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Original Crew of K-19 Concerned about Movie's Depiction of Characters


Almost a half century ago, a catastrophe on a Soviet submarine could have led to a nuclear war between the superpowers. A film about the incident, titled K-19: The Widowmaker starring Harrison Ford, is opening Friday at theaters in the United States. But Russian veterans of the Soviet sub fear they are badly portrayed in the film.

The stars and producers of the film have described it as a tribute to the heroism of the men who served on the K-19. But some of the veterans are afraid the film will portray them as drunk, incompetent buffoons.

The K-19 was the Soviet Union's first nuclear missile submarine. It took to the water in 1961, but the maiden voyage went horribly wrong. A pipe carrying coolant to the nuclear reactor ruptured and the ship's crew received deadly radiation burns while repairing the reactor and preventing a nuclear explosion.

Some experts said such an explosion might have been viewed by the United States as Soviet aggression and could have touched off a nuclear war.

Crewmember Yuri Mukhin remembers the horrible day when the accident occurred. He also met with the stars and producers of the K-19 film when they came to Russia to research the submarine. At first, he thought the movie was a great idea.

Mr. Mukhin said the Russian veterans were assured that the movie would be a quality film about the accident on the K-19 and the heroism of the crew. But Mr. Mukhin said he later read the script and was horrified.

Mr. Mukhin said the script portrays the Soviet sailors as illiterate and useless, almost like pirates.

Igor Kudrin is the head of the St. Petersburg Submariners' Club which helps Soviet and Russian veterans. He arranged the meeting between the movie people and the veterans and was supposed to work on the film.

Mr. Kudrin said he read the script two years ago and then had to quit the project because he did not feel the script corresponded to reality. He adds that the veterans of K-19 were furious at how they are portrayed.

Some things were later changed in the script, such as the names of certain people on the submarine. People associated with the film point out that it is not a documentary but say it does portray the Soviet sailors in a heroic light.

Both Mr. Kudrin and Mr. Mukhin emphasize that they have not seen the movie. The film will soon open in Russia and when it does, Mr. Kudrin would like to arrange a screening for the veterans of K-19.

He adds that during Soviet times, almost nothing was known about the men who lived through the disaster on the K-19. In the Soviet Union, such catastrophes were often kept secret because they might harm the country's mighty image.

While Mr. Kudrin has some reservations about the film, he said at least now some attention will be paid to the veterans who died to prevent a nuclear disaster on the Soviet submarine.

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