Chernobyl: Real-life Lyudmila claims she never gave HBO permission to tell her story

HBO and Sky have denied Lyudmila’s claims

Ellie Harrison
Monday 23 December 2019 10:44
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Chernobyl: Official Trailer (2019)

The woman at the centre of HBO and Sky’s Chernobyl drama, Lyudmila Ignatenko, has claimed she never gave permission for her story to be told and has detailed the abuse she received after the show aired.

Lyudmila was the wife of Vasily, one of the first firefighters to die from radiation poisoning in the nuclear disaster. She was played by Jessie Buckley in the drama.

“When I found out there would be a film about me, I felt hurt and uneasy,” Lyudmila told the BBC. “There were people hounding me at my flat. It got to the point where journalists would jam the door open with their foot and try to record interviews with me.”

Lyudmila was pregnant with Vasily’s child when the explosion happened at the nuclear power plant in 1986. Their baby died four hours after being born and Lyudmila said she has received much abuse since the show aired for visiting her husband in hospital while pregnant.

People said “that I had killed my baby”, she revealed. “They were asking why I had been at my husband’s bedside knowing that I was pregnant at the time. But tell me, how could I leave him? I thought my baby was safe inside me. We didn’t know anything about radiation then.”

Lyudmila also claimed she was offered money after Chernobyl was filmed. “I think the film company behaved very badly by not meeting me,” she said. “There was a phone call from Moscow. They said they were filming in Latvia and Kyiv and wanted to contact me but couldn’t. ‘We would like to pay you $3,000,’ they said. The movie was already filmed by then.”

She said when she asked what the money was for, she was told: “Just because you exist.”

“I told them, ‘Nobody pays money for nothing,’ and hung up. Of course I thought it was fake, some sort of fraud.”

HBO and Sky have denied Lyudmila’s claims in a statement: “Throughout the entire process of making Chernobyl, the producers were fully committed to depicting all events, including Lyudmila and Vasily Ignatenko’s story, with the utmost sensitivity. The production team, via local representatives, had multiple exchanges with Lyudmila Ignatenko – before, during and after filming – with the express purpose of making her aware of the project and its depiction of her experiences as previously documented in several first-person accounts.

“Lyudmila was also given the opportunity to participate in the storytelling process and to provide feedback. At no point during these exchanges did she express that she did not wish her story or that of her husband, Vasily, to be included. The filmmakers made every effort to depict their story, and that of everyone affected by this tragedy, with authenticity and respect.”

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Buckley, who portrayed Lyudmila in the show, previously told The Independent she would have loved to meet the woman she was playing “but I also respect that it's sensitive and she's got to get on with her life”.

She added that if they had met, “I would have just given her a hug and said, 'I hope I've told you story as honestly as I can.'"

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