As we’re sitting on the coach taking us to site of the worlds worst nuclear disaster, I think to myself why am I doing this? The informational video telling us about the disaster and the immediate aftermath doesn’t help my wondering mind either.
However I use the initial briefing that we received from our tour guides to put my mind at rest. They mention several times the now-safe levels of radiation at the site and the fact that they insisted that you are exposed to more radiation on a 7 hour trans-atlantic flight than spending a day within the exclusion zone.
I’ve been wanting to visit the site for a while now and I put this mostly down to my fascination with abandoned places and the apparent speed with which nature can quickly take back what it once owned.
The tour videos being played on the main screen of the bus came to an end as we approached the first check-point at the 30km exclusion zone; a quick check of our documents and we were back on the road. We passed a few small villages where the odd one or two people have chosen to stay or return to their homes but we actually see no sign of life other than the thick dense forests.
We continue travelling for a while and then we approach the Chernobyl Town welcoming sign, we get out of the vehicle for the obligatory photo opportunity. The town of Chernobyl is actually quite small but it is here that we walk through a small memorial for all the surrounding villages that were evacuated after the accident. It is here that we also stop for a quick lunch of traditional Ukrainian fare (all bought into the exclusion zone from safe sources) before continuing the rest of the tour.
Nadia our guide tells us of a ‘secret place’ she is going to take us to as our first official stop on the tour. It’s known as ‘The Woodpecker’ a soviet Russian early warning radar system. At 500 metres long and 150 metres tall it is quite the imposing and impressive feat of engineering; apparently no longer in use but the conspiracy theorists beg to differ.
Onwards into the 10km exclusion zone and we visit one of the kindergartens in the area, the guide takes a geiger reading of the ground outside of the building to show how the radiation count varies around the area, here it reached 8.74 CPM compared to the relatively low readings we’d experienced elsewhere so far of between 1 – 2 CPM (counts per minute).
Back in the bus and we move on to the site of the 4 main reactors of the power plant. We can only stop for a very short period of time at this location due to the radiation levels present at Unit 4 of the reactor. As we approach the reactor on foot, which is now covered with a new concrete and steel sarcophagus, we take another geiger reading and it’s surprisingly low at just 1.10 CPM seeing as we were only 250 metres from where the main accident occurred.
We then travel towards the reactor-workers town of Pripyat, only 3km from the reactors and one of the most badly affected areas. The town was initially told there was no problem straight after the accident, however this soon changed and a few days after the explosion the townsfolk were given two hours to pack a few things and leave; thinking they would return within a few days time. The stark reality was that they were never going to return to the town that they had once called home. Their apartments abandoned, the grand town hall left empty and the fairground left unused.
There was a strange sense as we walked around and explored the various buildings that have been left abandoned. As you explore you get a sense of walking in many other peoples footsteps and you’re wary not to disturb anything more than it has been after 30 years of looting and vandalism. You try to imagine how the area looked on the day it was evacuated, without all of the smashed glass around your feet, the upturned remains of whatever furniture hasn’t already been removed and free of the countless trees that have sprung up in the years since.
As well as the main town square we also visit the unused stadium, a huge apartment complex which, in its heyday would’ve have put many new complexes to shame and the ghostly fairground which could easily double as a Hollywood horror movie set.
Before long we were gathered up by our tours leaders and whisked back onto the coach. Our day of exploring the Chernobyl site was at an end. It was a thoroughly interesting day and I’d like to thank the team at SoloEast Travel (www.tourkiev.com) for a well planned out and operated tour.
Upon returning I’ve been asked by many people, in-between lots of radiation/superpower jokes, if I’d go back and to be honest I wouldn’t. However thats not a bad thing, I’ve seen the area, explored the buildings and learnt of this areas sad history. For me it’s now time for the area to be left to rest in peace with me passing on the lessons learnt from its infamous place in history.
All photos are taken by me!
Happy Travels everyone!