The one, who remained behind the scenes

M. Nazarenko, who made the world-famous shots of alive Pripyat.

For all his busyness, Mikhail Nazarenko found an opportunity to record life in his beloved city for himself just so. That times, before the accident, no one could even imagine how valuable these shots of the ordinary life of Pripyat would become.

For many powerful people of that time, he was "uncomfortable" during his lifetime. Perhaps that is why after his death they quickly forgot about him. His work — kilometers of captured films and photo films — were quickly sent to a landfill. Today, what has been preserved, as "illustrations" for the Chernobyl tragedy, is used in their films by all the more or less self-respecting directors. Only now the name of a man who sacrificed his life for the sake of the footage is not even mentioned in the credits.

Mikhail Nazarenko, Pripyat Film Director

Mikhail Nazarenko believed that his place was on the other side of the lens, and he rarely fell into the frame. Photo and video materials depicting this person are really a rarity. According to the recollections of friends, in addition to unlimited modesty, he was distinguished by laconicism, responsibility and a keen sense of justice.

He was a closed person. He did a lot, spoke a little. I think he really didn’t let anyone into his soul. He was akin to a philosopher — closed, kept more in himself.

Lyubov Syrota, poet, former head of a literary studio in the Pripyat Palace of Culture «Energetik» - author

Pripyat Pygmalion, as he was nicknamed by colleagues on one of the meetings at the Palace of Culture «Energetik», was an official city photographer and cameraman, he headed the amateur film studio Pripyat-Film, taught children and adults photography and movie making, wrote poetry, actively participated in theatrical productions, held city competitions among amateur photographers. But his main hobby was a short-length movies. Of all the pre-accident short films shot by Nazarenko, only one has survived — a documentary about the heroes of Pripyat, «These places are dear to me». Its dubbing, like in the most of Mikhail's other works, was carried out jointly by the Pripyat Film studio and colleagues in the Palace of Culture — workers at the Edison-2 disco. Nazarenko also tried himself in amateur art cinema. According to the recollections of friends, Mikhail managed to make at least one short film, about the life of an elderly village woman during the Nazi occupation of World War II. Unfortunately, the movie was not preserved.

For all his busyness, Mikhail Nazarenko found an opportunity to record life in his beloved city for himself just so. That times, before the accident, no one could even imagine how valuable these shots of the ordinary life of Pripyat would become.

Then we did not pay attention. Well, yes, a film about Pripyat; well, yes, the rooster crowed on the balcony, well, beautifully noticed; well, people go to work, to the power plant — but it will be today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.  You can’t imagine that tomorrow this city will not exist, there will be no inhabitants of this city. And these films have become a kind of milestone in history, which cannot be repeated. That is, people are already coming to the power plant from another city, roosters are not crowing on the balcony in Pripyat ... Therefore, there were great films, now we can already say great ones, maybe because I’m a Pripyat resident, maybe because I look at them differently. It’s like a memory where everything bad is crossed out, and only a perfectly beautiful picture remains ...

Alexander Demidov, head of disco Edison-2.

From the shot by Mikhail Nazarenko on April 26 and 27, 1986, no more than 10 minutes of material remained. It was possible to save only a few shots of the evacuation of the city — the most famous — an endless line of buses along the streets of Kurchatov and Lenin. Nazarenko made them from the window of his office. Almost everything that was filmed outside the building was destroyed or seized. As Mikhail later admitted to Luybov Syrota, in order to save the shots taken of the evacuation, he simply had to "hide" them from the KGB officers.

As he explained, his films shot directly in Pripyat were spotlighted. Then he shot not on digital media, but on film, and it should have been developed. KGB officers approached him on the street, opened the camera and lit up. Therefore, he had very little left. Those that later appeared in the film "Threshold", in fact, is the maximum number of frames that were shot on April 26th. Then, after the accident in some villages, he shot, shot at our events, shot nuclear scientists in «Skazochny» pioneers camp. But the most valuable shots were, of course, about Pripyat. I think that if we hadn’t really advertised them then, maybe we would have kept the film completely.

Alexander Demidov

Already in early May 1986, Mikhail Nazarenko, together with the Edison-2 team, created a slide movie, and then a motion picture about the pre-accident Pripyat. Nazarenko photo-studio and Demidov's disco merged into a kind of brigade that was engaged in the implementation of a cultural program for participants in the aftermath of the accident, in other words, entertained the audience. But before the start of the entertainment part, Misha’s films were screened. This work was even approved at the highest level — Demidov and Nazarenko were awarded diplomas of the Ministry of Culture of the USSR Central Committee of trade unions of cultural workers. As time has shown, this piece of paper in a red dad with the profile of Lenin-Ulyanov on the flyleaf was the only encouragement from the state for the irreparable loss of health...

In the summer of 1986, the Nazarenko-Demidov team went to the Crimea, to the pioneer camps "Artek" and «Moloda Gvardia», where the evacuated Pripyat children were resting. This trip was organized by the trade union committee of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. With shots filmed in the Crimea, Mikhail supplemented his pre-accident film "These places are dear to me."

We brought the children sketches and a photo collage about the peaceful Pripyat, and from there, from the camps, we brought a film about how the children’ rest. That is, there was a kind of exchange — there were many tears in the eyes of children... They even composed a song, which, in my opinion, was included in the Mikhail’s film, about the fact that we, Pripyat inhabitants, will not let our city down and will behave better. And of course, when we brought the filmed material to the White Steamboats camp, where the Chernobyl workers were already located, we called back tears from our parents. After all, the children were evacuated and did not see their parents long enough. Therefore, through the film, the parents saw their children, and the children saw their parents.

Alexander Demidov

The work of Mikhail Nazarenko in the Zone was not limited to the cultural program for Chernobyl personnel. He tried to capture everything on film: the work on eliminating the consequences of the accident and the already empty City surrounded by a barbed wire. Mikhail’s dream was to take a bird’s eye view of the destroyed reactor. Nazarenko even managed to agree on this with the crew commander of one of the helicopters then working at the station. At the last moment, circumstances prevented the implementation of the plan, and, by a lucky coincidence, Nazarenko did not add to the list of those killed in the ill-fated MI-8 side, the screw of which during the performance of the mission — irrigation with special solution of high radiation sources at the fourth reactor — hit the cables of a high-altitude crane. Partly, seeing in this the hand of providence that saved his life, partly because the keen sense of justice did not allow him to reconcile himself with the Chernobyl lie that the Soviet newspapers and television were overwhelmed with, Mikhail decided to shoot ... to shoot everything that was happening around, to shoot the truth, spit on the KGB bans, risking everything and no matter what.

For help in organizing the filming, Mikhail Nazarenko turned to his friend and colleague in the pre-accident film studio Pripyat Film — Gennady Belenkov. At that time, he worked as deputy secretary of the Chernobyl Komsomol Committee and had the opportunity to apply for a pass to the Zone with the mark "everywhere." Even the notorious KGB officers did not risk stopping the car with such an important rank behind the wheel, and did not take any active steps to ban the shooting. The footage was the basis of the documentary, the last big work created by Nazarenko together with Belenkov in 1991. Mikhail planned to present this film at the All-Union Documentary Film Festival, and appealed to the Chernobyl NPP management for financing the trip. The station set a condition — a preliminary screening of the film for the director and party committee workers. Censors rejected the movie…

In 87, I worked at the Chernobyl NPP in the repair and construction workshop as an artist-performer, and drew maps for all kinds of meetings. Naturally, the maps were secret. There was some data on the pollution levels that we used in this film. We didn’t take maps, didn’t show them, just the numbers were announced both in Slavutych and in the Zone. After watching the tape, the management of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant told us directly: if you screen this film, then you will not live in Slavutich.

Gennady Belenkov

Despite the ban, at their own peril and risk, the guys sent the film to the festival and, paradoxically, received the grand prix.

At the end of April 1993, Mikhail Nazarenko was invited as a participant in the event dedicated to the anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.

It was in the Kiev cinema "Florence" in Troieschyna district. Before my speech, Mikhail showed his films: a new, post-accident, version of "These places are dear to me" and "Unforgettable." They were so impressed with me that, instead of what was planned earlier, I started talking about Mikhail, his work. After all, already then the shots he used were used by everyone, but the author was not mentioned. In the best case, they gave a link to the "Threshold", and even then very rarely.

Lyubov Syrota

The performance of Lyubov Syrota was the only lifetime recognition of the merits of Mikhail Nazarenko. May 13, less than three weeks after this event, he passed away. The cause of death was heart failure. "Popular" among the "Chernobyl" people diagnosis overtook Nazarenko at the age of 40 years. Everyone agrees that it was the work in the Zone that caused this person to leave at a fairly young age — he consciously took risks.

Even when the equipment was taken out of Pripyat, a smack of iron appeared in your mouth, which means that you are being treated with approximately 1 Roentgen of the radiation level. We did not receive directly high doses of radiation, but he received quite a lot of small doses. In order to shoot a good shot of the same barbed wire against the background of Pripyat, you had to go into the grass, but it is not very “clean”, you had to bend somewhere, you had to go not along the asphalt, but along the side of the road, into the, maybe, a hotspot. The chances that he lost a lot of health on the set of the post-accident Pripyat, Chernobyl nuclear power plant, are high.

Alexander Demidov

The deplorable fate befell the legacy of Mikhail Nazarenko — his archive of films. Only thanks to the decisive actions of Gennady Belenkov, some of the materials were saved:

We stole them. Seriously! Had to, and what else we could do? After Mikhail’s death, I also worked as the head of the Pripyat Film studio, but they removed me from all materials. Then I tried several times to pick them up. They told me that you won’t take anything away, take your things, well, I ... On the one hand, it’s not good, but on the other ... Some part is still missing, it’s a pity ... Then, in the end, where after about 3-4 years, I found out that the films were simply thrown away. Trash, they said ...

But there is another, more likely, reason for such a quick and decisive “deliverance” from the severity of the historical burden.

It was signed on each tape what was shot there. We were uncomfortable people for the management of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant — we had the recklessness to have our own opinion, our views on current events, on what was happening. Mikhail and I shot how the burial grounds are built: instead of making concrete or clay substrates there ... It was all on tapes. Then, as near the helipad in Chernobyl, in a small forest, was a package for fuel elements. And passports from them - this was also shot, but I did not find these films.

Filmography of Mikhail Nazarenko:

By Darina Pustovaya,

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