Now living in a modest one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Kiev, Ananenko insisted that what he did was not heroic.
“I never felt like a hero. I was doing my job,” said the 59-year-old former engineer who in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster took part in a risky operation to drain water from under the power station to prevent a further explosion.
In one of the most dramatic episodes of the HBO mini-series, actors playing Ananenko and two other engineers, Valeriy Bespalov and Boris Baranov, wade through flooded corridors to empty a water tank located three metres (10 feet) below the burning reactor.
On screen, officials inform workers of the imminent danger and the three men volunteer for the mission to prevent ‘millions’ of deaths.
Nuclear experts fear a second explosion from super-hot radioactive fuel burning through a concrete floor and reacting with the large amount of water in the tank.
In reality, while there were fears of a second explosion, the scale of the potential disaster was unclear at the time.
And the three men depicted in the series as volunteering for a suicide mission simply obeyed orders, without being clearly informed about the risks they incurred, he recalled.
“I was ordered to go there, so I went,” said Ananenko, who with his brown hair and brown eyes does not resemble the blond Icelandic actor Baltasar Breki Samper playing him in the mini-series.
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