‘Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes’ review: James Jones’ HBO documentary offers harrowing window into nuclear disaster

British director James Jones is fluent in Russian, which certainly came in handy when going through the government’s exhaustive record of the 1986 nuclear accident and its aftermath in then-Soviet-controlled Ukraine.

“The relationship to the truth was complicated,” recalled one of the survivors, while the other — who showed a flair for poetry — observed radiation and its destructive effects, “where the enemy was everywhere, but it It’s invisible.”

“Chernobyl” raised a range of voices, from schoolchildren to Soviet officials and factory personnel. The material is shaped into the methodical ticks of initial responses, depicting the speed at which important information reaches the local population, Resident evacuation And a reluctance to pass bad news to Moscow.

In addition to the testimony, Jones also obtained some remarkable footage, such as helicopters dropping sand fruitlessly into the reactor from a height, smiling “liquidators” shrugging off health threats before entering the cleanup site, and news accounts at the time insisting , the Western media exaggerated the risks and tried to embarrass the Soviet state.

As for the last question, as the film soberly points out, the death toll has never been fully counted: the official Chernobyl-related death toll remains at 31, while an estimated 200,000 died in the tragedy . This concern persists despite serious concerns within the government that accidents will result in mass casualties and widespread pollution.

Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes isn’t as accessible as a scripted show, and its reliance on grainy footage creates some notable limitations. However, there is a visceral aspect to this, especially in the case of being diagnosed with cancer, and in the graphic images of birth deformities witnessed after a disaster.

what’s happening now Help bring back the era of Ukrainian and Soviet rule headline News, but “Chernobyl” feels timely in every way. At its heart, the documentary exposes the toxic combination of a major tragedy and a highly secretive regime, producing a tragedy that haunts the public consciousness in many ways.

“Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes” premieres June 22 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, which, like CNN, is a division of the Warner Bros. Discovery Channel.

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