowledgement of the Soviet Union's (comparatively) egalitarian scientific community. Women were still a minority, but they were a significantly larger minority than in most Western nations.
- The Storyteller: One of her primary roles in the aftermath is as the collector of witness testimonies from the plant workers, slowly piecing together the story of what happened that night and passing it on to Valery.
Chernobyl Power Plant:
Deputy Chief Engineer Anatoly Dyatlov
Reactor Engineer in charge during a safety test at the Chernobyl reactor that goes disastrously wrong.
- 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 ended up omitting this backstory because it amounted to armchair psychology and would have undermined the main narrative.
- Asshole Victim: Even laid up in the hospital and covered with radiation burns, he's a jerk. When Khomyuk walks in, he assumes she's a nurse and complains 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.
- Bad Boss: In Episode 5, Dyatlov is shown to be verbally and physically abusive towards his staff, 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. After the explosion, 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—even after several of his employees have informed him that there's no core left to cool.
- Believing Their Own Lies: Dyatlov is at such level of 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, simply apologizing before collapsing to the ground.
- Big Bad Wannabe: The explosion is basically Dyatlov's fault in the first place, and he does a lot of vile shit in the name of covering his own ass, but in the end the problems at Chernobyl run far deeper than a single man.
- Blatant Lies: Dyatlov tries to dodge any blame at his trial by claiming he was on the toilet when Akimov and Toptunov started removing the control rods to get the power up after the reactor stalled. No one believes him for a second, and the prosecutor soundly refutes him. Note that the real Dyatlov made this claim as well, though he at least offered the comparatively more convincing excuse of having been in the turbine hall checking that everything was ready for the test (most of the turbine engineers died in the aftermath of the disaster, and the survivors weren't able to prove or disprove his claim).
- Cope by Pretending: His method of dealing with the crisis is by pretending it never happened.Khomyuk: Can you confirm the reactor exploded after they attempted to shut it down?
Dyatlov: How do I even know it exploded?
- Cryptic Background Reference: Dyatlov tries to reassure his irradiated 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 agonized 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) Trying to pin all the blame on Legasov, claiming he is hiding something from the court. Considering the fact that nearly everyone in the courtroom considers Legasov and Shcherbina 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 to get his attention.
- 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.
- 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. The audience hasn't been encouraged to loath an HBO character this strongly since Joffrey Baratheon. It's a testament to Paul Ritter's fantastic performance.
- Deconstructed. As despicable as he genuinely is, as Legasov notes in his memoirs, the existence of a Hate Sink allows people to ignore the systemic issues that were also responsible.
- The Heavy: His irresponsibility and misconduct is what causes the power plant to explode, setting the plot into motion and the world at stake.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: The real Dyatlov was an arrogant, abrasive prick who most of the men working under disliked to some degree. However, his real life counterpart didn't do some of the nastier things this portrayal of him did:
- 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 was legitimately enraged when he found out about the cover-up and that the two dead men were being blamed for the accident, and even sent a letter to Toptunov's family, expressing condolences for his death and stating that he was an effective worker.
- While he never took any responsibility for his role in the disaster, the real Dyatlov squarely blamed the incident on the RBMK's design flaws, which were very much real, instead of sticking by the propaganda and insisting the RBMK reactor couldn't explode to the bitter end.
- The real-life Dyatlov stayed behind to help in the reactor instead of playing bureaucrat and was only taken out after he passed out due to radiation sickness.
- He's shown blowing off a report from the reactor's SKALA monitoring system, warning them that the number of control rods in the core is dangerously low. While the real-life reactor's SKALA system did print out such a warning, it actually happened after the test had already begun (and thus was too late to be acted on), rather than before.
- 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 are severely ill due to radiation, but he survives while many others do not. In the end, though, he gets put in a labor camp and his eventual death much later is ultimately due to the radiation.
- Implausible Deniability: Dyatlov denies that Sitnikov saw graphite despite 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. 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, having barely survived severe radiation poisoning. When Khomyuk starts her interview, he somehow finds it in himself to shoot back, "How do I even know it exploded?" In response, Khomyuk 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 believes there was no explosion—or if the Soviet mentality of denying any fault is just so deeply ingrained into him that it's a reflex response.
- Jerkass: The guy has almost zero redeeming qualities, as he's either being 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, but died of multiple organ failure from radiation exposure 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 is 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 (it's still problematic, although nowhere near as bad as the real reading) while refusing to consider it could be off the scale of their dosimeters (which were small, personal ones- the explosion damaged the plant's heavy-duty dosimeter), and the glowing air above the reactor is from the Cherenkov effect (which only occurs underwater).
- Last-Name Basis: Everyone who can get away with it just calls him "Dyatlov," without bothering to add "Comrade" to it. Legasov does this openly during the trial to show his utter contempt for the man.
- My God, What Have I Done?: A subtle example, but after spending the entire trial (and series) trying to shift the blame and insisting that nothing he did could possibly have led to the meltdown, when Legasov reveals the crucial flaw in the control rods and provides a scientific explanation for the holes in the story, Dyatlov spends the rest of the scene looking absolutely horrified at the realisation the accusations are not a lie.
- Must Have Nicotine: He smokes on the job before the explosion and even when recovering from radiation poisoning.
- 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, it was the USSR officials who tried to pin the disaster on Toptunov and Akimov while Diatlov insisted during the trial they only did what he ordered them, and after his release from custody, Dyatlov wrote a book absolving his staff of blame for the tragedy.
- 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. Truth in television to a point, as Dyatlov was definitely a Bad Boss in real life and did threat some power plant workers with job terminations if they did not proceed with the test. However, in Real Life not once did he pin the accident on his staff -insisting they were only following his orders- and to the end of his life Dyatlov blamed the accident and its aftermath on the flaws of the reactor.
- 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.
- The Sociopath: Dyatlov fits this trope to a straight T. He tends to be so full in denial and lies his own ass off so much that his own subordinates and other people around him have their own lives at risk, especially if the disaster has the potential to be so catastrophic, yet he still doesn't even care. Even though he aggressively refused to report his actions by Akimov, he also gives out orders that are insanely shady, and pushed Reactor 4 into becoming a far more dangerous equivalent to atomic warheads according to the sievert and roentgen readings. At the same time, he also lives with twisted fantasy rights that there's no such thing as truths.Dyatlov: What for? You think the right question will get you the truth? (chuckles scoffingly) There is no truth. Ask the bosses whatever you want and you'll get the lie. And I will get the bullet.
- 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.
- Villainous BSoD: Even up to the courtroom trial he's in denial for his role in the disaster, completely brainwashed by the state into thinking an RBMK cannot explode, and believes Legasov among others are making him into a scapegoat for some other incident. That is, until the Soviet scientist giving evidence explains the AZ-5 button had a terrible fatal flaw that none of the operators were allowed to know about. In the circumstances Dyatlov created, pressing it would cause a dramatic surge in core activity, not gradual decrease. Unit 4 soared beyond 33,000 megawatts before it violently exploded. Dyatlov knows Legasov cannot be lying as his testimony will bring down the wrath of the KGB upon himself. The Chief Engineer is stunned and silent for the rest of the trial.
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.
- Blame Game: Let's just say he's remarkably quick to supply a list of names to chuck in front of any sudden busses that might turn up. And, that list is an astonishingly adaptable one, suggesting it's more like an active database with a well-used report function.
- 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.
- Blame Game: Tries this, mainly as Bryukhanov's backing singer. Flubs it spectacularly for both of them while finding concrete to try blaming.
- Blatant Lies: Tries to pass the graphite chunks as "burned concrete".
- Chewbacca Defense: Fomin's specialty 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 containing the radiation.
- 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".
- Jerkass 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 get 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 RBMK 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.
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: Deconstructed. He guides Toptunov throughout the test, understands the risks deviating from the standard procedures would cause, and is shown to be more aware of the danger they're in, but in the end he still has to obey Dyatlov's commands under the threat of losing his job and never be able to work in another power plant again.
- 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.
- Senseless Sacrifice: Shared with Toptunov. He spends the whole night turning the valves, futilely trying to cool a core that doesn't exist anymore, getting lethally irradiated in the process.
- 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.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: He is the one who presses AZ-5, unaware of the fatal flaw that would lead to the explosion.
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 the 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. Khomyuk expresses shock that someone so inexperienced was placed in charge of the reactor, though as it turns out, his lack of experience actually had very little bearing on the disaster that ended up unfolding.In real life..
- Body Horror: By the time Khomyuk meets him, his lips and outer skin are basically gone, and he's red and bleeding due to necrosis that was caused by overwhelming doses of ionizing radiation.
- 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.
- Non-Indicative Title: Has the role of Senior Engineer despite having only four months worth of experience working as a nuclear engineer.
- 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.
- Senseless Sacrifice: Shared with Akimov. He spends the whole night turning the valves, futilely trying to cool a core that doesn't exist anymore, getting lethally irradiated in the process.
- Those Two Guys: Almost always seen or referenced along with Akimov.
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.
- 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. The real-life Yuvchenko credits his survival to impressive build.
- 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.
- Uncertain Doom: 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, he survived.
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.
- 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.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Much like Yuvchenko, his fate is not made explicit after the first episode. In real life, he would be amongst the survivors.
Senior Turbine Engineer Igor Kirschenbaum
An engineer who was in the control room during the accident, and in charge of monitoring the turbine power levels.
- Butt-Monkey: Shortly after Dyatlov enters the control room for the test, he angrily throws a folder of instructions at Kirschenbaum for not having read up on the test procedure that he'd only found out he was meant to be carrying out minutes earlier, before saying that even someone as stupid as Kirschenbaum can't mess up the test. Other than that, this trope is actually downplayed, since he's one of the few control room staffers who's never placed in any direct danger after the reactor explodes.
- Odd Name Out: He's one of the few characters in the show to not have a Slavic last name, his is German Ashkenazic.
- This Is Gonna Suck: Even before anything goes wrong, he privately confides to Stolyarchuk how dangerous what they're attempting is. Dyatlov overhears him and angrily tells him to shut up.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: He isn't seen again after Akimov and Toptunov leave the control room to open the water valves. Considering that he spends the whole night in the control room, it's easier for the viewer to imagine him as one of the survivors — and indeed, his real-life counterpart did survive the disaster.
- You Are in Command Now: Akimov puts him in charge of the control room before he and Toptunov leave to open up the water valves. Of course, with the reactor having been destroyed and the control panel rendered non-functional, this is as much to keep Kirschenbaum out of harm's way, and to ensure that someone will be around to get Stolyarchuk medical help if he starts showing signs of radiation sickness.
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.
Reactor Section Foreman Valery Perevozchenko
One of the workers within the refueling hall, he's the first to report the reactor's destruction to the control room staff.
- Cassandra Truth: The first to report that the reactor has been destroyed, only to be brushed off by Dyatlov.
- Demoted to Extra: In Real Life, Perevozchenko accompanied Kudryavtsev and Proskuryakov in their ill-fated excursion to the exposed core, and tried to assess the damage and control it in several other ways before succumbing to radiation poisoning. In the show, he vomits almost as soon as he enters the control room and is taken to the infirmary.
- Ignored Expert: Not only does Dyatlov ignore his report that the reactor exploded, Akimov refuses to accept that the reactor exploded.
- Oh, Crap!: When he spots the fuel and control rod channel caps (each of which weighs around 350kg (about 800lbs) jumping up and down from the building pressure within the reactor.
- Only Sane Man: The first to realize the reactor exploded. Unfortunately for him, he figures this out firsthand.
- Readings Are Off the Scale: The dosimeter he receives from Gorbachenko maxes out at 3.6 roentgen an hour, and hits it as soon as he turns it on.
- Uncertain Doom: His fate is not mentioned, but it is heavily implied his exposure was lethal. In real life, he was among the workers who succumbed to ARS.
- You Have to Believe Me!: His agitation only makes his colleagues less likely to believe him.
SIUR Trainees Viktor Proskuryakov and Aleksandr Kudryavtsev
Two trainees stationed in the control room to observe the test, they are sent to lower the (seemingly stuck) control rods into the reactor by hand.
- Cassandra Truth: Just like Perevozchenko before him, Proskuryakov is soundly ignored by Dyatlov. The rest of the crew, however, are shaken by his report, especially in light of both his obvious symptoms of radiation poisoning, and Kudryavtsev failing to return.
- Facial Horror: Their faces turn bright red in seconds from the radiation pouring from the reactor.
- Inferred Holocaust: Long before the effects of ARS are explored, there is a split second shot of Proskuryakov looking comatose in the Pripyat hospital. And Kudryavtsev didn't even make it to the control room...
- Oh, Crap!: Perhaps the biggest example in the show, when they find themselves staring into the open, burning reactor pit. Kudryavtsev in particular has a deer-in-the-headlights look as soon as he looks down.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: So much so that they completely forget Yuvchenko in their panicked sprint for the control room.
- Those Two Guys: Almost always seen or referred to as a pair.
Circulating Pump Operator Valery Ilyich Khodemchuk
Night shift operator of the circulating pumps at Reactor 4. Was the first victim of the Chernobyl disaster, being killed by the core explosion. His remains were never found and is presumed to still be within the ruins of the destroyed reactor.
- Brick Joke: After four episodes of cryptic mentions, it's almost cathartic to see him casually walking into the screen.
- The Ghost: He was mentioned a few times in the first episode but didn't make any appearances until a flashback in the finale.
- Last Disrespects: Downplayed since Dyatlov was unaware of his death at the time. After the core exploded Toptunov tried to call Khodemchuk about the pumps but the phones were down. Dyatlov's reaction to the report was "Fuck the phones and fuck Khodemchuk, are the pumps on or not?"
- Never Found the Body: His remains were never found because the destroyed pumps were inaccessable, making Reactor 4 his final resting place. A memorial to him was erected inside the plant near the sealed off control room. Plant workers still visit the memorial and leave flowers to this day.
- Posthumous Character: He's killed offscreen early in the first episode and is only seen alive in a flashback.
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.
- 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 received medals for their bravery at a Ukrainian state ceremony, 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 national and international press from trying to seeking out the divers for interviews or just some sort of bureaucratic mishap, it was initially 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 attended a Ukrainian state ceremony 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. Might have something to do with then-widespread belief that vodka protects against radiation.
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.
- Affectionate Nickname: His wife Lydumilla calls him "Vasya", a diminutive of his given name.
- 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 poisoning, when he appears to be healthy but is actually on 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 gets 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.
- '80s Hair: Has a distinctively 1980s hairstyle.
- 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.
- Affectionate Nickname: Vasily calls her "Lyusya", a diminutive of her given name.
- Allegorical Character: She's implied to represent the town of Pripyat itself. In her first scene, she's prominently framed wearing a flower-patterned nightgown that closely resembles the wallpaper of the apartment around her, smiling sweetly at Vasily as he sleeps, and she is the only civilian from Pripyat to survive and be followed throughout the series.
- 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 with attending to the rest of the firemen.
- Leeroy Jenkins: Lyudmilla wanders around hospitals, touches and kisses Vasily, utterly clueless. Totally justified, though, as she has no idea what a dangerous situation she's in.
- 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.
- Naïve Newcomer: Lyudmilla is a very loving, strong-willed woman who wants nothing more than to be at Vasilys side. Through no fault of her own, she is cast into a situation she cannot fully understand. Therefore she does not always appreciate the true implications of her actions, however well-intentioned they may be.
- 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.
- Pregnant Badass: Although it leads to the death of her daughter, and ultimately probably to her death, Lyudmilla shows amazing courage in trekking across Russia to find her beloved husband.
- 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: At the end of Episode 3, we see a heartbroken Lyudmilla clutching a pair of Vasilys shoes, while she watches the military unceremoniously lower her husband's zinc coffin into a mass grave before burying it in concrete. It's possibly the only memento she has left of her husband.
- Violently Protective Girlfriend: Wife. She launches a stinging "Reason You Suck" Speech at the nurses for neglecting Vasily, completely unaware that they have a good reason for staying away from him.
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 dissolution 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.
- All There in the Script: He's never named on-screen, but the script and episode credits give his name.
- Allegorical Character: Much like how Zharkov represents the older generation of devout Communists whose heads were still filled with memories of the Soviet Union's glory days, Petrovich is clearly meant to represent the younger Communists such as Gorbachev, whose main memories likely consist of the turbulence of the late Khruschev era and then the Brezhnev stagnation, and thus has a far more cynical view of an increasingly creaking and broken political system.
- Only Sane Man: It's not clear whether he's the only person who notices how obviously incorrect Bryukhanov's and Dyatlov's assessment of the situation is, but he's certainly the only one who openly calls them out on it, and the first person who suggests evacuating Pripyat. Even after Zharkov's Rousing Speech, he's clearly unconvinced.
- Spotting the Thread: Bryukhanov's mentioning that Moscow are sending several thousand military police is the first thing that clues him in to the fact that the supposedly mild incident is more serious than anyone is letting on.
- Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: He's clearly one of the more skeptical members of the executive when it comes to the Communist system, so it naturally rankles him when Zharkov waxes lyrical about how proud Vladimir Lenin (whom the plant is officially named after) would be of his concern for the people. Despite this, Petrovich quickly realizes he's in the minority, and holds off on voicing any further concerns.
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 overwhelmingly 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.
- Idiot Ball: Downplayed. She removes Vasily's irradiated uniform without gloves or equipment to protect herself, this is however justified because she didn't have any equipment available. Also, considering Misha got his hand immediately irradiated despite wearing thick gloves prior, it probably wouldn't have made much of a difference anyway.
- 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.
- Cool Old Guy: 61 years old and he's on the ground getting shit done.
- 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: 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.
- Pragmatic Hero: Volunteering to go get the close-up reading with the high-range dosimeter wasn't entirely altruistic; he also did it because he knew his word on the matter would be unimpeachable, initially against Bryukhanov and Fomin when reporting back to Shcherbina. Indeed; as soon as he reported it was not three roentgen but fifteen thousand, Shcherbina immediately orders the two obsequeious bueraucrats' arrests.
- Speed, Smarts and Strength: 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.
- Wham Line: When we get our first accurate dosimeter reading.It's not three roentgen. It's fifteen thousand.
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: 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.
- Downplayed even. Said documentary states the real life Tarakanov insisted on giving his speech to each and every one of the 3,828 "bio-robots" sent onto the dangerously radioactive roof. Even after hundreds of repetitions, when his voice was hoarse and it hurt to speak, he made sure to personally brief every single man about the dangers they faced, answer any questions they might have, and thank them after they were done.
- 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.
- Historical Beauty Upgrade: The real Tarakanov was full of praise for Ralph Ineson's portrayal, but did note that Ineson is much better looking than he was at the time.
- Idiot Ball: He experiences a very minor one through a somewhat reckless suggestion. After the lunar and bomb disposal bots fail to clear the debris from the roofs, he suggests shooting the chunks into the reaction with well-aimed ballistic rounds. In all fairness, it's not a horrible idea, and certainly more feasible than robots that can't last more than two minutes. However, the issue wasn't just graphite and irradiated concrete on the roof, but a wealth of flammable materials, chemical and compounds that could ignite from friction, or even just sparks - no explosive bullets necessary. Any snipers who would undergo this task would need to have downright superhuman sight and aim to avoid the nasty stuff, and even after all is said and done, the nasty stuff would still remain... Scherbina pretty quickly shoots down this idea.
- Speed, Smarts and Strength: 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.
- 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 help 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.
- Naïve Newcomer: The audience learns how the pet killing is done, and how the pets survive in the abandoned area, from Bacho's explanations to Pavel.
- 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.
- 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. Truth in Television: The liquidators were practically showered in liquor - 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 gives him an understanding look and tells him to wait outside while he does it himself.
- Good Is Not Nice: He's as gruff, foul-mouthed, and no-nonsense as one might expect from a war vet. But he's also adamant about not inflicting unnecessary pain on the animals he and his group must kill, and he takes sympathy on Pavel when he sees how the mission is affecting him.
- 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.
- Heroic BSoD: In his backstory. He admits to Pavel that the first time he killed a man, he was so shook he didn't touch his gun for the rest of the day.
- 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.
- N-Word Privileges: Doesn't seem to mind Bacho (a Georgian) insulting his Armenian heritage, on account of the two being Vitriolic Best Buds. Downplayed in that we don't hear either of them being called the actual racist slurs that were used against Caucasians in the Soviet Union.
- The Quiet One: Has exactly two lines in his episode.
- The Silent Bob: The last of his two lines pretty much sums up the failure of the Soviet Union, and how its ideals could never match up to the realities.
- Those Two Guys: With Bacho.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Kyiv. 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.
- OOC 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: I have ten minutes, then I'm back on the phone. Apologising to our friends, apologising to our enemies. Our power comes from the perception of our power. Do you have any idea of the harm this has done? Do you know what is at stake!?
- 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 (later the only one) to have been born after Red October. Furthermore, being born in 1931, he was too young to be involved in politics during the era of Stalin (characterised by high levels of political maneuvering where people will do anything to save themselves, given Stalin's fondness for performing purges) and by the time he was old enough to be actually involved in politics in the first place, Stalin was already dead.
- 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.
- Ambiguously Jewish: Coupled with Genius Bonus as he is an Expy of Yuri Andropov, who was half-Jewish, his Tranquil Fury at Legasov's antisemitism is not just moral outrage but motivated by the fact that for someone like Charkov/Andropov, an anti-semitic, moralising dissident was the worst kind of hypocritical scum. It partly explains his hostility to Legasov in Episode 5.
- 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 replies 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, who knows he is living on borrowed time anyway, takes his own life. His audiotapes 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 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.
- 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.
- Expy: Of the, by then, deceased Yuri Andropov. He looks somewhat like Andropov, has his calm, approachable, non-threatening demeanour, and like Andropov takes a very dim view of those who would make the Soviet Union look weak and anti-semites.
- 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.
- Grand Inquisitor Scene: Gets a very 1984-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."
- Horrible Judge of Character: Combined with a version of Evil Cannot Comprehend Good. He wields sheer sociopolitical power as an important cog of the bureaucratic machine, and has up to this point used it to ensure people are kept in line. Unfortunately, the man he's putting pressure on has known he has no more future beyond a few years at most by this point, has witnessed truly apocalyptic-scale, existential horror up-close and very personally, knows that unless something is done this continent-threatening horror story will happen again and he won't be around to help, and has been coming to terms with all this already. Charkov's attempt to silence Legasov backfired because he didn't realize that he was dealing with someone who has nothing to lose.
- 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.
- Out-Gambitted: His attempt of Cruel Mercy on Legasov is derailed when Legasov takes his own life, leaving behind tapes detailing everything about the incident. Said tapes spread throughout the Union, sending shockwaves to the nuclear industry there and completely blindsiding the KGB's attempt to keep the flaws secret.
- "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: [laughs] "Why worry about something that isn't going to happen"? Oh, that's perfect. They 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.
- Shut Up, Kirk!: In Episode 5, Charkov's "Reason You Suck" Speech turns into one when he condemns Legasov for ruining the careers of Jewish colleagues - and his demeanour changes from amused smirking to Tranquil Fury at reminding Legasov of his antisemitism.
- Suddenly Shouting: In Episode 5 after Legasov's testimony and being taken to an interrogation room. Charkov's calm polite demeanor slips briefly after Legasov complains about his reasons for being shot. This manages to irritate Charkov briefly to even shout at him suddenly, Even Legasov is taken aback.Legasov: In a just world I'd be shot for my lies. But not for this, not for the truth.
Charkov: [acerbic] Scientists... and your idiot obsession with reasons. When the bullet hits your skull, WHAT WILL IT MATTER WHY?
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's 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 till they dig down 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 remaining 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/122ºF, 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!
- Mirth to Power: An angry, yet quite measured one. Naked truth delivered to power with a carefully crafted sting they'd look the fool for punishing him for? A masterpiece.
- Nice Hat: It is the one piece of the uniform he keeps on (besides shoes), and he makes note 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.