The trailer for HBO Max’s new documentary Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes uncovers the true story of the nuclear disaster

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A new HBO Max documentary is about to tell the full, unvarnished true story of what happened in one of the least understood tragedies of the 20th century: Chernobyl.

How do you define a great documentary? Heaps of scandal? Shocking real-life stories? Hidden archive footage that’s only just emerged to see the light of day?

Whatever your preference, you might agree that one marker of a truly gripping film is evidence that you never really had the full story – that is, until the moment it arrives on your TV screen to set the record straight.

That’s what looks set to happen with HBO Max’s forthcoming documentary Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes, which reveals newly uncovered archive footage from 36 years ago, when an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Soviet Ukraine became the worst man-made accident in history.

Directed by Emmy-winning British director James Jones (Mosul), the documentary takes a deep dive into the horrific effects of the 1986 disaster, as well as the lengths to which the Soviet government went to cover up the incident from the rest of the world, including the soldiers and miners sent in to Chernobyl to “liquidate” the damage at the severe detriment of their health.

Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes uncovers never-before-seen footage taken at the time of the incident

Alongside powerful and sometimes graphic archive footage filmed during the aftermath of the tragedy, the documentary brings together harrowing audio interviews with those who bore witness to the horrors of Chernobyl. 

They include Ihor Hodosov, a miner; Ihor Pismenskiy, a helicopter pilot; Oleksandr Sirota, a 10-year-old schoolboy; Lyudmila Ignatenko, whose husband was a first responder; Nikolai Tarakanov, a Russian general; Oleksiy Breus, a Chernobyl engineer; Ihor Yatskiv and Nikolai Kaplin, both liquidators; and Yuri Samoilenko, deputy chief engineer of Chernobyl Power Plant. 

The trailer gives an insight into the disturbing consequences of the disaster, even as the Soviet government downplayed the crisis with propaganda films. “Nobody was warned by anybody,” says one person. “Schools and kindergartens were open.”

While the official Soviet line is that only 31 people died as an immediate result of the Chernobyl disaster, it’s estimated that more than 200,000 people lost their lives as a direct or indirect result of the accident, with an incalculable ripple effect on account of the radiation. The government’s response to the tragedy subsequently contributed to the fall of the USSR.

Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes will air on HBO Max on 22 June 2022, and is available to stream now on Sky and Now.

Images: HBO Max

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is Stylist's Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.