Shooting locations of the Chernobyl series
Chernobyl is a mini-series of five episodes based on The Begging, a collection of testimonies written by Svetlana Alexievitch. The story is about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a power plant that exploded on April 26, 1986. The RBMK reactor No. 4 of the Lenin power plant overheats and implodes. Then located in the USSR at the time, the Ukrainian town of Prypiat, where the affected buildings were located, was devastated. Residents, engineers, scientists and the authorities do not measure the extent of the damage. Yet they are considerable for human beings and the environment.
While the Chernobyl series is shouting the truth, very meticulously recreated and very popular with viewers, it is highly controversial, as we mentioned in our article on the success of the series.
Chernobyl shot in Lithuania
Since it is impossible to shoot shots in the Chernobyl power plant, which has become too dangerous for humans, the series created by Craig Mazin was filmed in Lithuania, more precisely in Vilnius and in the Ignalina nuclear power plant. The film crews, not wanting to put themselves in danger, avoided shooting at Prypiat as much as possible. Indeed, its region will not be suitable for human habitation for another 20,000 years.
The Lithuanian city is frequently the setting for other film and television productions, such as The Last Czars (Netflix), Catherine the Great (HBO) and also War and Peace (BBC).
Shooting began in April 2018 and lasted 16 weeks in the capital of this Baltic country. It required more than 1,000 hours of work and the participation of more than 5,000 extras for a total budget of almost 10 million euros. Here are the six important locations used as sets for the series.
Fabijoniškės, Vilnius, Lithuania
The stricken town of Prypiat could not accommodate the cameras. So director Johan Renck chose Fabijoniškės, a typical Vilnius neighbourhood. Spectators can see scenes of the Ukrainian city’s inhabitants looking on in dazed disbelief at the disaster, but also of the buses taking them out of the city, the hurried rescue services or the streets disinfected by men in suits.
Fabijoniškės looks a lot like Prypiat. This neighbourhood was built at the same time as the Chernobyl disaster. Its architecture in the Soviet brutalist style follows the codes of the Ukrainian city. This very symmetrical district with very old vegetation was ideal for Prypiat’s decorations. However, at first, the Swedish director didn’t want to film there. He found the premises too austere and the PVC windows too current. A great deal of work in post-production was therefore necessary to transform the elements that were too recent.
The Lenin power plant at Chernobyl
Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, 31217, Lithuania
Valeri Legassov (Jared Harris) and Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård) try to contain the fire in the Lenin power station. The Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy and the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, also head of the Fuel and Energy Office, were members of the team that managed the Chernobyl disaster.
Commissioned in 1983 and closed in 2009, the Ignalina nuclear power plant is the little sister of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Not far from the town of Visaginas, in north-eastern Lithuania, the place is now disused. The exteriors and interiors look just like the Lenin power plant. In addition, his RBMK reactor is identical to his big sister. In 2018, 2,240 tourists came to visit it and in July of the following year alone, 1630 people!
Professor Legassov’s hotel
Žirmūnų g., Vilnius, Lithuania
This hotel plays a big part in Chernobyl. In the first episodes, Professor Legassov goes down there. He drinks many glasses of vodka in his restaurant during episode 2. It was also in this hotel complex that the three workers who sacrificed themselves to go and close the valves of the Lenin power station reactor were appointed.
Built in 1982, the building is not a hotel but the Cultural and Sports Centre of the Lithuanian Ministry of the Interior. The building in Soviet modernist style has preserved an intact part of its history. The film crews found authentic furniture, including the bar and period wall decorations.
The KGB prison
Museum of Occupation and Freedom Fighting, Aukų g. 2A, Vilnius 01400, Lithuania
Currently one of the most visited museums in Lithuania, the Museum of Occupation and Freedom Fighting was the setting for the KGB prison in the series. The production team could not have dreamed of a better place since it was actually the headquarters of the Russian intelligence services at the time. Prison cells, torture rooms and furniture are still intact. The atmosphere of the shooting was very heavy, as the protagonists recall, since they had the impression that the ghosts of prisoners haunted the rooms.
The large white building on Gediminias Avenue also served as Gestapo headquarters between 1941 and 1943. The names of the victims of the Second World War but also of the Stalinist repression are engraved on its façade. Lithuanian Jews exterminated during the Holocaust are numerous, 200,000 or 96% of the Jews who lived in the country.
Former Government Guest House, Žvėrynas, Vilnius, Lithuania
Numerous meeting scenes were filmed in this building, including those featuring Mikhail Gorbachev (David Dencik), then general secretary of the Russian Communist Party and president of the USSR.
Not far from the Russian Embassy, in a green setting, this guesthouse really welcomed Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Richard Nixon during their respective visits to Lithuania. Typical of Soviet architecture at the time, the building has not changed in 30 years, making it an ideal place for filming.
The trial scene
Faculty of Architecture of Vilnius Gediminas Technical University – Courtroom, Trakų St. Petersburg, Russia 1, Vilnius 01118, Lithuania
In episode 5, the scene of the trial of the Lenin power plant disaster takes place in this courtroom of the Faculty of Architecture of the Vilnius Technical University.
The Swedish director chose a classroom as a nod to the real trial of Diatlov, Fomin and Bryukhanov held in the Ukraine in 1987. The first, deputy chief engineer of the plant, was found guilty of “criminal management of a potentially explosive activity” and sentenced to ten years in prison.
This 18th century building was Tishkevich’s palace. After the Second World War it was rehabilitated as a college and later became a university building.
Tourism in Chernobyl
With the success of the series, the 30-km exclusion zone around Chernobyl has become an increasingly popular but extremely dangerous tourist destination. Visitors and instagrammers then brought these places back to life as if they had been frozen in time at the time of the disaster.
Although closed to the public until 2011, the region was reopened by the Ukrainian government to attract thrill-seeking tourists. Between 2011 and 2018, their number increased from 7,000 to 72,000. An increase of 40% compared to May 2018 was recorded the following year.
At least 4,000 people were killed in the nuclear disaster, directly or indirectly, according to the World Health Organization. Voices were then raised to denounce this indecent tourism, staged by hundreds of photos.
The creator of the series, Craig Mazin, wrote about this phenomenon: “If you visit [la zone d’exclusion entourant la centrale nucléaire], please remember that a terrible tragedy took place there. Behave with respect for those who have suffered and sacrificed”.
As for the book La supplication by Svetlana Alexievitch, it is now a great success in bookshops because of its remarkable investigative work but also because the HBO mini-series brought it back into the spotlight.
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By Anthony Thibault
From the "Casimir generation", Anthony has kept (in addition to a passion for Goldorak) a taste for inventive images, experimentation and curiosity. Passionate about travel and pop culture, he co-founded Fantrippers with Nicolas Albert to share his passion with as many people as possible.