New “Chernobyl” TV show and the End Times

I understand that there is a new series on HBO about the Chernobyl disaster.  I haven’t seen any of it yet.

During the summer after the April 1986 Chernobyl disaster I was in Rome for Fr. Reginald Foster’s intense Summer Latin Bootcamp (again).   I lived mostly in Trastevere during these summers, but I also spent time with Ukrainians on the Aventine.

The older men there, although they appreciated my bass voice at Divine Liturgy, were suspicious of outsiders (reasonably so… this was before the fall of the Soviet Bloc) and they were entirely freaked out in 1986 and worried about the end of the world.

One day I got one of them to tell why they were so nervous about the End Times.

“Chernobyl”, he responded.

“And…?”, quoth I.

“Chernobyl… in English mean ‘vooormvooood'”.


“Voormvood!  Like Bible.  “Voooormvoooood.”

I got it.

Ukrainian “chernobyl” stands for Artemisia vulgaris … wormwood, as in the Bible.

Wormword is a Hebrew metaphor for a curse, because of its bitterness.

But there’s also Revelation 8:10-11:

And the third angel sounded the trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, burning as it were a torch, and it fell on the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters:
And the name of the star is called Wormwood. And the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

A great star… something hot… fell on the waters and people died.

Have a nice day!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Gaetano says:

    I thought it was exceedingly well done and one of the best dramas of the year. The music and cinematography also captured the mood and setting of Soviet life.

  2. JonathanTX says:

    I rate it 3.6; Not great, not terrible.

    But seriously, it’s one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time. There’s supposed to be an anti-Trump subtext built in to it, but you could just as easily interpret it as an allegory against government control by the Left. One of the standout lines for me in this regard is a moment when Khomyuk says, “We live in a country where children have to die to save their mothers.” Not much of a stretch to apply this line to abortion for the “convenience” of the mother.

  3. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The valley of Clairvaux was originally named the Valley of Wormwood, because nothing but that tough plant would grow there. (Obviously the soil got better under care and time.)

  4. Jacob says:

    A woman who created a website in the early 00s that featured photos from the Exclusion Zone and has been updated since as she has made more trips included the following little essay on one of her pages:

    The Revelation Book says that the great star named Chernobyl, fell upon the third part of rivers, and upon the fountains of waters, and made them bitter..

    so, we don’t drink from this fountains either.

    [Here she has a photo looking down into a well.]

    Being non religious, I am not a very concerned about my sins, because price for the sins we’ll pay in the world thereafter, but I am really concerned about mistakes, where price we got to pay already in this world… I am not optimist who sees the glass half full and not a pessimist who sees the same glass half empty. I am a realist who always sees the glass exactly as it is and here in Chernie I see through a glass, darkly, that authors of the Bible had somehow foreseen the Chernobyl disaster.

    In Greek, that the New Testament was originally written in, the verse where it say- “..and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp..” the word “fell” means “to hover or to settle,” and the word “star” translates to “as scattered across the sky.” It in turn is derived from another Greek word which meant “to spread like a carpet” – an appropriate description of the radiation cloud that spread across the area. Most interesting that the word for “lamp” comes from a Greek verb meaning “to radiate.” When you make that into a noun, you have “radiation.”

    In verse 11 the name of the star is even capitalized, as a proper name of a place.. As for the third part of the world, it was popular in the first centuries Greek to use the term “one-third” to describe a large quantity. Chernobyl may be as well a group name for all Chernobyls to come, wherever a “great star” will fall again, the future of this land will be the same, radiation and wormwood- the grass of oblivion.

    Another interesting detail, the alternate meaning of “wormwood” for the word “Chernobyl” has now mysteriously disappeared from our dictionaries. Such is the policy of our government. In order to suppress apocalyptic moods and to build more reactors, they have removed this word from dictionaries. I doubt, they will succeed in erasing this episode from our memory, word is still in everyday use and we all know that not all governments of the world, not even their rich patrons from almighty atomic industry, can remove verses from Bible.

  5. John21 says:

    I looked up some quotes from the series for a refresher, and found this one. Professor Valery Legasov has this great line in the series, I believe in the final episode (it’s so fitting given the cultural malaise we experience in the West today):

    “When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can no longer remember it is even there. But it is still there.”

    That quote is super climatic in the series, especially given the events of the final episode.

  6. jaykay says:

    My sister was living in Rome at that time, and our parents had just returned home after a visit to her when the disaster happened. When I made one of my visits back to the domicile I clearly them saying they’d got phone calls from her telling about the panic as the radioactive cloud spread over Europe: milk-drinking banned, or something? Perhaps Fr. Z remembers.

    Anyway, as regards Revelation and Wormwood, the whole rotten Bolshie structure came rapidly crashing down 4-5 years later. Who’d a thunk it, at the time? The Woman clothed with the Sun had/will have the last Word – despite the efforts of so many to re-erect it.

  7. Simon_GNR says:

    “Revelation?” I thought the Catholic name for the last book of the Bible was the Apocalypse. That’s what it’s called in the Jerusalem Bible anyway.

  8. Semper Gumby says:

    jaykay: You’re right, in parts of Europe milk sales were banned and some livestock was slaughtered.

    The Chernobyl incident played a minor role in ending the Cold War. The Soviet effort to conceal information about the cause and severity of the incident raised skepticism about Gorbachev’s commitment to and the effectiveness of his new policy of “Glasnost” or “openness.” The incident also publicized globally doubts about Soviet competence and the aging Soviet infrastructure.

    That said, the incident also provided Gorbachev with an opportunity to move forward with Glasnost and Perestroika “re-structuring.” However, Gorbachev has repeatedly stated that he was trying to save the Soviet Union, not dismantle it.

    A few years ago, in one of his many odd musings, Gorbachev gave an interview in which he said that Chernobyl was probably the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union as it provided a “greater opportunity for openness” which in turn led to the Soviet collapse.

    Well…no doubt Chernobyl was one of those defining moments near the end, but, no, alot more was going on besides that incident. There were pressures internal and external that caused the Soviet collapse.

    Gorbachev has also stated, to sum up here, “Russians regret the collapse of the Soviet Union, but few want to see it return.” Putin has called the collapse of the Soviet Empire a “tragedy.”

    While we’re at it, one more point about the end of the Cold War.

    There are some who claim that Poland “began to self-liberate” in 1989 (a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall) because of the essentially free elections that produced President Lech Walesa.

    Not quite. The excellent and hardy Poles did not achieve elections or freedom in a vacuum. For starters, the personal relationship between Reagan and Gorbachev, unique during the Cold War, greatly increased the probability that the Cold War would end in an atmosphere of Soviet restraint rather than rashness or aggression.

    Events during 1986-89 (of course, much occurred before 1986) included: Gorbachev’s ploy at the Reykjavik Summit to end SDI which Reagan countered by walking out of the Summit; Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech (which also applied pressure on Glasnost); Vice President Bush’s trip to Poland which included a broadcast on Polish state-TV in support of Solidarity and a visit to Warsaw’s St. Stanislaw Kostka Church in memory of Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko; demonstrations in the Baltic cities of Riga, Tallinn, and Vilnius; the Washington Summit in which Gorbachev agreed to Reagan’s request to end Soviet arms shipments to Nicaragua (Gorbachev eventually ordered or permitted the East Germans and Cubans to supply the weapons); the Kremlin returned a few religious items seized by the Bolsheviks to churches; Reagan’s address to Moscow State University; Bulgaria’s closure of the Club for Support of Perestroika and Glasnost; Gorbachev’s pardon of Stalin’s victims (but not Lenin’s, nor did Gorbachev admit to the Katyn Forest massacre until 1990); the Estonia Supreme Soviet declared it’s right to national sovereignty; the Polish state press published a positive Walesa interview.

    Ok, that’s enough, though one last analogy.

    The American revolutionaries were assisted by, for example, the French Army and Navy at Yorktown, the Prussian General von Steuben, and the Polish General Pulaski.

    I’ve mentioned Paul Kengor’s books before, here is an excerpt from one book about St. John Paul II, Reagan, and St. Teresa of Calcutta:

  9. Gabriel Syme says:

    I highly recommend the ‘Chernobyl’ series, I saw it recently. Most TV is utter dross, but every so often there is a gem like this.

    I read an online comment by someone who grew up in the USSR at that time – he was blown away by the level of detail and accuracy in the props / costumes / sets. He said that he was amazed the production team had gone to such lengths, because western audiences would never be able to fully appreciate the effort. A pretty good endorsement on that front.

    Without giving away any ‘spoilers’, I will say the show highlighted what scarily passes for thinking in communist regimes, as well as how utterly callous such regimes are, with all their misplaced priorities. It also highlighted the very moving bravery and selflessness of many men involved in the emergency response, who knew it would ultimately be a death warrant, but who got “stuck in” nonetheless.

    I was 8 when the disaster happened, but do not remember hearing anything about it (in the UK) and so anything on the news must have been very well policed to avoid panic.

  10. jaykay says:

    Semper G: great article. I didn’t know about St. Teresa’s meeting with him. This sums it all up, I think:

    “Mother Teresa went further: “You have suffered the passion of the cross and have received grace. There is a purpose to this.” And what was the purpose of his suffering? “This has happened to you at this time because your country and the world need you.” This statement moved Reagan; the Great Communicator remained speechless. Nancy Reagan cried.”

    I’ve read Kengor’s “A Pope and a President”. Excellent. Also reading his “Dupes” book, about “progressives” and their pernicious influence, still ever increasing, it seems.

  11. Semper Gumby says:

    jaykay: That paragraph from the article is an eye-opener. Friends recommend Kengor’s “Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage.”

    Gabriel Syme: You might be interested in David Pryce-Jones’ “The Strange Death of the Soviet Empire.” The book is mainly interviews with old guard apparatchiks and nomenklatura, Communists who thought they could reform the Empire, and Eastern bloc military officers. Alot of details and first-person accounts of the absurdities and corruption of “real existing socialism.”

  12. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    I watched all five episodes of *Chernobyl.* It’s a superbly-crafted docu-drama. Without too much fear of spoiling, I would point out that some scenes are shattering to watch; the filmmakers seem to go out of their way to linger on images of the most gruesome and ghastly effects of high doses of radiation on living beings – people, especially, but also on pets and wildlife – often presented in lurid and graphic detail. This is not a show for many young people, especially not for children. Even many adults would be quite upset by a number of scenes.

    That said, *Chernobyl* is based on a true story, and I understand the filmmakers desire to be unflinching in telling it faithfully. . . which they do compellingly.

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