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Monday, April 26, 2010

Scenes from Chernobyl Drama ‘Распад’ (1990) Filmed in Kyiv

Do you know any films about Chernobyl other than non-fiction? I know only one.

Most of what I know about Chernobyl comes from non-fiction. It comes from the people on the ground. The people who risked and sacrificed their lives. The people who will be remembered.

I know only one movie that does Chernobyl justice. It’s called Распад (Rah-spah-d).

This irony-packed perestroika-era drama offers an X-ray of Soviet crisis mismanagement. In scenes of heart-wrenching innocence and poignance, it recreates the chain of events: from the comfort zone to the danger zone.

From quiet to chaos. From communism to collapse.

Filmed here.

It bursts the bubble of a blissful and unsuspecting populace that, in the middle of spring, goes about its business the day after. Grown-ups get married. Kids play soccer. (I too played soccer, just 70 miles south of Chernobyl, in Kyiv.)

In its starkest scenes, the film captures the misery of the evacuees.

Filmed here and here.

The evacuation of Prypyat (the town where the nuclear power plant workers lived) took a back seat to regimentation. With radiation at peak levels, authorities waited for orders from Moscow and delayed evacuation efforts in an air of secrecy.

It wasn’t until 36 hours after the accident that the evacuation began (a temporary evacuation, as the announcement said). Thousands of families boarded buses and left their homes, never to return again.

Filmed here.

The “lost boy” scene relies on hyperbole to drive the point home emotionally: A latchkey kid doesn’t get on the bus. Instead, he stays and waits for his mom to come home from work. The main character, a reporter, spots the boy during a flyover of Prypyat (now a ghost town) as he writes this: “Mom! I’ve come home. Come. I [interrupted].”

Распад can be translated as decay, disintegration or breakup. It’s the main theme of the film. Chernobyl delivered a shock to the Soviet system and, as it soon turned out, became a catalyst in its breakup.

Somehow, I only discovered Распад last year, almost two decades after its filming by the Dovzhenko Film Studios in 1990. I was 10 at the time.

I find this movie very special because it takes me back to my childhood. It takes me back to my home city of Kyiv, my home district of Obolon, my neighborhood.

That’s where they filmed all these scenes. And that’s where I live.


Anonymous said...

The beginning of the 3rd movie is like my birthplace, in Óbuda, Budapest. It was built on Roman ruins but there are a lot flats where I was brought up as a little kid.

Brooke - Little Miss Moi said...

Did you see the movie 'The Door', which was nominated for a Golden Globe this year?

I believe you can watch it through this website.

caribista said...

My Ukrainian wife, who was 13-14 at the time, remembers Chornobyl as "the time we got extra holidays"... she spent a few months in the Caucausus eating shashlyk and going to the mountains.

On a different topic, I've just read this, where Yanukovych denies that the Holodomor was a genocide. I'm curious about your views on the topic.

Taras said...


You were born in 1990, right?

To me, Óbuda looks a bit more aristocratic than Obolon, even though my place has ancient roots too.

Little Miss Moi,

Thank you for expanding my horizons! It’s a good one. Not true to detail, but true to death.

As a Soviet citizen at the time of the event, I can point out the following goofs:

The winter coats on the evacuees look like a tribute to the USSR=Russia=Siberia stereotype. (In reality, they wore nothing but shirts, shorts and skirts). Many people had gone to the beach on Apr. 26.

The announcement doesn’t sound Soviet at all. No Soviet cliches. (They should have used the original announcement.)

That said, for the West, The Door definitely opens a door into what Chernobyl did to thousands of people.


Ironically, on that weekend, many Kyivans went camping in the Chornobyl direction. I stayed in Kyiv until May 8, 1986. We then escaped to Rivne and Chernivtsi oblasts.

My definition of the Holodomor as genocide comes from the following census data:

1926: Ukrainians, 31,194,976; Russians, 77,791,124;
1939: Ukrainians, 28,111,007; Russians, 99,591,520.

Anonymous said...

Oh, my family is not aristocratic, despite we had Lada which was a status symbol here. There are nice parts of Óbuda and on net you can see the nicer part of it.

Anonymous said...

Question about the film itself -- was it released in 1990 or filmed in 1990? By then the USSR had pretty much fallen apart, but even in the context of late glasnost' it seems a sensitive topic and critical of the government's handling of the disaster.

Taras said...


From what I've seen online, Obuda's architectural landscape looks a bit older than Obolon's.

Obolon first appears in chronicles in 1096. We’re probably a bit younger than Podil, our neighboring district, which contains Stone Age settlements, discovered in 1893.

In the Soviet hierarchy of cars, Ladas meant middle class, and Volgas meant upper class:)

Most Volgas carried Communist Party officials (aka nomenklatura). Some belonged to VIPs (academics, showbiz stars and black market dealers). Some belonged to middle/working-class high earners (coal miners, personnel employed in the energy sector/abroad). And some served as taxi cabs.


Good question! I think it was filmed in 1990, but I’m not sure about the release date.

Judging by the title and the opening scene, it might have been released in 1991 or 1992, when the USSR had already collapsed. (There’s no info available.)

I know a perestroika-themed action movie with a clear-cut lag issue: Америкэн бой, filmed in Kherson, Ukraine, in 1992 but released in November 1993.

It’s about a Soviet war hero who escapes from Mujahideen captivity to the U.S. and then revisits the USSR to find his friend murdered.

Unknown said...

Great post, thanks!

It was obvious, that Raspad was not filmed on the original location (except the short "helicopter flight" scene), but I haven't known the real site until reading your post. Do you have any information about where had been the plant scenes filmed?

Sorry, but I absolutely disagree with your opinion related to the evacuation of Pripyat. It was one of the most successfull mass evacuation operation in history. Local authorities (I mean town, and district authorities) had no power at all to organize such big emergency measure. (Not mentioned the fact, that the plant management consistently disclaimed the destruction of the reactor 4 until arriving the external experts on the early afternoon) Otherwise there wasn't sufficient transport capacity available in Pripyat on the day of the accident.

Broner said...


That's not Óbuda. It may be somewhere in the Soviet Union, just see the types of these apartment houses and service buildings (e.x. schools). These blocks are very uniform, but not totally.

Taras said...


Thank you for your interest in this issue! You’re welcome!

The evacuation itself took only a few hours once approved. By contrast, the big picture behind it looks anything but swift and coordinated.

The government failed to inform the people (or keep them indoors) and evacuate them as soon as possible.

As far as I know, the evacuation buses began arriving in the morning and some of them spent a whole day waiting for the go-ahead.

On Saturday morning (Apr. 26), a friend told my mom that her husband, a bus driver, had been dispatched to Prypyat, where “something was happening.”


Ropi lives in Budapest (Obuda), I live in Kyiv (Obolon).

The scenes I posted come from Obolon. The last one also includes flyover footage of Prypyat.

Anonymous said...

Is there somewhere to find this movie in it's entirety without having to pay $154 for a DVD?

Taras said...

I don't know. YouTube maybe?

Svetlana said...

April 26th, 2010.
Part 1

In Memory of…
Today is exactly 24 years had passed since Chernobyl explosion, and I can’t remain silent!
In memory of those who rushed to the burning reactor to extinguish the fire and save the nations by the price of their lives...
To the firefighters, to the doctors and many others, who were brave to look in the eyes of death, saving the lives of those who got burned by radiation...
In memory of all of those -unnamed, who died and let all of us live-surviving... ever after the disaster...
24 years had passed, but the word “Chernobyl” is still sounds as curse to many of us, and the destiny of those who survived is still unclear. People from former USSR are still worry about the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat, and how it would affect -not only them, but those who will come after us- a new generation ... As the radiation claims more victims among friends and relatives, the tragedy isn't fading away-it's getting even closer, by collecting new lives and health…
1986 - A year when Chernobyl Nuclear plant exploded.
That was on April 26th, 1:23 am, 90 miles away to North from my town of origin, Kiev.
People from Chernobyl became hostages of cloud of radioactive fallout...
The worst thing is that our government hid from us this fact and severity of it -for about a week.
The purpose was -to lessen the panic and keep people controllable. Using our illiteracy in nuclear physics, they were reminding us from TV and Radio to keep the windows closed tight, to wash the floors frequently and swipe the shoes well before entering the home, reassuring people by TV speech, that everything is under control, and we are safe, it is only the nuclear dust ,that we should be aware of, while their children were immediately evacuated and relocated in a very far places from there.
That day I was on the large stadium. It was very important day for me-I was selected by my physical trainer at my school as a runner for my school in regional competition among Kiev schools-cross, 2 kilometers in distance...
When I went back home after competition, I was wondered - why mother took off my sneakers, checked them with special radiation measurement machine, called Geiger’s’ counter -tool that measures amount of radiation in microrentgens per hour. It was screaming like crazy from too large amount. Mother immediately took off my sport suit, my sneakers, packed it in plastic bag and threw it away on garbage. She told me to go to the shower immediately.
It was a terrible year!
Lots of pregnant women were required to have an abortion to prevent stillborns or a babies with a bunch of abnormalities, such as cleft palate, misplaced or absent internal organs, or extremities, extra fingers, etc. unless they want them to be born on their own risk. A lot of people, who were near Chernobyl's nuclear plant, had developed cancer of internal organs, such as thyroid gland cancer.
And even now the hand of Death collects her harvest by swiping our friends and relatives with her schyte… we will never know who is next? -Among people-as an after effect of 1986 explosion and fire at the nuclear power plant.

Svetlana said...

Part 2

This name became damned, in this town that is still "dead zone", where the radiation level hundreds times more than the normal, safe level ,and it will remain off limits for ages, because of its contamination. Although it is a newly built, young city, about 3-7 years old, with modern, large houses, schools and roads, no one lives there anymore...Only ghostly wind claps the doors and window frames in lonely empty houses, that look with blind windows on empty streets with no cars on them... Empty playgrounds with squeaky swings that will never hear children’s voices and laughter... "Red Forrest"-large strip (lots of miles across) of pine trees and fur-trees, formerly fresh and green, became red in color and dry, burned by radiation.
People who used to live there were either dead or moved out somewhere far from this place...
Gina- was a little black puddle. No one knew her exact age, because my father found her on the train station, in one of those terrible days after Chernobyl's catastrophe. At that time her teeth begun to fall out and change from temporary pet's teeth to permanent, and we assumed that she was 3-5 month old by that time. It is approximate age when dogs change their teeth to permanent. With fear of possible appearance of her owner, we were unwillingly waiting for any owner's advertisement about lost dog, but no one was searching for her at that time.
She was very funny and smart dog! She understood everything that was going on around her little shiny nose. If somebody in our house had argued, she came and sited on your foot, as if she would try to calm you down. When you feel warmth that comes to your foot from her little hairy back, your entire bad mood - gone in a minute. She was as a 7th member of our large family. My mother and father, my mother's both parents, and my younger brother were used to live together, and our lovely dog was like a child for all of us.

Svetlana said...

Part 3

I loved to watch her and draw lots of pictures of her in pencil, when she was asleep, or playing with an old cloth, or yawning, and crawling on the floor. The most funny part-was her little tail-a small hairy-furry "ball". She used it as a dog's tool of communication. When she was happy or wanted something, her tail was waiving, she was looking directly to your eyes, as if she says, "Shame that I can't talk as human do, but you understand me anyway, right?"
When she was scared or upset, her tail was down, same as her eyes...
I loved to take care of her: bathing her, drying, combing her fur and walking her, playing with...
Usually-father, himself, was her "personal hairdresser", he made her look like "lady puddle”, shaping her fur, as if he was a professional hairdresser -stylist for dogs.
Puddles never moult, so if you do not comb them daily and do not cut their fur to make it properly shaped-they become shapeless creature of unknown origin. A hairball with eyes and feet...
In 1986- lots and lots of home animals were thrown away from their homes-people were afraid to continue to keep "a hairy collector of radiation " at home, especially if they had a little babies. Homeless abandoned home animals were out, like savages, on the streets...They were hungry and lonely, and this helped them keep all together, forming a large groups. They became wild, fearless, dirty and angry creatures. No stranger would willingly approach them, afraid of being bitten and infected with rabies.
No one wanted to adopt them either, and there were no place to keep such many animals.
...There was a "special service" after them.
A large car, with usually 2 men inside, a heartless butchers, who were catching homeless animals and then-sent them to the local Zoo slaughterhouse, lots of dogs were served as meat for lions and tigers' food.

We were afraid to let Gina go for a walk on her own and being caught by them. My father himself made a custom collar of red leather, that she wore around her neck, while being outside with us-in case she will be a little far from us-everybody noticed that this dog belongs to somebody, and never in her entire life she was allowed to go on the streets by herself...
She lived with us since she was found by father, for 13 years-we grew up together, our childhood and adolescence years were passed with her...
Later- she became an old dog, aged much more faster than us...Climbing stairways became pretty hard for her, so in her last couple of years we carried her on the way out and in, for a walk.
...That was the worst part-we all knew that this can not be turned off, we are unable to stop the nature, just hope that this would happen as later as possible...
Although she passed away almost 12 years ago from now, she is still remains in our pictures and memories as if it was just yesterday.
It is so hard to lose your lovely pet after her lifetime ended, and you can do nothing about it -the reason that we do not want to keep any animals anymore.
It hurts to lose them!

Chernobyl- literally means "black grass", but if you break it into two words it will mean "black truth"-No one knew while building this city, naming it by this name that it will become its curse.

Chernobyl …
I would never wish it happening to anybody, no soul in the world deserves it!
…After I had wrote those lines about Chernobyl, and red them over, it all seemed to me as a chapter from crazy fantasy book, or a bad dream that turned to be today’s reality…

Svetlana F.

P.S.Please forgive me my misspelling and grammar-as English is not my native language...I just tried to express my feelings and memories about Chernobyl catastrophe here...

Taras said...

Thank you so much for sharing, Svetlana!

Your story fills so many gaps, on a deeply personal level. It takes quite a bit of talent and time to write the way you do. Not to mention the fact that you do it in a language other than your mother tongue.

We both "experienced" Chernobyl as kids here in Kyiv. I was a bit younger, one year shy of first grade, but I do remember many of the things you've recollected.

Again, thank you so much for sharing this! I'm really sorry for the giant comment approval lag. Your story touched me.