Chernobyl Tour, Ukraine
We visited Kyiv, Ukraine in May 2017 and during that time there was one place we HAD to visit – Chernobyl!
I vaguely remember in 1986 when the news of the Chernobyl incident first broke but, of course, over the years that followed I have come to learn a lot more about it.
Recently, two factors combined into one and the opportunity of visiting the ‘exclusion zone’ came to light (this light was not glowing green you will be glad to know.)
The two factors were
(1) my newly acquired found love of visiting ‘abandoned places’ as you can see from the below posts
(2) the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 final being held in Kyiv, Ukraine (damn you Jamala …but I suppose ‘thanks’ too).
For the ‘normal person’ these two things are perhaps polar opposites – for me it was an ‘all my planets have aligned’ kind of moment.
The tour was booked in advance which was a good thing as unsurprisingly it was fully booked on the day. We got an English-speaking bus and upon arriving we got checked in, given a map for the day and…a dosimeter or as it might also be known – a Geiger counter. This was a nice touch to the tour, fun and really cool and of course good for health and safety. Well, maybe to begin with because, for me, once we got into ‘proper’ radiation territory the incessant beeping soon got on my tits and my dosimeter was left on the bus most of the time!
Our tour guide, Anna, was AWESOME from the start, I’ll state that now and no doubt mention it again.
During the day it goes without saying I took a heap of photos and it would be impossible for me to share them all in this post so Ive uploaded them all to my Flickr account. Feel free to use them if you would like and all I ask is that you let me know where you use them. Thanks.
Anna initially began by explaining how the day would go and as we were approaching a stop at a petrol station she made something immediately clear.
The bathroom facilities during the day would literally be as shit as the shit you might want to take now at this very petrol station.
This would be our last chance of basic bathroom requirements like, you know, toilet tissue, oh and also an actual toilet as opposed to a hole in the ground surrounded by a little wooden hut.
We later found out – she was not exaggerating or, you might say ‘she shat us not!’
I didn’t actually need a shit but the thought of needing a shit later and having to take a dump on radioactive wasteland made me…well, shit myself! So, I guess that kind of worked and I emptied my bowels in that petrol station bathroom of luxury and returned to the bus ready for the day.
Everything within the exclusion zone is a military controlled area and still very ‘Soviet’ (this explains the toilets). The tour operators had offered to install and pay for better facilities since they were running a lot of tours but they were told by the military…
“you don’t like? you don’t come!”
We were off on our way!
There was a really interesting documentary video played for us on the bus along with commentary from Anna – she was very humorous with that dry sense of humor that I love, thanks for that Anna!
A really annoying girl sat behind us who kept trying to quote Eddie Izzard sketches which was a bit odd but I guess every tour has the token ‘annoying twat’.
Before we were inside the 30km exclusion zone there was the first of many military checkpoints and here’s a top tip – don’t piss the military checkpoint people off as they have big guns and I’m sure they aren’t afraid to use them!
We drove through a village called Zalissya which although was full of abandoned buildings – both that you can see and also ones that had been buried – it was now home to ‘re-settlers’. These are people who were re-located following the disaster but for reasons such as not feeling welcome in their new locations decided to return to their village once it had been deemed safe enough for habitation once again.
Interestingly going back to live in an area which had been free from human ‘interference’ for over 20 years these people are actually living longer than people in more populated locations. Go figure!
Our first stop was along the bypass road to the Nuclear Power Plant around the town of Chernobyl, built a month after the accident to facilitate the traffic of military vehicles. Most people assume that the village of Chernobyl was the worst affected by the radiation however it’s actually just within the 30km zone. Pripyat is the ‘abandoned village’ that everyone has seen the pictures of and it’s situated within the 10km exclusion zone (don’t worry this will be covered in Part Two as it’s just so awesome that it needs it’s own post!).
I’m not too clued up on
anything about anything really the ins and outs of the whole de-unification thing involving un-Sovietising the former USSR countries (well unless it involves Eurovision anyway) but I believe that within the zone is one of the last places you will see the old ‘hammer and sickle’ symbol as seen here at the entrance to the village of Chernobyl.
It’s also one of the only places you will find a ‘still standing’ statue of Lenin in Ukraine.
I did get a little concerned when it looked like Greg was praying to the Lenin statue…
Of course – the first of many obligatory selfies had to be taken.
Moving on from there we took a visit to DUGA-1.
You might be thinking what on earth is DUGA-1. Basically, it’s a massive fucking radar antenna thing in the middle of the forest used during the height of the Cold War that, now wait for this – no one knew was there!
Well, obviously – because it’s really difficult to spot, right?
I mean I know it was back in the 80s and technology wasn’t the same as it is today and there was that big Iron Curtain thing going on but people still had eyes, yes?
The tour guide’s stories of this really made me laugh – if you go on the tour make sure you listen out for the part when she tells the story of the ‘bus shelter’…
We entered the area through a set of very Soviet looking gates.
I’ve realised I have started using that word – Soviet – a lot since our return from the trip to describe anything that ‘looks old’ or anyone who is ‘particularly rude or grumpy’ towards me. I’ve not yet quite worked out if I’m being racist or not?
Upon doing some highly in depth research on this topic I stumbled across this video on YouTube and decided that it’s really not racist to refer to things as ‘Soviet’!
Another word of advice – you are not ‘allowed’ to take photos of the soldiers as they don’t like it and might even take a selfie of you using their guns so have the ‘smarts’ and make sure you only take photos of the soldiers who don’t have guns…
Walking up towards the radar we passed a few abandoned vehicles to which Greg was quick to make the sarcastic comment that it looked liked I’d been out driving here. Rude!
This radar was HUGE and looked as if it went on forever! This photo was taken at the very beginning of the structure and if you can see Greg at the bottom of it this should give you a sense of scale.
I tried to imagine what it must have been like to stand there when it was a functioning radar – I guess you would get a brilliant cell phone reception!
I looked at the current poor signal strength on my phone and the temptation to put my hand in this rusty old box to see if I could find the ‘on’ switch for the radar was almost too much for me…
Back for another short trip on the bus until we reached the almost fully buried village of Kopachi. The main stop off at this site was the abandoned kindergarten building.
I took a lot of photos here!
Remember, look at Flickr to see them all and I will discuss a few of my favourites now.
Any of the photos you take here could be easily edited to make the location look creepy and eerie which to be fair it kind of was but the fact that it was such a sunny Spring day made it seem more ‘lost and sad’ as opposed to out and out spooky.
For example, here is the entrance as it was when I took the photo and you might be thinking ‘oh yeah we’ve got a neighbour whose front yard is a shit tip just like that’…
A quick b&w filter on the photo and you might be shitting yourself now (but don’t – remember about the toilet situation!)
It was interesting walking around seeing items that had once been play things of the kids but were now dusty, horrible and quite possibly the stuff of nightmares…
Back in the normal every day world if there’s one that freaks me out – it’s dolls. I just don’t like them. If you add dolls into this situation I now found myself in, well, I’ll let you be the judge…
Even little, cute soft bunny rabbit toys took on a slightly more gruesome role in this kindergarten.
As weird as this place might look – I LOVED it and subsequently, not for the last time that day, I was the final person of our group to leave the building. Being in there with other people was one thing but being in there alone was another feeling entirely!
Again don’t forget to take a look at all the photos on Flickr.
This took us up to lunchtime and it coincided with our visit to the Nuclear Power Plant itself. With a quick pit stop to get a panoramic view of the nuclear plant site…
Another selfie once Greg had managed to find a local hair salon…I believe it was called ‘Blow Up & Dye’…
Obviously I joke about the hair salon thing but according to Trip Advisor there are lot’s of places to eat in and around the Nuclear Power Plant. Seriously Trip Advisor – sort yourself out!
Funnily enough there’s not an abundance of fine dining near Reactor No 4 but where better to have lunch than in the same canteen as the ‘Soviet’ power plant workers.
The lunch routine did come with warnings from Anna in as much as it’s very, very basic (just like the toilets, remember the toilets?) and she gave us strict instructions on to what to do to when collecting our food from the canteen workers – which of course I immediately forgot and we’ll get to how that worked out but first things first – a radiation test…
To get our lunch we had to pick up our tray and then be served by the ‘Soviet’ ladies. As I said earlier, in my mind ‘Soviet’ means rude and grumpy so I would then describe these ladies as really fucking Soviet! The dinner tray was really small and the amount of separate plates we had to load onto was RIDICULOUS. My skills at balancing and carrying at the same time are as good as my following Nuclear Power Plant Luncheon instructions apparently. Anna did explain to us that you HAVE to take one of every dish so when I looked at the red liquid stuff in a bowl being put forward to me I opted to leave it for two reasons.
(1) it looked like Ribena vomit
(2) it was so thin it would have slopped all over my tray when attempting to carry it to our table
So I just shook my head when when she put it forward to me. Wow! That was a mistake!
“you – TAKE!”
She shouted at me with so much energy that I’m sure some of the Ribena vomit blew right out of it’s bowl! I grabbed the bowl so fast that I made 30% of it pour out over her very clean surface. Oops!
I then had to try and play Jenga with the rest of the dishes so they would all fit on my little tray.
Did I take a photo of it? Did I fuck I was far too traumatized by the entire situation to get my phone out.
However here are a few pictures from the official website of what it sort of looked like…
So with my plate
fully loaded over loaded I had to get myself to our table without
(a) dropping the entire tray
(b) slopping out my soup into my fish (or was it chicken?) dish
Let’s just say it took me about 2 minutes to get there and a LOT of concentration! Did I enjoy the food? Well, no not really as I spent the entire time worrying – I knew that since there was no way on this Earth that I would be eating that soup I would still have to carry it back on the tray with all the other (only slightly emptier) plates to the conveyor belt.
I still come out in a cold sweat when I think of that soup bowl and my days of drinking Ribena are over!
I may joke about it here but it was a great experience to be in the working canteen of the plant and I have a lot of respect for the workers who tolerate idiots like me descending upon their place of work!
After lunch we sat outside in the sunshine and I had one of those lightbulb moments when I realised that Greg’s face was on the Ukrainian bank notes. Who knew?
Finally, we took a tour around the outside of the plant and once again there was brilliant commentary from Anna – she always answered all of our questions and more – she really knows her stuff!
Seeing this monument, which is one of many in the area really brought it home to us the far-reaching impact of that one fateful night on 26 April 1986.
Next stop for us Pripyat which you will be able to read about in part two of this series.
Have you been to Chernobyl? Would you visit? Let me know in the comments below.
If you would like to find out more information about the tour we went on have a look here: