On April 26th, 1986 a catastrophe occurred in Chernobyl.
But 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. 😔
People 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. 😮
When 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. 😢
Fun 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!😮
Anyway, 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.
Visiting 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. 😔
Our 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
Apparently, 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.
She said this used to be a blossoming town.
They 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. 😔
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.
Here’s the old gym and swimming pool.
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.
There 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. ☺️
Now, 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.👽
After 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. 🌏💪
Anyway, 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.