Chernobyl Survivor Says HBO Series Mirrored Her Reality

She was 10 years old during the Chernobyl disaster — and this survivor found the HBO series to be healing. Here's what she remembers about living in fear of nuclear poisoning.

Nobody wanted to believe it

Watching HBO's Chernobyl miniseries became a healing experience for Sophia Moskalenko. She was 10 when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened and remembers how Soviet officials denied its danger. On April 26, 1986, Chernobyl’s 4th reactor exploded during a botched safety test. Moskalenko lived in Kyiv, Ukraine — 60 miles from Chernobyl. But radiation was spreading through the air and in the rain. She first learned about this via a neighbor who was a nuclear scientist.

“I remember hearing her say that it wasn't actually a fire, that it was an explosion. And she explained how radiation worked which I knew nothing about up until that point but it sounded really scary that it was this invisible thing that you couldn't smell and you couldn't sense in any way and yet that it could kill you. I started seeing things that were unusual the first thing I remember was this huge truck that was spraying water and then a huge brush rotated behind it, washing the streets and I only saw those trucks before prior to that time in anticipation of parades on major holidays so it was unusual that I would do so on just an average weekday. That was my moment when officially in my mind it moved from, "Is it really that bad?" to "Yeah it's really that bad."

Other facts started to contradict official news. Many objects and food became radioactive, but nobody wanted to believe it. In May 1986, the government announced a mandatory evacuation for schoolchildren. Moskalenko spent 3 months at a camp in Crimea. Moskalenko has been consistently wary of the looming effects of radiation. After the U.S.S.R. collapsed, Moskalenko left Ukraine to study in the U.S. She’s been living in Pennsylvania since 2004 but is still distrustful of official news.