“Chernobyl?! What are you going there for?!” A fair thing to say if someone’s considering a trip to the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history. But Chernobyl had been on my travel wish list for donkey’s years. (As it turns out, my boyfriend David’s as well!)
I’m not quite sure why I’ve always been fascinated by it… maybe because it happened the year I was born? Something so devastating, so far away from NZ, yet surprisingly accessible to tourists.
We landed in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine early Thursday evening to the continental summer heat. We had Friday to check out Kyiv (that will be a separate post!) and Saturday for Chernobyl, Pripyat and to get as close to Reactor 4 as tourists are allowed.
Pop Quiz – Which motoring show filmed a challenge in Chernobyl?!
Yip, you can visit a Nuclear Disaster Zone!
We went with Solo East Travel, the first of its kind and No 2 on TripAdvisor for Chernobyl tours. We had a small group of 11, which was much easier to get in and around the abandoned remnants of the ghost town compared to the other groups of 25 we saw. The only issue for me was the small, cramped minivan, which in the 30+ degree heat soon became painful, especially if you’re recovering from food poisoning like I was!
We had to be at the departure point at 8am, which had me panicking because I needed a chemist asap to get some uh ‘supplies’ to even try and survive the day. It turns out ‘24 hour pharmacies’ don’t seem to quite mean that in Ukraine. We tried two on our way, someone in there but not open. What the?! One nearby opened at 8am thank goodness. So after checking in with the guides, I went as fast as my weak little legs could manage and with some dodgy charades and some lifesaving google translate screenshots I managed to get what I needed. THANK. GOD!
Chernobyl is one of the most unusual and haunting places I’ve ever been. Clearing several checkpoints we entered the 30km exclusion zone. We passed through Chernobyl town; concrete roads slowly being reclaimed by vegetation, streets of overgrown crumbling homes, toys and dolls left behind in the ruins of a preschool. It was here that had some of the highest levels of radiation. The radioactive particles from the meltdown and fire that burned for weeks blanketed an enormous area. The whole country helped with the MASSIVE clean up operation, but of course they couldn’t get it all. That’s why even though people still work at the plant today, people are not allowed to live within the 30km exclusion zone. Except for the ‘self-settlers’ who returned within a couple of years of being evacuated. They wanted to die in the one place they called home.
3 kms from disaster
Pripyat was the town 3km away from the reactor where the workers and their families lived. Residents weren’t told anything for an entire day. With the KGB trying to keep it under wraps it was Sweden that told the Ukrainian govt that there was a very serious problem. The town was only 15 years old. A brand new amusement park was due to open 3 days after the accident. The people’s homes, all wasted. It was like that TV series if you ever saw it – ‘Life After People’.
Seeing with my own eyes what I had seen in documentaries and pictures my whole life, was something out of this world. The decaying sarcophagus only meant to last 20 years, only word to describe it – surreal. Yet the radiation 100 metres away from it was less than that of the ground 10 kms away. The workers are there building a new one now, it will cover the entire thing and last for 100 years they say.
The tour was definitely one from my bucket list, but I like to think it was also respectful. So many children and their families are still horribly affected by it today. Not just in Ukraine but Belarus which was very close to the plant also. I am extremely grateful for this experience.
Cost breakdown –
We flew from London Gatwick to Kiev Borispol, £130/€150/NZ$234 each one way (and then onwards to Budapest for £30/€35/NZ$54 each one way). Not cheap, but absolutely worth it!
Solo East 1 day Chernobyl Tour – £85/€100/NZ$154 with lunch at a Chernobyl hotel included.