Chernobyl in Eastern Ukraine is one of the most infamous places on Earth. It used to be a normal, ordinary town, no different from thousands of others in the Soviet Union. It was quiet, peaceful, had its own theater, cinema and amusement park. People lived their life according to a daily routine until the 26th of April, 1986. In the middle of the night, a disastrous explosion shook Chernobyl. Reactor number 4 failed and ejected radioactive particles high up into the atmosphere. With the clouds and wind, the fallout was subsequently spread all over Europe, reaching as far as Scandinavia. Chernobyl and the surrounding area were evacuated virtually overnight. Only recently more and more people have started to return to their old homes. Three decades after the disaster, I visited Chernobyl and in this post I'll show you the way it is now.
How to reach Chernobyl - Is it safe?
You can't enter Chernobyl just like that, using public transport. It's an exclusion zone and entry is forbidden. However, there are specialized tour agencies that organize trips from Kiev. It can be quite pricey - around 150 USD.
The radiation is not an issue anymore. In Chernobyl, military and government staff live normal lives. For you, as a tourist the risk is minimal. Your body is usually exposed to higher doses of radiation during a few hour rather flight than a visit in Chernobyl. The tour also includes the ghost town of Pripyat where no one has returned to - more information on Pripyat below.
Chernobyl - the town
The town of Chernobyl is mainly abandoned but some of the buildings have been restored. Some people returned there and live their lives. Even a simple cafe/bar exists, we stopped there and had a typical, Ukrainian lunch - composed of a soup and a main course. We were ensured that the food doesn't come from the contaminated ares.
The surrounding buildings are covered in beautiful graffiti. Although you see apartment blocks that are in a relatively good condition everywhere, the deafening silence reminds you of what happened there. The nature seems to have gotten over the disaster years ago and now Chernobyl is surrounded by lush, green forests - our guide also told us it's been estimated that more animals than ever live in the woods of Chernobyl. As it turns out, the nature can survive without us, humans way better.
Chernobyl town is filled with numerous monuments and memorials that commemorate those who died as a result of that horrible catastrophe. There is an alley with signs bearing the names of all the villages that had to be evacuated and literally ceased to exist, there's an angel made of twisted wires and metal rods and a statue symbolizing the rise from the dead.
The reactor number 4 and the sarcophagus
The reactor number 4 and the actual power plant are located a few kilometers from the center of Chernobyl. Looking at the half-destroyed building, it's hard to believe that it could have caused such a disaster. The guide gave us a Geiger counter to prove that the level of radiation is higher near the reactor than anywhere else.
Near the power plant, a sarcophagus is being built. There are plans to cover the reactor with it to prevent further contamination. Also, in case the plant collapsed, it would cause another enormous disaster because of the highly radioactive core. It had been estimated that the sarcophagus would be finished by 2012. However, it's far from being completed. Probably due to the recent, turbulent events and economic situation in Ukraine.
If you saw movies about Chernobyl, you can treat them as fantasy. They weren't even filmed in Chernobyl! All the mutant fish and animals don't exist and plants look completely normal. However, the Pripyat river has its monsters! You can spot dozens extremely huge and happy catfish in it. Of course, catching them is banned and they love being fed by the tourists.
The Ghost town of Pripyat
If you've seen some photos of Chernobyl that show the ghost town with the crumbling buildings - it's Pripyat - the city built for the power plant employers, located 20 km (12 miles) from Chernobyl. Pripyat was abandoned overnight and has been left this way until this day. There are no restoration works in progress and the city is slowly disintegrating.
It's horrific and fascinating at the same time. It shows exactly what would happen if humanity disappeared overnight. Now, after 30 years, you can see how the empty houses, the cinema and the school with notebooks still placed on the desks, give in to the nature. The trees grow through the windows and the beds and shelves became a home for numerous birds and small mammals.
If you want to find out more about Pripyat, I have prepared a separate article with shocking photos, have a look at the Related Posts section below.
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