Chernobyl, History of a Tragedy

“It was a product of the soviet system”, said Serhii Plokhy, as he explained to journalist Nik Gowing, and a rapt audience that the Chernobyl tragedy symbolised a fundamental breakdown in military and civilian life. 

It was such a severe breakdown, that it contributed to the deaths of workers and civilians in the Ukrainian soviet republic, and even had an impact on areas as close to home as North Wales.

And the catastrophic nuclear reaction was tragic in more ways than one. Plokhy argued the way in which it was handled by the government was “shambolic”, and was largely manipulated by a group led by political motives.

The Soviet system in northern Ukraine during the 1980s was “steeped in propaganda” said the author and historian; “the authorities were not educated and they were not ready”.

And the social and political implications of the 1986 tragedy are further explained in Plokhy’s timeline of events: Chernobyl, History of a Tragedy. He argued the event was instrumental in the collapse of the Soviet Union and, in a larger sense, the uprising of media freedom in the USSR.

If you’re interested in history please also see Event 190 at 5.30pm on Tuesday 28 May. If you like watching Hay Festival events digitally please sign up to the Hay Player for more from the world’s greatest thinkers.

Picture by: Sam Hardwick

L-R: Serhii Plokhy, Nik Gowing