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As promised, I will recap Episode 4 of #ChernobylHBO in the thread below. Recaps of episodes 1-3 are in the pinned thread on my feed. This one was... special. Until this morning, I didn't know it would be. Allow me to proceed in the the order I choose and see where it takes me.
Today was my step-father's 71st birthday. I was visiting him in Rochester, NY. We aren't what you'd call extremely close, but we aren't on bad terms, either. It's just... complicated. Anyway, he watches a lot of crappy Russian TV so I recommended he tries Chernobyl. He said no...
"No, I won't", he said. "Don't want to."
"Why not? It's very well made and you can get the dubbed Russian version online..."
"Because I was there, that's why. And I don't need this again."
Turns out, my step-father, then Captain Veytsman, was sent to the Exclusion Zone in 1986...
He was a part of the Likvidatsiya Posledstviy (the "elimination of consequences", as it was called in that coldblooded Soviet jargon of the time). He was stationed in Tiraspol, Moldavian SSR, an artillery commander, when he was ordered to assemble all chemical units and move out.
He was in charge of an area in the zone which included several condemned villages. They were to inspect vehicles and personnel, guard the roads, perform animal control and catch interlopers. He said looters became a big problem after a while. People raided abandoned buildings...
"They'd check us for radiation every day. They always put us down for 25 roentgen. 25 was the highest allowable level, you see. So they just entered 25 on the paperwork. Who knows how much we got."
"Jesus, why didn't you ever tell me?"
"You didn't ask"

Soviet men...
I wrote about this to @clmazin and he said it's just as well the now-retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Soviet Army Vladimir Veytsman won't be watching tonight's episode. It would hit way too close to home. It certainly would. It did for me, and I sure as hell wasn't there.
So, I will do the animal control soldiers scenes first. And - hey, here it is! The red and green flag to the left of Pavel. That's Moldavian SSR. That tent may have been occupied by one of my step-father's boys... So, yes, I am engrossed in the world of a TV drama, obviously.
Bacho is a Georgian name. The actor, who is Lebanese, actually looks like a stereotypical Georgian man: curly hair, big nose, a somewhat sultry look. But, even more impressively, he somehow SOUNDS Georgian. It's impossible to relay the colorful Georgian accent in English, but...
...he pulls it off. His character traits are stereotypically Georgian: he is passionate, he has quirky rules he is dead serious about, he presents a happy front, he drinks like a horse. The show went to the lengths of making one character look and act as a typical ethnic minority
So, no, having the actors speak British English doesn't ruin it for me. In fact, it even enhances the experience. Seeing and hearing the ethnic traits of the Northern Caucasus through that accent was surreal. Also, look at that babushka! You gonna tell me she is not Ukrainian?
The monologue she delivers sets the tone for the episode, which is stubbornness and resilience in the face of unimaginable pain. Now, would a Ukrainian village woman in 1986 speak of Stalin like this? I don't know. My own grandma did speak of the famine, but she never used...
... the term Holodomor nor would she attribute it to Stalin specifically. Still, in many areas of Ukraine people probably did just that. Many Ukrainians certainly never forgot or forgave. And, besides, that monologue, and those pictures, the Soviet history redux, are just so good
Even more importantly, the stubbornness and the unyielding strength (the traits I saw in my own grandma, who died at 98 after living a life very similar to this character's) are extremely true to life. I love it how we never actually see her get up and leave.
This goes back to the ridiculous task of excavating "the Russian soul" which this show undertakes & somehow succeeds in. The miners in Episode 3 showed that Russians could be disdainful and defiant of authority (while remaining patriotic and selfless). The babushka does the same.
So, let's talk a bit more about all of them speaking English. It doesn't bother me, but I have grown up on Soviet films about WWII where all German characters spoke perfect Russian and the viewers were simply expected to use their damn imaginations.
To me, the only things to be wary of is using the turns of phrase (like rhymes or puns) that would not be possible to pull off in Russian. The show sidesteps those mines. In fact, it goes the other way. Like the "egg basket" here. "Eggs", natch, is what Russians call testicles
On the other hand, this phrase was probably used to elicit a knowing smile from the US audience. I can't quite imagine the loyal party man Shcherbina saying this, given how proud the Soviets were of putting he first man in space, which they considered the end of the space race
Shcerbina's railing against the stupidity of the party bigwigs who put propaganda tropes ahead of the life-saving work may or may not have happened, but the underlying point is true. Propaganda and "Honor of the Motherland" has been Russia's No. 1 priority from Potemkin's time
I utterly believe the venom in Shcherbina's voice when he is forced to confront German technological superiority. This was a huge thorn in the side of many Russians ("Who won the fucking war?!"). And the reluctance to ask the West for anything is absolutely true.
But the whole point here, I believe, is once again Russia's tremendous strength, resilience and what the Brits call bloody-mindedness. Russia is a very Asiatic culture in many ways. It values the collective way more than mere human lives. This sounds brutal, and it is...
But it also allows it to survive major cataclysms and battle against impossible foes in the ways that other, happier cultures never would. Of course they'd throw "biorobots" (expendable human bodies) with goddamn shovels at the twenty Hiroshimas lying on that roof!
Americans, when involved in another foreign conflict, often talk about the brave men and women in uniform and how putting them in harm's way is a tough decision that can't be taken lightly. Russians don't think like that. If you're in uniform, being in harm's way is why you exist
Russia, as it should be abundantly clear, isn't a very happy culture at all. But it also defeated Hitler, in many ways thanks to being the way it is. It's the absolutely last choice to deliver the mankind any kind of happiness. But, sometimes, it's the only one strong enough...
A couple of notes on the small details that I tried my best to pick up. First of all, I've been intrigued at what they've all been smoking on this show. Turns out, Sochinskiye is surprisingly popular, though it wasn't the most common Soviet brand.
None of that mamby-pamby stuff for the grizzled vet Bacho, though. He smokes filterless Meteor, which has probably created an equivalent of half a Hiroshima in his lungs. Luckily, Georgian men have notoriously long life expectancy.
The vodka scenes aren't a cheap Russian stereotype. The "liquidators" were positively showered in drink. It was thought to somehow help against radiation. Russians are sometimes incredibly devoted to hack remedies. See also the milk scene in Episode 2.
And I will raise a 200mg glass to this absolutely perfect Soviet librarian. Yes, some Russian women could purse their lips for the English national team of lip-pursing.
Not only does this actual Soviet car have actual Soviet license plates, it's the plate with the correct two-letter code (KX) for the Kiev Oblast, where Pripyat is located. This is the kind of absolutely fanatical attention to detail that makes #Chernobyl a genre-redefining show
And finally... That song. "Black Raven".
Black raven, black raven,
Why do you circle over me?
You won't have your prey,
Black raven, I'm not yours!

It's a folk song often sang by Russian soldiers. And it's, of course, about resiliency, stubbornness, refusal to die.
The scene has the singer repeat this stanza over and over. The black raven is being consistently denied. The actual song ends with the stubborn soldier's succumbing to the inevitable. "I see my death is near. Black raven, I am all yours."
Russia has no happy endings.
Good night.
P.S. I am re-watching Episode 4 with my son and he had a few questions about the Soviet military, so here is an addendum with the questions he posed and my answers to them...
Q. Are these rations authentic?
A. EVERYTHING in this shot is authentic, AFAIK. The "semi-smoked sausage" was a part of dry rations (though often a hard-to-find item in Soviet stores), the "gray bread" (13 kopecks a loaf) was a staple (I miss it badly), the matchbox is real...
Even the newspaper it's all wrapped in (a normal practice) bears Russian print. They are washing it all down with outrageous amounts of vodka, but, as said before, this was actually a perk for the liquidators.
The tin cups (kruzhkas) are also true to life. 300g of booze, friends
Q. Why is Bacho so dismissive of Garo, and why is Garo basically taking it?
A. Bacho is a "senior praporshchik", the highest NCO rank possible, just under the officers. It was given to soldiers who fulfilled their conscription duties and re-enlisted under a contract.
Typical "praporshchiks" had a reputation of crooks and layabouts, but Bacho is obviously an Afghanistan vet who'd command an enormous amount of respect.
Garo is a senior sergeant, a mid-level NCO and also an Afghan tough guy. That said, they'd probably die for each other.
Q. Did they really use these rifles? This is like XIX century stuff!
A. These are hunting rifles, which is what liquidators (many of whom were civilians, after all) were armed with. Truthfully, giving Pavel an AK probably wouldn't have been a great idea, besides being an overkill
And, finally, a tidbit courtesy of my colleague @Alexey__Kovalev, regarding the now-famous "egg baskets." The soldiers had a rhyme about them, typical of Soviet Army humor: "Yesli hochesh byt otsom, yaitsa oberni svintsom."
"If you want to be a dad, better wrap your nuts in lead"
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