How To Visit Chernobyl, Ukraine; Know Before You Go

What’s it like to visit a place that has been made uninhabitable by a nuclear disaster? Is it safe? Can anything live there? The answers might just surprise you. Read what it’s like to visit one of the most infamous disasters of modern history, Chernobyl. How to visit and what to know before you go.

A tree sprouts through the rubble in Pripyat’s main square

History

In the midst of the cold war the Soviet Union were going full steam ahead with the nuclear race against the West. Unfortunately strict deadlines and a no nonsense approach to consequences for those responsible for delays meant corners were cut. None so disastrously evident as the building of Chernobyl nuclear power plant. During testing to shut down the reactor no. 4 in the event of an emergency, a true disaster unfolded. Quickly becoming one of the worst man made disasters in history. The events that followed furthered the casualties with the Soviet leaders refusing to admit to what had happened or take any responsibility. Until a station in Sweden pinpointed the origin of the radiation now sweeping across Europe. Without the unwittingly suicidal actions of the brave emergency services further reactors would have been affected and the whole of Europe wiped out.

It’s estimated that the amount of radioactive material was 400 times more than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

weforum.org

Location

Chernobyl sits in the mid north of Ukraine. A two hour drive from the capital Kiev, and close to the border with Belarus (more towns in Belarus were actually affected by the disaster then in Ukraine itself). It is a full day trip with several sites to visit such as Pripyat town (a purpose built Soviet town for plant workers), Duga Radar (the largest of its time), the red forest, the nuclear power plant, Chernobyl city itself as well as an old school and some rural areas.

Duga Radar Chernobyl
The ‘over the horizon detection system’ was built as an early warning system against nuclear attack. It stands at 492 feet high and 2300 feet long.

The final death toll is estimated at 4000 people, from cancers and radiation poisoning.

World Health Organisation

What’s it like?

It is something that has to be seen to be believed. Nowhere have I felt more angry at the human race but also totally astounded by nature’s ability to recover. Buildings lay abandoned and ransacked while trees sprout from the rubble. Horses put there to ‘test’ livability now thrive and roam freely. Bears, deer, moose, and even stray dogs call this place, uninhabitable by human standards, home. It’s tragic, depressing, incomprehensible and uplifting all at the same time. A truly unique place to gain a different perspective of the world.

How to get there

Reactor number 4; now encased in the worlds largest movable structure.

It is best to go with an organised tour like Chernobyl tours. Tours start at $99 for a full day. You will cross a border style checkpoint where passports are required and you are given a dosimeter to check radiation levels. Wear long sleeves and covered clothing to reduce saturation in to the skin.

Pripyat’s theme park was never actually operational as the events of April 26 1986 meant it never opened.

Top tip – Bring you’re own snacks and lunch. There is one Soviet style canteen in the zone which you can see without having to eat in. Best avoided unless you’re into rehydrated, mass prepared food!

Is it safe?

Chernobyl tours

If you’re very concerned probably best not to go! But levels have been lowered with activities such as topsoil removal, and tours are cancelled if there are events like forest fires that could disrupt the radiation levels. Metal in particular seems to hold the radiation so best not to touch anything hey. But the guides are mad enough to return every day!

Should you go?

Of course. Go everywhere. See everything. Expand your knowledge of the world and be a better human because of it! Visiting Hiroshima in Japan gave me some invaluable insight in to the effect that the use of nuclear has had and is still having on the world. Chernobyl really brought this home and is a shocking example of the impact we can have on the world. But it is also an amazing and unique example of how nature can recover and thrive without human intervention. It really is quite an intense day out that you won’t be forgetting in a hurry!

Staying in Kiev? Check out my post on the top 5 places to eat as well as the top 10 weird things to do!

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