A tour to Chernobyl – memories from the worst nuclear disaster

How we decided to visit Chernobyl

26.04.1986 01:23 (UTC + 3) is the beginning of the biggest nuclear disaster in human history – the explosion of the No.4 reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine. This event changes the fate of thousands of people and poses a threat to the health of millions. About that time some of us had made their first unintelligible noises, others weren’t yet conceived, but we are all marked as the generation of Chernobyl. After so many stories and documentaries about the catastrophe and its consequences, we decided to go see with our own eyes what is it like 27 years later.

Tour Chernobyl - visit Pripyat, the Power Plant, 10km and 30km exclusion zone

As it turned out, it is no easy or trivial matter to organize a tour to Chernobyl. You have to book the trip in advance with your passport and then be approved by the Ukrainian authorities. One way or another we managed to find an agency that would accept our super late reservation (like 2 days earlier) and find spots in the group for us.

We were so happy with the service that Solo East provided – their guide was professional, the tour was well-planned, everything was amazing. If you decide to take a tour to Chernobyl, there are many options nowadays to choose from.

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The tour to Chernobyl

We left Kiev early in the morning. The drive is about two hours and a half. We were instructed about the radioactive particles and how to work with a Geiger counter. We watched a documentary with unique photos and video material from the operation of containing the damage, which affected the whole of Europe.

30 km away from the town is the first checkpoint. It is like crossing a border- they check your passport and everything. Then we headed for the most dangerous zone within the radius of 10 km from the reactor, where you pass a radioactivity check. And then it is the first stop, the entrance of Chernobyl.

You can’t help but notice how empty and deserted it all seems – there are no people, cars, noises from the town… Sometimes you can meet an official car of a nuclear agency or a scientist…

Tour Chernobyl - visit Pripyat, the Power Plant, 10km and 30km exclusion zone

Entering the 30km Exclusion Zone

We had to wear long sleeves and long trousers, as well as closed shoes. First, we visited the part of the town which is still inhabited by people who work in the area. They live there for up to 2 weeks, and then they rest for 2 weeks more and come back. There is a monument to the victims of the disaster, which includes a list of the villages which have been destroyed. There are two post boxes with symbolic meaning. They are meant as a means of communication with the people who had once lived there but now are somewhere else.

The firemen who arrived first at the site of the disaster had no idea what has happened. They gave their lives fighting for control over the fire. There is a monument built to keep them from fading into history.

We are off to the part where the abandoned houses are overcome by nature, which has been cruelly poisoned by the human imprudence and egoism.

Entering the 10km Exclusion Zone

The counters show levels high above the norm. We are in the yard of a kindergarten. We continued with dark thoughts on our minds, provoked by the visit at the kindergarten. It’s one of the most challenging scenes that we’ll remember for a long time. In the surrounding woods, we got bitten by some mosquitoes. We hope they weren’t too radioactive.

The Power Plant

At the distance (on the way), you can see the heart of the problem – No.4 reactor. Here you can learn interesting facts about Chernobyl. When you come as close as it is allowed (about 270 meters from the sarcophagus of Reactor 4), the first thing you notice is the construction of the new dome. The old one is damaged by time. Read the 2019 update at the end of the article.

Immediately next to it is the sarcophagus of the not so loved “pharaoh” No.4.

Visiting Pripyat

You can’t linger here because the Geiger counter starts emitting unpleasant sounds. We drove for 2 km and we arrived at the entrance of the ghost town – Pripyat.

There are no people there, the time has stopped for them. But it doesn’t stop the lush mutated vegetation, which conquers parks, squares, schools, apartment buildings… It is truly a ghost town, you wouldn’t like to stay there after dark. The mood of our group wasn’t this grim because it was warm and green everywhere. We took a walk through many parts of the town, which had accidentally become monuments of one of the most terrifying catastrophes in modern history. The following are some photos of this walk and then we are headed for Chernobyl.

Is it safe to visit Chernobyl on a tour

Chernobyl tour companies operate by the highest security standards and since they offer the tour for years, there shouldn’t be much to worry about. But then the thought of disaster comes to mind and then you think is it safe to visit Chernobyl or will the leftovers of radiation hurt me?

We thought the same but here are some details that will prove you it completely safe to take a tour to Chernobyl. First, you need to have your body fully covered (closed shoes, long pants, long sleeves) – I even had to go but sneakers (who come in the middle of the summer to Ukraine with anything but sandals?).

There are some security procedures you have to conduct – starting from not touching anything you’re not supposed to touch, to cleaning anything you accidentally drop on the ground, to passing security checks at the  10 km Exclusion Zone, the 30 Exclusion Zone. If you get the green light at the checks, then you’re good to go. If you get the red – then they will wash you. 🚥

You will ask what happens at the Power Plant – well, there you stand not so close to Reactor 4, as well as there are scientists who actually work there. Actually, all the people who work in the Chernobyl area follow strict rules of how many days and for how long they stay in the 10km and the 30km Exclusion Zones. It really depends on the time you spend in such areas. Needless to say, the Geiger (Geiger – Mueller) counter is your best friend on the tour to Chernobyl. If it starts beeping too much, then you move on.

If that was not enough to convince you, here’s a fun fact – we absorb more radiation on a long-haul flight than on a day trip to Chernobyl. Cheers and happy flying!

 Luckily, everything was green and we ended the day with a tasty lunch in a communist diner in Chernobyl – the time had stopped there, unlike the radiation. They assured us the food is eco and brought from the outside.

Tour Chernobyl - visit Pripyat, the Power Plant, 10km and 30km exclusion zone

 
It was an unforgettable “radioactive” adventure. If you’re not faint-hearted, we highly recommend you to take a tour to Chernobyl as a day trip from Kyiv.

☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢

Update: Since 2017, they managed to install the new sarcophagus (dome) to cover Reactor 4. So this is great news and means more safety to anyone, even for those never planning to do a tour to Chernobyl. 

Tour Chernobyl - visit Pripyat, the Power Plant, 10km and 30km exclusion zone

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