Guys, as some of you may have seen on Facebook or elsewhere, I finally did it!
For a long time I’ve been struggling because I was afraid of the radiation, but in the end it became too tempting and I just had to see it with my own eyes. So here’s kind of a report on two days in the Chernobyl exclusion zone…
Arrival & Day 1
We booked with a Kiev based travel agency (highly recommended, PM me for details) and arrived in Kiev Borispol friday evening. Coming out of the airport terminal, the first shock: where’s our driver?! He was supposed to pick us up there… turns out the flight was moved to another terminal last minute, so he was just 10 minutes late… phew!
After stopping at a super market to buy some stuff (you should have seen the look on the face of the cashier when she discovered the 50 bottles of beer in our shopping cart
), we drove to the village of Orane while it was getting dark outside.
Orane is situated just outside the zone, 5km from the Dytyatky checkpoint. We stayed in a nice cottage, but I didn’t sleep much because I was pretty excited.
At 6am I was wide awake, and as we would only have breakfast at 9am, I decided to take a walk around the village. As you can see, it was a beautiful sunny morning.
Finally we had breakfast and drove to the Dytyatky checkpoint, where we met our guide and entered the zone.
First stop was an abandoned village on the way to Chernobyl city (I forgot the name… )
Not much to photograph there, anyway, so we just had a quick look around and went on to Chernobyl.
Chernobyl is a small town that’s still inhabited by some 3.000 people, most of them workers at the power plant and the new sarcophagus, which is being built by a french consortium. So there’s cars driving around, people walking on the street… it’s just a very strange sight, as all the cars are old Lada’s, soviet trucks or really old busses; and most of the people walk around in camouflage dresses. The buildings look like they never touched them after the collapse of the soviet union.
There’s even a shop, a café and of course the hotel, where we would spend the night.
On the way to our first "sightseeing" stop, the memorial park, we saw this old truck:
Our guide told us that they wet the streets twice a day to keep dust, and thus radiation, at a low level. If it weren’t for such details, you could easily forget that this city is just 10km away from the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history.
This statue is part of the memorial park in Chernobyl, which was built last year to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the disaster.
We went on to the abandoned stadium (not very photogenic) and then, on the road to reactor no. 4, to the firefighter memorial.
This memorial is dedicated to the first firefighters who tried to put out the nuclear fire with whatever equipment they had. They probably didn’t know how dangerous it was. All of them died only days after the accident, and as of today they are still the only victims of the disaster that show up in official records.
On the road to the power plant, we could see the abandoned construction site of reactors 5 & 6.
They were about 70% complete when the accident happened, and construction was finally halted in 1988. Most of the equipment is still there, but unfortunately we couldn’t go closer because apparently the site is now used for work on parts of the new sarcophagus.
Finally, this is reactor no. 4 with its sarcophagus. You can get as close as 200m to it, and I can tell you it’s pretty creepy there. Radiation is not that high (about 3-5 µSv/h), but it’s still quite unsettling standing right next to the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history.
After that we had lunch in the canteen of the powerplant, which was also an "experience"
I guess basically they always have the same meal, at least it looks pretty much like this on all the pictures I saw before. You wouldn’t believe the "thing" on the upper right plate is actually chicken if you weren’t told… anyway, as I said it was an experience, and somehow we managed to eat at least some of the stuff (the salad was OK).
After lunch we went on to feed the giant catfish (giant is an understatement, I’ve never seen such big fish before – they are easily 2m long), and then drove through the "red forest" on our way to Pripyat.
Close to the reactor, this area was affected by the first fallout after the accident. The trees turned red as they absorbed the radionuclides. Nowadays, there’s a new generation of trees, but radiation is still pretty high. To give you some numbers, levels on the road are close to 50 µSv/h. I guess it is much higher when you actually enter the forest.
The dose one gets due to natural sources of radiation is between 1 and 6 mSv per year. In the red forest, you’d get an equivalent dose in a day. Luckily we were only there for just a few minutes.
I guess most of you know the story of Pripyat, anyway here’s a short overview: Pripyat was a pretty modern town by soviet standards, it was built in 1970 solely for the workers of the power plant and their families. About 50.000 people lived there at the time of the accident.
Although it is only 3km away from reactor no. 4, people were being told everything was under control when the accident happened. 36 hours later they were finally evacuated, but authorities still told them they would be back in a few days. They had to leave everything behind, and as we know today they never returned.
First stop in Pripyat was a dental clinic.
A colleague told me this was typical in the soviet union: they didn’t have many dentists all around the city, but instead one big dental clinic where all of the dentists worked. And the same for other kinds of hospitals…
After a short stop at the fire brigade building, we went to the famous 16-storey building… and much to my dislike, the elevator was out of order
Anyway, I made it to the top floor, and I must say the view was well worth it!
Right next to the 16-storey building is a kindergarten. For me, this was the most disturbing place, as I couldn’t stop to think about the kids who went there. They would be about my age now… there were also a lot of toys left behind, which added to the intense atmosphere.
That was our first day in the zone. We went to the Café in Chernobyl to have dinner (which was actually not that bad, quite good after the lunch "experience"), and then to our hotel where we enjoyed some of the beer and vodka we bought in Kiev
Stay tuned for Day 2, ready in a few days…