Visit to Chernobyl
Replies: 2 - Last Post: Feb 19, 2013 2:02 PM Last Post By: muminmamma
Jan 25, 2013 2:22 PM
Visit to ChernobylBackground
I travelled to Kiev for a few days - from Minsk in October 2012. The main purpose of the visit was to go to Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station and the nearby now deserted town of Pripyat. It is a full day trip from Kiev and was great.
Booking and Logistics
There are a few operators in Kiev selling day trips to Chernobyl to visit the exclusion zone. I booked with Solo East Travel - they have a good reputation, seem to have been doing the trips for the longest and also seem to be the people other outfitters use for logistics and arranging permits etc.
The standard price per person was US $149. This was if you booked onto one of their scheduled departures - of which there are many, perhaps daily in the summer. A private tour for 1 was US $480.
In addition, you can rent your own geiger counter to look at the radiation levels - I had much fun and was a little bit concerned at times by the erratic readings they give as you pass in and out of more contaminated zones. This costs US $10. for the day.
The tour departed at 0900 from outside the Hotel Kozatskiy on Independence square (just to the right of McDonalds). The guide was outside from around 0830. Do not forget to bring your passport with you, it is vital. If you wanted to make things simple (as I did- limited time), this hotel was 740 UAH (US$ 90) for a single. It wasn't the most glamorous in town but for a night it was certainly adequate.
Into the Exclusion Zone
It is around 2 hours to drive from Kiev to the entrance of the exclusion zone. The ride is mostly through forest and small villages, it was quite pleasant as far as minibus rides go. The first port of call is the 30km exclusion zone checkpoint. This is the outermost 'entrance' into the exclusion zone. We had to wait here for around 30 minutes whilst the guide liaised with the military guards and representative from 'Chernobylinterinform Agency'. There is a large map showing the area and the villages inside the zone. There is also a large memorial which you can take a look at in the meanwhile. Photography was in theory prohibited here, but in practice was no problem. after a short while a guard will come out to inspect everyone's passports then you're allowed to drive in.
The first town in the exclusion zone is the town of Chernobyl. This is the town from which the infamous power plant took its name. It doesn't feel at all abandoned and indeed it is not. Around 2000 workers are here daily working in shifts, sometimes staying overnight in government apartments etc. They are monitoring the environment, performing maintenance and other necessary jobs such as cooks, cleaners - everything a small community would need. We checked into the main offices for Chernobylinterinform Agency to register our arrival. Our guide sorted all of this out. Here there is the first opportunity since Kiev to visit the bathroom and the last for several more hours. We had a short briefing on the regulations and other procedures within the 30km zone.
We took a short drive around the down, visiting some of the memorials such as the one for Hiroshima, Nagasaki and now Fukushima in Japan and also an avenue of all the villages that were completely abandoned since the disaster. The driver also took us around some of the houses that are abandoned and overgrown. There was a short stop at a graveyard of the vehicles used to help decontaminate the zone.
The Power Plant
From the town of Chernobyl it was a short drive to the 10km exclusion zone checkpoint. There was no additional passport check, the guide briefly spoke to the guard and we passed through with no problems. We stopped at the side of the cooling channel to take some photos of the power plant in the distance - the first sight of the infamous nuclear power station. You can also see reactors 5 and 6 still under 'construction' with their cranes still standing.
We drove closer to the station and to a memorial, viewing the main reactor at a distance of 300m (the closest you can get). Still plenty of people working here and also from the International Atomic Commission. They are currently building a huge new concrete case to slide over the existing one. Sadly it was prohibited and enforced not to take photos of this as well as the power station from certain angles along certain specific stretches of the road. This is apparently for counter terrorism measures that the Ukraine is obliged to enforce.
Soon after there is a bridge to stop off at and feed the vast catfish that live in the water below. These things are huge, you will get some bread for them here also.
This is the main town right next to the power station - build to house the workers, all 50,000 residents were evacuated in just a few hours after the disaster. It largely lies as it was left. The roads leading in are all very overgrown, but you get a good picture of the place. The guide said that October was in his opinion the best month to visit as the tree leaves have almost all fallen off and you can see everything better - in summer there are too many leaves - blocking the view from the road.
We toured Lenin Square, the culture palace, a supermarket, restaurant, cinema, football stadium, school, swimming pool, fair ground hospital and a couple of other buildings. These are the main ones of interest, but everything else about the place is quite fascinating to see after so many years of no habitation.
At some point in the day, depending on the schedule there is a lovely lunch served at the power plant worker's canteen. It was fairly simple but in abundance (4 or 5 courses I think) and was very tasty. The food is safe and all gets brought in from Kiev under strict conditions.
The return to Kiev
After the sightseeing is complete, the minibus driver took us all back to the centre of Kiev (more or less the same place it started). On the way out of the exclusion zone there is a radiation check point you have to go through. If you fail, then you are presumably decontaminated somehow. Fortunately everyone in my group passed with no problems. We got back to Kiev at around 1800hrs.
I found out from the guide on the drive back that it is possible to visit some of the villages in the exclusion zone that have been repopulated to a degree. There are around 140 people (mostly the elderly) who have moved back to the area since the disaster. I would have liked to have met some of them, but it was not on my trip's itinerary. The guide said that if you tell Solo East Travel before you go that you'd like to do this, they'll put it on the group's itinerary without any extra charge or anything. I think this would be worth doing. Their website advertises all the tours go to a village to meet people but this is not the case, if you want to do this - tell them!
Jan 28, 2013 11:46 PM
Feb 19, 2013 2:02 PM
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