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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Veterans Call 'K-19' a Mixed Bag

APNinel Kozyreva, whose husband died on K-19, giving Director Kathryn Bigelow a hug after the screening.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Survivors from the K-19 nuclear submarine disaster could not hide ironic smiles when they watched a Hollywood rendition of their deadly fight against a reactor spinning out of control.

But as the final credits rolled on the screen Sunday night, gray-haired, uniformed veterans rose to applaud the story of human courage subduing an ungovernable machine at the Russian premiere of the U.S. film "K-19: The Widowmaker."

"Only two things in the film are true: The bottle of champagne did not break when the submarine was launched and, yes, there was an accident with the reactor," said K-19's navigator, Valentin Shabanov, 62. "The rest are tales from Uncle Sam."

The film, starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, tells the story of K-19, the first Soviet submarine to carry ballistic missiles on board. The sub developed a major malfunction on a mission to prove Moscow's technical prowess to Washington in 1961. Eight sailors in the 139-member crew died from radiation exposure as the K-19 crew struggled to pump seawater into the overheated reactor through a makeshift pipeline.

Although the plot is based on real-life events, producers added psychological drama by clashing the hard-nosed captain, Ford, against his more compassionate second-in-command, Neeson, in a stand-off culminating in a riot.

That move won over few hearts among sailors proud of their unquestioning loyalty to the commander.

"It is unthinkable for the crew to disobey the captain," said K-19's powerline supervisor, Boris Kuzmin. "There was no panic at all. And the guns -- they are sealed in a safe and few people know where it is. As for handcuffs, even police did not have them in 1961. Forget about the submarine."

The sailors said they had vetoed the first script of the film, which contained such scenes as an officer sitting atop the reactor and drinking vodka.

"We were on alert for the last two years, fearing how our beloved husbands would be shown in that movie," said Ninel Kozyreva, the widow of Anatoly Kozyrev, one of the officers who went inside the sub's radioactive compartment.

Fifty-two veterans were flown in from cities across Russia and Ukraine to attend the premiere in St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater. Director Kathryn Bigelow and Neeson also attended.

Despite the reservations, K-19 veterans were unanimous in giving high marks to the film. "Harrison Ford played really well. At one moment it even seemed to me he looked like our captain," Shabanov said. "The same austere features, only our captain was not that tall." (Reuters, AP)