May 2015

For years I wanted to visit Chernobyl Exclusion Zone - the disaster played an important role for our generation, became part of the popular culture, now being both a nostalgic view of 1986 Soviet state of the art as well as a place where you can see how quickly nature can reclaim man-made structures.

You must take a tour to visit Chernobyl, and you must register for it at least 2 weeks in advance with correct passport details - this is required by the government. Day tour may be enough with very early start from Kiev and late return back. But on the tour you realize that having more time there would be even better. Take a 2 day tour if you have time. I used Chernobyl Zone, with whom I got a less crowded tour with a group of only 6 people and 2 guides.

Average radiation levels there are not dangerous nowadays, they say that in a day you get the same amount as on a trans-Atlantic flight, provided that you don't stick your nose to the wrong place, like Ruby Forest, basements or other lower areas. The guides carry radiation dosimeters, and will tell you if going somewhere is not recommended. There are many people working in 2-week shifts in the exclusion zone, and they are alive. We even had an "ecologically-clean" lunch in the canteen right next to the power plant. On the way there and back you will also pass several checkpoints, checking for any radioactive dust that may have been caught by your clothes. I was fine.

Besides seeing the reactor from a distance and visiting the World-famous abandoned city of Pripyat, founded in 1976 to show-off modern Soviet special-purpose city design, you will also see the less famous, but really cool Duga Radar (aka Chernobyl-2 or Russian Woodpecker), which purpose was to detect US missiles flying to attack the USSR during the Cold War.

The Chernobyl town itself is located a bit further away from the reactor than Pripyat and, despite being also mostly abandoned, is nowadays home to some working shops and hotels for the workers of the zone.

Walking in the zone also constantly reminded me of 1979 Stalker movie, filmed in and near my home city of Tallinn, but amazingly predicting the existence and current mood of the Exclusion Zone.

Chernobyl is a city about 20 km from the power plant, it is still inhabited by about 3000 people working there Memorial to all abandoned towns and villages in the abandoned zone A shop in Chernobyl town, they sell lots of contamination-free alcohol here Memorial to the firefighters who went there first and didn't survive This machinery were used to clean up the mess. Remote robots usually stopped working after a couple of hours Duga-2 (aka Chernobyl-2) - Soviet transatlantic missile detection grid Gunnery holders Soviet cantine There were 3 places like this in USSR, all secret and working in unison Antennas are 200m high The 1980-s data center See the server racks? Abandoned computers even looters didn't want Teaching class about missiles from the US, Minuteman and the likes The calendar showed the correct date early in the morning, creepy The Chernobyl power plant behind the cooling reservoir Unfinished reactor of Chernobyl power plant Entering the cantine in the power plant, you need to check yourself for contamination Current power plant workers Buildings in front of the power plant - photography is forbidden here The reservoir with giant 2m+ catfish They like bread from the cantine, but they could eat you as easily The guard unhappy about the cameras The famous 4th reactor ~300 micro roentgen here, about 1500 above the reactor The sarcophagus that is being built to be sled atop the reactor. Building in place would be bad for health Pripyat was a model Soviet town, built in 1970 and abandoned in 1986 Pripyat's river harbour Lots of fish here Waiting room of the harbour Old-school soda machine The hospital If you are overweight Operating room Elevator Coca-Cola was a rarity in Soviet times, second to Pepsi Murals in a local theatre hall Hospital and most buildings are well hidden behind the trees Primary school has collapsed last winter Greenhouse Residential building The hotel Entering the cultural center of the city The ballroom Concert hall They managed to celebrate USSR's 60 anniversary in 1977 Feels like being inside of the reactor, but actually backstage of the concert hall Ukraining answer to Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia The wheel was never used, city was abandoned a few days before its opening It is a surprise to realize you are at a stadium in the middle of a forest Another school I think there were fewer trees here in 1986 Physics class Gym 50m swimming pool, but where is the water? Climbed to the roof of a 16-floor building, too bad elevators are out of order. See the reactor? The city feels like a forest from the ground The reactor and the sarcophagus are 9 km away The sarcophagus is built on the rails to slide it in place when finished Duga-2 antennas are visible from the city Apartments have very few furniture left due to looting. Don't buy second hand stuff at Kiyv's markets Dead fish, lots of it Some cattle-feeding stuff Unfinished cooling tower Approaching kindergarten in Kopachi village Children didn't take some of their stuff when leaving On the few checkpoints on the way out where you need to check yourself for contamination Back to Chernobyl town One of the 5 shops in town Feeling like a local in Chernobyl Last contamination checkpoint The zone Sunny Kiyv is less than 180km away
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