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Published: October 17th 2019
Today we’re taking a guided tour of Chernobyl, together with Olena, our Ukrainian hostess. We board our minibus in Kyiv and are issued with permits and a Geiger counter before setting off for the exclusion zone.
Upon arrival at the 30 km exclusion zone, we are provided with dossimeters and told not to eat or drink anything we find in the forest. We proceed to the town of Chernobyl where 2500 people still live and work on a shift basis, staying in dorms and spending half of each month outside the zone to decrease their radiation exposure. Following the fall of communism, Chernobyl is the only Ukrainian town to retain a Lenin statue in the main square. Presumably it’s too radioactive to mess with.
Our tour guide is quite bossy and a little crazy. We have already been in trouble for eating a banana inside the zone. It happens again when she tells us that the chief scientist was sentenced to ten years in prison but released after 4 and employed at a nuclear power plant. We can’t help laughing.
After stops at various monuments and an enormous 700 metre long Soviet missile detection system (each stop prolonged
as the guide keeps disappearing) we head into the inner 10 km exclusion zone. Again, the guide disappears at the checkpoint. Apparently she is feeding feral cats and dogs all over Chernobyl and tour guiding is her way of accessing the zone. She finally returns very excited because she’s found some new kittens.
Eventually we’re off again and stop on the river bank for our first view of the power plant. The Geiger counter goes crazy. From a reading of 0.1 in Kyiv, we are up to 1.3. The alarm sounds at above 0.2, so eventually we turn it off because the noise becomes annoying.
It’s time for lunch at the power plant staff canteen. After a radiation check, we are admitted and have lunch of borscht and turkey with rice and the obligatory dill.
In the afternoon we visit the town which housed the power station workers and their families; Pripyat. The population of 45,000 was evacuated two days after the explosion by a fleet of 1200 buses. Tragically, by this time, people had already been exposed to lethal doses of radiation.
It’s quite eerie in this abandoned city which is slowly being reclaimed by
the forest. We visit the fire station, school and swimming pool. We arrive at the amusement park with its iconic Ferris wheel at 3 pm, seven hours after departing Kiev. Our guide asks if we fancy an hour’s walk? The answer is a resounding no. We spend 30 minutes walking through the funfair (which was never used - it was due to open on May Day, 5 days after the explosion) through the main square where a decaying restaurant and supermarket display Banksy style graffiti of people going about their daily business wearing gas masks.
Here, we are offered an optional 10 minute walk to the river station and hospital. It takes 30 minutes to reach the river station through the forest which was Lenin Avenue, trying to dodge the many holes hidden beneath the fallen leaves (the man hole covers were looted for scrap metal). Our hour’s walk has been achieved by stealth. Fearing a mutiny, she cancels her hospital plans and we return to the bus and depart the exclusion zones, via radiation checks and random animal feeding.
It’s 7 pm when we reach Kyiv. It’s been a fascinating but long day and we still have
bouncy children and packing to negotiate before it’s over.
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