Chernobyl explained: Was Valery Legasov dying from radiation poisoning?

Chernobyl is a five-part mini-series that has finished airing on HBO and Sky Atlantic. In the show, Jared Harris played the role of scientist, Valery Legasov, who was instrumental in the clean-up after the disaster. Based on the real-life scientist, here’s what we know about Valery Legasov.

Was Valery Legasov dying from radiation poisoning?

Chernobyl is an HBO series examining the aftermath of the 1986 explosion of the nuclear reactor four at the power plant. 

The show has been widely well-received by critics and audiences alike and has become the highest rated show on IMDB.

Jared Harris is one of the main stars of the show, playing Soviet scientist Valery Legasov, who was instrumental in the aftermath of Chernobyl.

Legasov was a Soviet scientist who was appointed to be the chief of the commission investigating the Chernobyl disaster.


At the time, the Soviet government was attempting to downplay the scale of the disaster.

Legasov was instrumental in challenging the version of events in his role.

He also helped limit the spread of radiation and prevent explosions in the three remaining reactors.

Legasov helped evacuate the town of Pripyat as well as setting up an exclusion zone.


Although he spent four months in Chernobyl after the explosion, Legasov did not die of radiation sickness. 

Instead, he committed suicide on April 27, 1988, one day after the second anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

According to his daughter Inga Legasova in an interview with RT News, he was sick with radiation sickness as his health deteriorated rapidly.

She said: “He was seriously ill during the last few months he practically didn’t eat or sleep.

“Can you imagine how hard it is for someone not to sleep at all? He had strong radiation sickness.”


During the first episode of the mini-series, viewers see him take his own life.

There is also an implication that he is suffering from radiation poisoning as he coughs into a handkerchief and there are spots of blood. 

In the moments following this, we see him take his own life.

This was a deliberate choice on the part of the showrunners to begin with this in the show.

In the podcast accompanying the show writer and executive producer Craig Mazin said: “One of the choices we had to make was how to deal with the fact that our hero ultimately ends up taking his own life. 

“We felt from the very start that we should begin with it.”

Chernobyl is available to watch on NOW TV

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