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Vilnius: Where the Chernobyl HBO Miniseries came to Life

HBO’s acclaimed miniseries Chernobyl has been all the talk among movie-lovers and historians recently. The show depicts the morning of 26 April 1986 in Soviet Ukraine, and the events that followed. It brings the famous man-made nuclear catastrophe back to life on screen after 33 years after it happened in real-life, and manages to capture the horror so well viewers almost feel like they’re there in person.

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However, Chernobyl wasn’t filmed entirely in Ukraine. In fact, the perfect locations were captured in different parts of Lithuania, but mostly Vilnius. The 30km exclusion zone near Chernobyl is a risky tourist destination – the surrounding area won’t be fit for human habitation for another 20,000 years – but Vilnius offers a safe adventure visiting the authentic HBO Chernobyl locations.

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Awarded at Emmys

Chernobyl had an impressive showing at the 2019 Emmy Awards. The hit HBO miniseries won in 10 of the 19 awards it was nominated for, including the Outstanding Limited Series, Outstanding Directing, and Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special awards. Chernobyl was also awarded for cinematography, single-camera production design, picture editing, music composition, sound editing, sound mixing, and visual special effects.

Interesting facts

The series took almost 1,000 hours to make, was shot in some 40 different locations, and had upwards of 5,000 people participated in the filming. Moreover, the Chernobyl miniseries is by far Lithuania’s biggest production to date.

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Finding the perfect locations

Lithuania served as the perfect backdrop for the miniseries because of its common Soviet history with Ukraine and the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, which is now gradually being shut down. However, one of the main tasks was to transform the areas back into the Soviet era. ‘They have become a part of Europe, they have come a long long way and it was about going backwards and peeling things away,” the show’s creator Craig Mazin recounted to the press. The massive, destroyed reactor sets were built in a local film studio, but most of the action takes place in the city: 60 of the 88 days were spent filming in Vilnius, recreating the lives of the people and the lies their government told them. The guided tours are available with these companies:

Feel Z City

Take a guided tour of Vilnius’ Fabijoniskes district, the neighbourhood used to portray the fictional Pripyat in HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries. The tour includes a visit to one of the neighbourhood’s Soviet-style flats and a chat with locals about life in the Soviet Union. More information here

A daylong guided tour that includes a trip to the Fabijoniskes district of Vilnius and a visit inside one of its Soviet-style flats, as well as a chat with locals about Soviet life in the neighbourhood. The tour also includes a trip to the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, the Chernobyl plant lookalike used in HBO’s miniseries. Participants will have the chance to wear special power plant clothing; visit restricted areas, including the top of the reactor and control room; and take advantage of exclusive photo opportunities. More information here

More information about regular tours 

Travel Addicts

A guided tour of Lithuania’s Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, used to depict the Chernobyl plant in the HBO miniseries. The tour invites participants to wear power plant clothing and go through some restricted areas, including the plant’s control room and reactor. Participants will also have the chance to meet locals and discuss living in a reactor town built in a remote area of Soviet Lithuania. The daytrip also includes a stop in the surrounding Aukstaitijos National Park, where participants can climb to the top of a lookout tower and take in some exceptional panoramic views of the natural landscapes. More information here 

Vilnius Urban Adventures

Join in our VILNIUS: CHERNOBYL MINISERIES – BEHIND THE SCENES tour to travel in time and relive the atmosphere of the movie and disaster of 26 April 1986 – one of the world’s worst man-made catastrophes that happened in history. Visit KGB jail and find the cell where Comrade Ulana Khomyuk was held. Come to Lithuanian PRIPYAT town and other authentic Chernobyl locations featured in the HBO miniseries. Feel the shiver in the hall where three divers volunteered. Listen to the true stories of how we have acted after finding out about disaster. Hold real props in your hands. Find out how many hours, locations, human/state effort, $$$ it took to shoot miniseries as well as mind-bending behind-the-scenes details. Get a dose of iodine to keep you safe and healthy.

If you are brave enough – extend your tour with us to full day ultimate discovery of more locations, ending in the real Nuclear Power Plant similar to Chernobyl NPP – experience once in the life time adventure. PRIVATE TOUR option only. Book here.

Youth Leisure Network

During this whole day tour we will visit Kaunas, city which is known as “Moscow” in the miniseries and of course the infamous city of Pripyat recreation, which happened in Vilnius. But that’s not all! Find out more here:

Vilnius With Locals

Have you heard most of it was actually filmed in Vilnius and other parts of Lithuania? Join us on an exciting tour and visit the sites where the scenes of this movie were shot in Vilnius! Vilnius is becoming a popular destination for shooting movies and “Chernobyl” is one of the biggest projects we have had here so far!

Meet us by Vilnius town hall and we will start our tour by driving outside the city centre to Fabijoniškės (one of many suburbs of Vilnius that was built during the Soviet times) to see where the scenes of Pripyat were shot. After having visited the Lithuanian Pripyat it will be time to visit “hotel” where the comrades Legasov and Scherbina stayed once they arrived in Pripyat. We will finish the tour in the Museum of Occupation and Freedom Fights where you will recognise the prison cell of Ulyana Khomyuk. This building was a real prison during the Soviet times and was used as the headquarters of KGB in Lithuania as well. 

This tour will entwine the history, politics, KGB operations and its failures and give you much better overview of casual life during the Soviet era. See first-hand the stunning scenery featured as the backdrop in the HBO series when you join us for an unforgettable half-day visiting some of the Chernobyl filming locations.

You can find the excursion here 

For your stay in Vilnius we offer the following apartment: 

A Unique Soviet Apartment inspired by HBO Chernobyl

Check out the most important locations here:

Start Your Journey

1. Fabijoniškės – the infamous Pripyat

Staneviciaus St.

The City of Pripyat plays a very important role in the story. In just a short glimpse it clearly illustrates how the Soviet government treated its own people. The Fabijoniškės district in Vilnius built around the period of the actual catastrophe in the late 1980s was chosen as an ideal location.

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“It reflects the idea of Pripyat, of an idealised Soviet city of the future, quite wonderfully. Fabijoniškės is a symmetrical district, which is great for the current trend of translating the architecture of that era for the big screen: the forms are aggressive, there’s a lot of concrete and greyness,” says Jonas Špokas, CEO of Baltic Locations, the company that managed the filming locations for Chernobyl. The district was chosen because the crew wanted to show a young town where old trees couldn’t surround the apartment blocks.

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2. Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights – the KGB prison

Auku St. 2A

Currently one of the most-visited museums in Lithuania, this building was an actual KGB prison and still has its KGB cells and torture chambers intact. The original pieces of furniture where prisoners were held were used in the shooting of the series. “As we moved through it we were aware that there were the ghosts of history around us. They showed us these rooms, the kinds of torture that I would have never even contemplated,” says Mazin in the Chernobyl podcast.

Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights

3. Former cultural and sports centre of the Ministry of the Interior – Pripyat hotel restaurant

Žirmūnų St. 1E

Constructed in 1982, this building has kept some of its history intact. Authentic furniture, a coffee-maker on a bar, and the wall decorations make for an ideal cinematographic location. “I adore the building, even if we only used it to film the Pripyat hotel restaurant, and the scene where the three volunteer divers are selected,” says J. Špokas. The building is a beautiful representation of Soviet modernist architecture.

Former cultural and sports centre of the Ministry of the Interior

4. Vilnius Gediminas Technical University Faculty of Architecture  – Courtroom

Trakų St. 1

One of the oldest streets of Vilnius is home to an 18th-century building that has become the perfect backdrop for the trial process, with halls reminiscent of the Soviet era. The witnesses of the Chernobyl disaster still remember that the trial was carried out in a hurry in a school hall. This building was once the Tishkevich Palace, but after World War II, it was turned into a college and is now a part of the university’s buildings.

Vilnius Gediminas Technical University Faculty of Architecture

5. Former government guesthouse – Pripyat hotel

Latviu St. 70

Situated in the green and relaxing district of Žvėrynas next to the Russian Embassy, this building was used to accommodate high-level Soviet officials visiting the country over a twenty-year period. Both the leader of the Soviet Union and Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and US President resident Richard Nixon stayed here on their respective visits to Lithuania. The unchanged building served as an ideal location, reminiscent of the Soviet era and the meetings that took place within it.

Former government guesthouse

©Sky UK Ltd/HBO. Photographer Liam Daniel

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