‘Chernobyl’ HBO Cast: Who Plays a Real Person? Their True Story Counterparts Revealed

HBO's new five-episode series Chernobyl depicts the circumstances surrounding the worst nuclear catastrophe of the 20th century. When reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station went critical on April 26, 1986, the resulting explosion spewed radioactive material all over the facility and across the Ukrainain border into Belarus. More than 100,000 people were evacuated in the following days, as first responders fought fires, sometimes absorbing fatal doses of radiation in the process.

HBO's Chernobyl miniseries cast includes both characters based on real people and composite characters based on several individuals (like Emily Watson's Ulyana Khomyuk). Adrian Rollins plays Chief Engineer Nikolai Fomin, who was sentenced to 10 years in a labor camp for violating safety regulations (he was released early after a nervous breakdown and suicide attempt). Con O'Neill plays Viktor Bryukhanov, the plant manager who reported the incident up the chain of command. Other real-life characters had even larger roles in the unfolding Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Chernobyl HBO Cast and True Story Counterparts

Valery Legasov (Jared Harris)

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Jared Harris as Valery Legasov HBO

Played by Jared Harris in HBO's Chernobyl, Valery Legasov was chief of the commission investigating the Chernobyl disaster and a prominent member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

Legasov committed suicide two years after the Chernobyl disaster—a 1993 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists attributed his death to disillusionment over “the Soviet failure to confront the flaws” in their reactors. In 1996, he was posthumously awarded Hero of the Russian Federation by President Boris Yeltsin.

Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgard)

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Stellan Skarsgard as Boris Shcherbina HBO

Where Legasov is the principled scientist, Skargard's character, the real-life Deputy Prime Minister Scherbina, represents the reluctant Soviet government. Shcherbina would rather sweep the Chernobyl disaster under the rug rather than deal with the consequences honestly. He can be seen in the trailer, downplaying the threat of radiation on the site.

Anatoly Dyatlov (Paul Ritter)

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Paul Ritter as Anatoly Dyatlov HBO

Dyatlov was the deputy chief engineer at Chernobyl and the supervisor for the disastrous experiment that resulted in the April 26 explosion. He was sentenced to ten years in a labor camp (and served five) for his role in the meltdown. Despite absorbing a near-deadly dose of radiation, Dyatlov lived until 1995.

Vasily and Lyudmila Ignatenko (Adam Nagaitis and Jessie Buckley)

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Jessie Buckley as Lyudmila Ignatenko HBO

Firefighter Vasily Ignatenko was one of 28 first responders, including Power Station employees, who died from radiation in the weeks following the explosion. In Chernobyl, he's played by Adam Nagaitis, who has acted alongside Harris before, in The Terror. His wife Lyudmila Ignatenko, played by Jessie Buckley, is also a real person, who described the horrible process of watching her husband die in Svetlana Alexievich's 1997 book Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. While most of the other main characters on HBO's adaptation are administrators and decision-makers, Vasily and Lyudmila are the face of those who did the dirty work and suffered for it.

Chernobyl Reactor Operators

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HBO

The HBO miniseries includes many of the real people operating the reactor at the time of the meltdown. Alexander Akimov (Sam Troughton) was the night crew shift supervisor during the early morning hours test that resulted in the reactor explosion. He was initially opposed to conducting the test, but Dyatlov threatened his job. Leonid Toptunov (Robert Emms) operated the control rods, which included a design flaw that lead to the disaster, during the test. Vyacheslav Brazhnik (Adam Lundgren), a turbine machinist operator, ran to the control to report fires, then worked to fight them himself.

Viktor Proskuryakov (Karl Davies) and Valery Perevozchenko (Jay Simpson) were sent to manually reinsert the control rods by Akimov, who didn't believe the reactor had been compromised in the explosion. The two looked directly into the exposed reactor core and died within weeks. Proskuryakov had radiation burns covering his entire body.

After the explosion, Akimov continued to disbelieve reports of the extent of the damage (including from Proskuryakov and Perevozchenko) and continued to insist the reactor was intact, relaying false information for hours. But while many mistakes were made, both in the lead-up to the test and in the aftermath, Akimov and Toptunov bravely stayed behind and worked for hours to try and pump water into the reactor room to cool it. Both subsequently died of radiation poisoning.

While there are plenty of characters and moments in the HBO Chernobyl series that can't be linked directly to real people, a surprising portion of the cast is playing a very real person, many of whom died in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. That makes Chernobyl not just a dramatization, but also a memorial to their heroism, mistakes and suffering.