A Tour of Chernobyl

When you think of Ukraine, the Chernobyl disaster probably is one of the first things that comes to mind. This tour was the main reason for our trip to Ukraine and it was super easy to book. We went with a company called Chornobyl-Tour, which you can book on their website and also through Viator. When we went, the price for a day tour was only $100, but after my visit, I highly suggest doing a multi-day trip if you have the time to do so.

 

Arrival in Pripyat

We met the tour at a central location a few kilometers from our hotel in Kiev, where we boarded a bus that would take us on the two-hour drive to Pripyat. Once we arrived at the checkpoint, we completed a document check and were handed our dosimeters before heading into the Exclusion Zone, the area that extends 30 kilometers from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

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Waiting to cross through the checkpoint to the Exclusion Zone
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A display set up at the checkpoint
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Inside the exclusion zone
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My trusty geiger counter

 

Into the Exclusion Zone

We were informed of the rules before entering: don’t touch anything, don’t sit on the ground, and don’t eat anything growing in the zone.

Our first stop was to an old doctor’s office and a kindergarten. After the disaster occurred and the evacuations began, people were told to only take what they would need for about three days, so most of the zone looks frozen in time.

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A child’s toy car
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A creepy slide
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Inside the doctor’s office

The kindergarten was extra spooky. Partially because of the dolls and also because this was the first point that my dosimeter began to alarm due to the elevated radiation levels.

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The kindergarten
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Creepy doll

We made a stop afterwards at the Pripyat city limit sign. Next to it were a few signs warning us of the radiation levels in the area.

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Pripyat city limit sign
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Radiation warnings

Next, we drove into the town and visited a few of the major sites. Due to the important work that the residents did at the power plant, Pripyat was a bit nicer than many other communist cities in the Soviet Union.

Like many other buildings, the supermarket had been looted after the city was abandoned.

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Pripyat supermarket
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Inside the supermarket

Interestingly, nobody wanted to steal the Soviet propaganda posters

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Soviet propaganda posters

One feature that set Pripyat apart from most Soviet cities was the addition of an amusement park. The park was constructed right before the disaster and wasn’t even open yet.

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Bumper cars
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The infamous ferris wheel

Down the road was a decrepit stadium.

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An old stadium
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Inside the stadium

We next toured an old gymnasium. This building was one of the ones that wasn’t abandoned right away. The liquidators actually used it as a decontamination area during the cleanup effort.

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The gymnasium
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The gymnasium

Nearby we explored a grade school. You can see where looters dumped old gas masks after removing the valuable parts.

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The old school
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Gas masks

There was a random old cash register amongst the debris.

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A rusty cash register

We managed to see a few classrooms too. So eerie.

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Abandoned classroom

Once we had explored the surrounding area, we finally made it to the infamous Reactor Number 4. Underneath the dome, known as the New Safe Confinement, is the destroyed reactor, which will take until 2065 to completely clean up.

In the foreground is the Chernobyl Monument, which was erected in 2006.

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Lunch at the Cafeteria

After finishing most of the tour, we were brought to the on-site cafeteria for lunch.

But first, a radiation check.

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Radiation check before entering the cafeteria

We then partook in a traditional Ukrainian lunch, which was included in our tour.

Despite its rather humble appearance, it was quite tasty.

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Lunch at the cafeteria

 

Final stops

After lunch, we made a few more stops before departing the zone.

Here are the various robots that were used to clear radioactive debris from the disaster area and from the roof of the reactor buildings. Many of them would stop working after a short while after being exposed to the high levels of radiation in the area, so they were often replaced with “biorobots”, which were liquidators sent onto the roof to shovel off pieces of radioactive graphite. The radiation levels were so high, that a person was only permitted to work for about a minute before they would reach their lifetime limit for radiation exposure.

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Chernobyl robots
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Chernobyl robot

Down the road was the unfinished Chernobyl Reactor 5, for which construction was halted after the catastrophe at Reactor 4.

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Chernobyl Reactor 5

We then walked along the massive Duga Radar. This thing is 150m (500 feet) high and 700m (2300 feet) long and was used as part of the Soviet missile defense early-warming radar network. It was so big, that I couldn’t even get the whole thing in one shot with my wide angle lens.

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Duga radar
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Duga radar

Once we finished exploring the radar, it was time to head back to the checkpoint and go through one final radiation check before exiting the zone. We went through another scanner just like the one at the cafeteria and then boarded our bus to head back to Kiev.

We also were shown the data on our geiger counters and informed that we received less radiation than you’d get from a typical chest x-ray at the doctor’s office. So although Pripyat and the area surrounding Chernobyl still isn’t safe to live in, it’s very evident that the Liquidators did a very through job removing the majority of the radiation from the area. Overall, the tour was a very informative experience and I look forward to returning for a longer trip to the Zone.

Next, I will post about our adventure at the Oleg Antonov State Aviation Museum.

Thanks for reading!

-Matt

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