Extreme Tourism: Visiting Chernobyl in Ukraine

On April 26th, 1986 a catastrophe occurred in Chernobyl.

DSC_5408What was supposed to be a routine test at their power plant turned into an explosion and subsequent leak of radioactive material.💣

DSC_5413But unlike other disasters, whose lethal effects are visible, like volcano lava and hurricane floods, radioactive particles are an invisible killer. You really can’t understand why you should run away. The radioactive particles are high, but you can’t see that with the naked eye. 😔

DSC_5484As such, the Soviet Union, which was responsible for this explosion, did not immediately evacuate the citizens of Chernobyl, Pripyat and surrounding towns.

IMG_3714Gorbachev and the other Soviets did not want to admit to the world that they were responsible for a major nuclear accident. Their pride was more important than the lives of their people. 😔

DSC_5535They let them inhale toxic particles unknowingly for EIGHT days until they finally admitted their error and attempted to evacuate everyone. At that point, it was too late.

DSC_5582People received 50X more than the annual dose of radiation in one day. Many had already died, pregnant women were forced to abort their fetuses whom had been exposed to the radiation, and those that did survive would continue to suffer from severe medical problems for the rest of their lives. 😮

DSC_5465When they finally did evacuate the communities, they only gave them two hours to pack their belongings not knowing that they would never return again. These people were seen as refugees, and displaced into cities across the country. They were seen as infected and they were stressed. Many had an incredibly short life span. As well, I also learned from my tour that the abandonment of this area was also a tragedy. 😢

DSC_5418This area is an oasis of forests, full of fresh berries, mushrooms, wild animals and rivers. It was perfect for hunting and fishing, and its citizens cherished their relaxed surroundings. 🍄

DSC_5522DSC_5621So just like the story Adam and Eve, EXCEPT Atom and Eve, you’ll not want to consume the deadly apples here. 🍎

DSC_5578Fun fact: Some residents actually returned to these abandoned towns years later despite warnings from the government. They lived well into their 80s, which was much longer than the refugees that were evacuated and sent to major cities, like Kiev. Researchers studied this phenomena wondering why they lived so much longer when they were being exposed to harmful particles. They found that this peaceful natural environment and stress-free lifestyle contributed majorly to their longevity. Teaches you a lot about the impact of stress on your health!😮

DSC_5581Anyway, I was fortunate enough to take a one-day tour of Chernobyl to learn more about its history and the firsthand experiences of its residents.

DSC_5674DSC_5580IMG_3650I call it extreme tourism, since this place is not exactly made for visitors. 😮

IMG_3687There’s lots of broken glass, holes in the floor boards and ceilings that look like they’re about to fall in. 😮

DSC_5391Visiting this place is more about education and understanding, and our guide, Irina, was the perfect person to share with us all her knowledge about this event. Her and her husband used to work in this area. They knew many of the people that perished here, and also many whom still struggle from severe medical problems after this event. 😔

IMG_3660I was also lucky that my tour group was so small. There were only eight of us, which meant Irina could take us to more places, which also made her real excited.

IMG_3652To start the tour, we drove two hours from Kiev to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

DSC_5440Our first stop was the Dytyatky Checkpoint, where we had to show our passports and registration papers. The exclusion zone is separate from Ukraine. It is considered military territory due to the threat of radiation. We were also given dosimeter badges and the option of renting a Geiger counter, which measures the level of radioactivity.

IMG_3662IMG_3773There was also an opportunity to buy some snacks and souvenirs.

IMG_3778IMG_3671Side note: You can take pictures everywhere here, just not of the militia or their military surveillance.

Tourism is very new here, but it’s growing rapidly. It’s doubled in only five years time and about 800-900 people come per day during the high season. Only recently did they actually get toilets. Before, people just went in the bushes.

IMG_3668The rise in tourism has a lot to do with the new HBO series Chernobyl, which exaggerates many of the events, but at least gets people interested in learning more about this catastrophe. Now, you may think I’m stupid for going on this tour considering it’s a radioactive zone.

XXCDE9318 (3)On the contrary, the radioactive material has been slowly seeping underground for the last 33 years and the amount of radiation I received during my visit was less than that of a one-hour plane flight or a medical scan! Also, we were scanned three times during our visit to check for gamma and beta particles. If the level was ever too high, we would have to have our things scrubbed clean. Irina said this has never happened.

IMG_3768Of course, there are so called “hot spots” where the level of radiation spikes from 0.5 all the way to 19 MHz.

DSC_5482But that’s why you follow your guide on the path, and don’t do silly things like eat the dirt.😂

DSC_5490Anyway, our next stop of the day was to Zalissya abandoned village.

DSC_5419DSC_5383DSC_5387DSC_5442DSC_5443We could visit homes and the grocery store. I was in shock to see how many artifacts remained after all this time.

DSC_5403Papers, clothes, toys, old cans of food and such make this place look like a time capsule. 😮

DSC_5468DSC_5409DSC_5393DSC_5411DSC_5398The childrens’ school was probably the most disturbing of all.

DSC_5444DSC_5449DSC_5462DSC_5459Irina kept calling us comrades, since it really felt like we had stepped back into Soviet times.

DSC_5504We also “saw” another abandoned village, which was basically just a bunch of hills.

DSC_5495DSC_5497Apparently, it was so contaminated that their only option was to bury the items, like grave sites. This reduces the risk of spreading contamination and obviously lighting matches around this area is strictly forbidden. This will stir up particles and send them into the air, which is harmful to breathe.

DSC_5472From there we visited Pripyat.

DSC_5543 This was extremely sad for Irina.

DSC_5507She said this used to be a blossoming town.
IMG_3734They had a cinema, pool, chic waterfront cafe, disco, and people were always out and about in the parks or by the lake through the summer. This town was highly invested in due to its proximity to the power plant. Now, it’s just a ghost town. 😔

DSC_5506Here’s a beautiful stained glass mural at the old riverfront cafe.

DSC_5511DSC_5512DSC_5514DSC_5519Here are some old vending machines and the cinema.

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This mosaic outside the movie theater was gorgeous, and I appreciated how Irina could show us so many before and after photos from the tragedy.

DSC_5526DSC_5530
DSC_5553DSC_5547DSC_5548

Here’s the old gym and swimming pool.

DSC_5583DSC_5584DSC_5587
Side note: There is a lot of graffiti here, but I think it adds to the place. You can see where children were once playing or swimming…a sight which will never be seen again.

DSC_5588DSC_5546DSC_5537We also stopped outside the hospital where they took many of the victims. Their clothes are still in the basement here making the level of radiation too high for us to enter.

DSC_5523We also got to visit the amusement park, which has really made this place famous.

DSC_5562DSC_5571DSC_5572DSC_5571DSC_5575It was creepy to see the Ferris wheel moving on its own due to the “wind.”

DSC_5566From there we went to the red forest.

Fun fact: Only the pine trees here turned red due to special chemical reactions. This is also the most contaminated area, although it’s growing back at an alarming rate. It shows you that nature finds a way and makes you optimistic about the forests that are sadly burning right now in Brazil.

DSC_5475DSC_5478En route we also saw a wild Mongolian horse.

DSC_5421DSC_5422This was a true delight although our driver Igor said they could be aggressive, so we had to stay behind the van.

DSC_5428DSC_5430There was also the possibility of seeing bear, fox, elk, and much more. Personally, we spotted some deer and a friend on another tour spotted a snake.

DSC_5436IMG_3789Kind of sad we didn’t spot all the wildlife, but we did see lots of animal artwork.

DSC_5554DSC_5557There are also many dogs here. After the explosion, people were told to leave their animals and the government told the soldiers to shoot all the dogs. Apparently, they didn’t kill all of them and now there is a small group of wild dogs in the area. They are not adoptable, but vets come in to sterilize and vaccinate them. People do like to feed them as well. ☺️

DSC_5501Now, there are a few rules we had to follow for the day. First, we could never sit down, and we had to wear long sleeves, long pants and closed toed shoes. If we didn’t have these items, we had to buy this hilarious white suit that looked like something out of X Files.👽

IMG_3674DSC_5539After, we had lunch at the Chernobyl canteen. 🍴

DSC_5595DSC_5599Fun fact: The canteen feeds local workers who are still employed in Chernobyl for 15 days at a time.

DSC_5602DSC_5611Some are engineers or scientists. They live and work here in shifts to limit exposure.

DSC_5600
DSC_5607The food is shipped in from Kiev. We had a hearty lunch of beef, potatoes, soup, cabbage, and a sweet roll. I sat down with my tour group mates from Spain, UK and the USA.

UMXK6930After lunch we visited the monument to the firefighters, civilians and liquidators who were sent in to combat this disaster. These men put their lives on the line for six months in order to cover the nuclear reactor and pour tons of liquid concrete on it to reduce the spread of contamination. Can you imagine, this was 10X deadlier than Hiroshima. Its effects sent radioactive clouds over Western Europe. These men were not just trying to protect Ukraine…but the world. 🌏💪

DSC_5670Now our last stop of the day was probably the most fascinating and undiscovered.😮

DSC_5624During Soviet times, the government here spent 10 years and over 7 billion dollars on an atomic bomb detector. 😮

DSC_5636DSC_5629DSC_5634They were paranoid of a nuclear attack and this would potentially use transhorizontal radar to detect ballistic missiles.

DSC_5632It failed for many reasons, including polar shining….and as our guide explained, it was lucky that Chernobyl did have an explosion, since it covered up this gigantic waste of Soviet funds.

DSC_5633After walking around the detector, nicknamed the Russian woodpecker for its ticking noise, we went into a secret Soviet training center, where we saw all sorts of military study materials.

DSC_5617DSC_5644So crazy to think this stuff is still here! This whole day felt like walking through a crime scene or a car crash frozen in time.

DSC_5647DSC_5650DSC_5653DSC_5656Anyway, I have no idea what the future of tourism in Chernobyl looks like, but presently I thought it gave me a greater understanding and appreciation for what these people went through and also made me more aware of my ambient exposure to radiation in everyday life…carrying phones, being exposed to the sun, etc…Overall, it was not touristic and more educational. And despite seeing the Ferris wheel, this was anything but a fun ride.

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10 thoughts on “Extreme Tourism: Visiting Chernobyl in Ukraine

    1. Yes, it was so tragic, especially after hearing the many firsthand experiences of the residents. Thanks for the positive feedback. Hopefully you’ll be able to visit someday too! Take care and safe travels!

      Like

    1. Great question! It’s because the level of radiation is so low where they are walking with their groups. The guides know where the hot spots are and they avoid them. That’s why the Geiger counter and dosimeter badge is so helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

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