Edit Blog Post
Published: February 7th 2019
Pripyat had a population of almost 50,000 and was a model city full of the brightest of the Soviet Union. That’s until 27 April 1986 when it was evacuated in 3 hours; though that wasn’t until 36 hours after Reactor 4 had blown up.
First question: Is it safe to visit? Well it must be or you wouldn’t be able to. Just don’t lick anything.
Second question: Should you visit? That’s not as easy to answer. Should you visit as in is it straightforward and is it interesting? Yes and yes. Should you visit as in is it the right thing to do considering the millions adversely affected, is it morally right? I don’t really know, maybe some/many people are offended that it has become a tourist attraction.
But then I have visited Auschwitz, some churches in Rwanda where the genocide happened, the Killing Fields and S-21 in Cambodia, slave forts in Ghana, a KGB prison in Riga, various ossuaries such as the catacombs under Paris, abandoned ghost towns around the world, and as a kid I used to love dungeons under castles. It seems as if I seek out such dark places but that is far from the truth. However, there seems to be an inherent human fascination in all things a bit macabre. Thus we found ourselves at Chernobyl. Though it was Pripyat that I most looked forward to; and which proved to be the most interesting – and sad.
Children’s gas masks at a school in Pripyat
The gas masks were never used as the children were evacuated first.
I like going away for New Year’s Eve. Usually it’s to somewhere hot to escape the European winter. For some reason this year we chose somewhere freezing: Ukraine.
A train, a minibus, a walk through the border formalities, then another minibus, took us from Rzeszow in Eastern Poland to Lviv in Western Ukraine. On arrival, when we saw people walking around with Christmas trees over their shoulders – it was 29th December – we remembered that Orthodox Christmas in this part of the world is not until 7th January. Hence, the Christmas markets were still flourishing, decorations were up, Christmas songs were playing; we got to have Christmas all over again!
Lviv is lovely. The old town has cobbled streets and squares, old trams, castles, churches, monasteries, it looks like an old pretty Polish town. Basically because it is. It was only since the German-Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 that it became part of the USSR and now Ukraine. The Lychakiv Cemetery is worth a stroll out from the old town.
An overnight train – comfy bunk-beds but fiercely strong central heating – brought us to
There’s a lot more to Ukraine than Chernobyl. Kiev was much more grand and majestic than we expected.
Kiev. A short but freezing early morning walk took us from the railway station to the tour company’s office for the Chernobyl trip. This has to be booked a while in advance as passport details must be forwarded on. Don’t worry about trips not running if they don’t have the numbers as apparently many companies now run multiple buses there every day of the year. Though our tour only crossed paths with a couple of others while at the site – it is big enough for the tours to avoid each other. In fact, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is the size of Derbyshire (that’s about 2,600 km2
, or a bit bigger than Luxembourg if you are more familiar with European microstates than English counties).
The minibus takes a couple of hours to reach the first checkpoint. We slept most of the way, missing the video about the Chernobyl disaster. I had seen such a documentary a few weeks before randomly so didn’t feel guilty for missing it. The military guards at the checkpoint are very stern looking and check everyone and everything. Though the two souvenir shops proffering mugs, magnets, t-shirts, all sporting radiation symbols, lighten the
Village near Chernobyl
The village was evacuated and demolished except for the post office and, for maximum creepiness levels, the kindergarten.
situation. More driving and then there’s another checkpoint with more stern looking soldiers where you have to get out and go through the same rigmarole again. Then you get to Chernobyl.
Surprisingly, the town of Chernobyl currently has 3,000 inhabitants. These people are involved in the decontamination and dismantling of the power station, and construction of various other things going on at the site; such as the planned massive solar array. Chernobyl is actually about 15 km from the power station and the radiation dosimeters we had in our minibus indicated that radiation levels were the same as in Kiev; or the same as you’d find almost anywhere. According to our guide who lived in the town, the greatest current danger in Chernobyl is vodka as there is absolutely nothing to do.
The tour took us to numerous places that varied in interest. The creepy kindergarten that was the only building (plus the post office) not too contaminated to demolish in an abandoned village; where nothing seemed too radioactive till you held the dosimeters around the ground at the edge of the school (where the radioactive particles washed off the roof). We saw Johnny-5 and Total
Pripyat Amusement Park
It was due to open 5 days after the nuclear disaster.
Recall style robots that were used to go into the extremely radioactive parts of the power station. The far too small and self-funded memorial to the firemen who essentially, and perhaps unwittingly, sacrificed themselves in the immediate aftermath of the disaster to put the fire out on Reactor-4. The vast and abandoned Duga Radar Antenna, looking like the world’s largest and most elaborate scaffolding structure that’s lost its attached building, built to spot incoming nuclear missiles during the cold war while they were still far over the horizon. The enormous silver sarcophagus, or to give it its proper name, The New Safe Confinement, that was built adjacent to then slid over Reactor-4; the one that blew up. It’s a $2.3 billion stainless steel poly-tunnel weighing 31,000 tonnes that you are best admiring from the outside.
Pripyat was last stop – I think they save the best till last. They certainly save the most radioactive till last. Pripyat is only 2.5 km from the nuclear power station and it’s downwind. The power station is called Chernobyl as when it was built, Chernobyl was the nearest place. Pripyat was then built to serve the power station and named after
School in Pripyat abandoned like everything else
As with everything else in Pripyat, the school had great facilities. It was a sad place to wander around.
the river. Just stepping out of the minibus in Pripyat and the dosimeters went crazy, you don’t need to hold them near the ground or close to trees. I will note that you apparently receive a far greater radiation dose on one long haul flight than you do on a Chernobyl Tour. Still, don’t lick anything.
Pripyat was a model town with the brightest of the Soviet Union and the best facilities, with good schools, healthcare, sports facilities, restaurants and hotels, even the famous amusement park that was due to open just a few days after the town was evacuated. That they managed to evacuate almost 50,000 in a couple of hours is impressive; that it took them 36 hours to mention the disaster had happened and start the evacuation was less impressive. And the rest of the world was only informed when elevated levels of radiation were detected in Sweden.
Nature is slowly reclaiming Pripyat though the supermarkets, schools and many other buildings can still be entered and you can get an appreciation of what the city was like. It’s a very sad place to explore; what might have been and what wasn’t. Due to, officially following
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
Reactor 4, the one that blew up, is now under this 108 m high steel dome. It was built next to the reactor – radiation was too high to build it in-situ – then slid into position in 2016. At 31000 tonnes it was the world’s biggest mobile structure.
the inquest, a silly experiment that involved switching off fail-safe systems on the nuclear reactor and design flaws that meant a runaway reaction was possible.
Aside from the Chernobyl tour, we very much approved of Kiev. It was much more grand and majestic than expected with wide boulevards, huge squares, and big palatial buildings. Like how I imagine Moscow to look (I haven’t been there). We walked everywhere, as we always do, and it’s large. Getting out to some of the more distant sights took us ages. Though there are plenty of nice little cafes to warm up with a hot chocolate and vodka. I could happily go back and have another weekend in Kiev.
Tot: 1.102s; Tpl: 0.096s; cc: 16; qc: 28; dbt: 0.0166s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb