THE GHOST CITIES: CHERNOBYL & PRIPYAT
A stop-by-stop journal of our trip to the abandoned city of Pripyat, and the Chernobyl power plant. check out for more information!
Beginning Our Journey
7.00 am. We woke up to pack the essentials, like our GoPro, some snacks and plenty of water bottles. After that we left our hotel around 7.30am and made our way to the train station. Here, we grabbed some sandwiches and headed to the KFC behind Kyiv-Pasazhyrskyi Railway Station (also known as Pivdenny Station) where we met our small but awesome tour group with whom we were gonna be traveling with. In addition to us, there were five German adventurers who were also very eager to see the one of the world’s biggest exclusion zones: Chernobyl!
We also got to meet our extremely pleasant and enthusiastic tour guide from ChernobylWel.com who took each of our passports to confirm our places and then led us to an adorable minivan where we all piled in and paid our fee for our trip. We each paid $129 for the one-dayretro tour (more information about the company and our tour is available below) and began our hour and a half long drive from Kiev to Chernobyl!
Getting Close to Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
– Dityatki Security Checkpoint –
We stopped along the way for some snacks and drinks and got to know each other and talk. Our next stop was an hour away and in the mean time, our guide played an informative documentary for us in the bus about Chernobyl called The Battle of Chernobyl, which I would recommend anyone interested in the event to watch because it was not only incredibly educational but also very thrilling and well-directed.
As we watched our documentary, we headed to our first stop, at the Dityatki Security Checkpoint held by the military. Here they checked our passports and our tour guide confirmed our entry into the area which is strictly prohibited from entering without an official tour. We also got some neat Geiger Counters, devices which measure radiation, and immediately began measuring areas around us!
– Village of Zalissya –
10.30 am or so, we passed the security control and continued our trip. Our first main stop was an abandoned village of Zalissya. We walked around and saw several abandoned buildings, houses, a city hall and many cars. This was one of the many villages close enough to Chernobyl to have been evacuated swiftly right after the explosion and never inhabited again. It was very thrilling walking along the main path of an abandoned village that had been completely reclaimed by nature!
– Chernobyl City Sign –
We then had a short stop at the Chernobyl sign, which indicated that we had officially entered the city. We took some photos wearing the cool breathing masks, marking the official start to the real Chernobyl adventure.
– St. Elijah Church –
We then headed to the St. Elijah Church, a beautiful blue, white and gold structure still standing after 30 years in a pristine state. It was the main place of worship before the disaster and legend has it that the people foresaw the disaster through a vision of the Virgin Mary carrying dried wormwood (which translates in Ukrainian to Chernobyl) 10 years before the disaster ever happened right above the church. It was a well-reported incident in the papers in around April of 1976. Therefore, this church has a great significance on Chernobyl incident.
– Chernobyl Riverport and Alley of Memory –
After that, we headed to the Alley of Memory and Hope and the Woodworm Star Memorial, which was a monument marking the memorial site dedicated to all those cities effected by the disaster.
We then had another quick stop at the Chernobyl Riverport still had some ships that some locals used as well as those remaining from 30 years ago. Our guide told us that although the water and soil was quite radioactive, the radioactivity has sunken below ground quite a bit, making it safer for a small number of locals who still inhabit the area and like to come and fish or picnic by the port.
We made two more quick short stops, one was at the Monument to “Those Who Saved the World”, a structure outside the fire station dedicated to all the firemen, engineers, miners, scientists etc. who helped prevent the disaster from becoming much more deadly and threatening for the rest of the world, despite the cost to themselves.
We also visited the Chernobyl Open Air Museum for Machinery, which housed various examples of the original machines and vehicles used in fighting the disaster. Although they were no longer radioactively dangerous, as we put our Geiger counters closer, they showed a slightly higher level of radiation than normal!
Lunch Break At The Canteen
We then headed to the small Chernobyl Hotel and Power plant Canteen, where many tourists stay overnight as well, and had our lunch there. Surprisingly, it was well above our expectations! It included some cold pork sausages, scrambled eggs, oranges, vegetables and some sweet Palmiers as appetizers. We had a chicken stock and potato soup and our main dish – a grilled chicken with a cheese sauce, mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts and beans. We also had some sweet fresh cherry juice! The meal was excellent, fresh and hot from the stove! It was a great time to mingle with our fellow tour-buddies and relax with a delicious meal!
Dead Lands Between Chernobyl and Pripyat
– Duga Soviet Military Radar –
Right after the awesome lunch, we started heading for the enormous Soviet Over-The-Horizon Radar system called Duga, which was used from 1976 to 1989, and functioned as a early-warning system. Also known as the Russian Woodpecker, this giant metallic structure stretches endlessly far and wide in Chernobyl 2, the area nearby the main Chernobyl Power Plant. We also got to meet the famous Chernobyl dog, Tarzan!
– Elementary School –
Our next stop was one of the most excited and spookiest places we visited – the elementary school! This was a boarding school for the young children of the workers of the power plant and stood as a frozen piece in time. As we walked up the path towards the school building, we came across several discarded toys and dolls that have laid there for over 30 years now. Inside, books, clothes, toys and furniture lay strewn all over the floor, covered in dust.
The radiation inside the school was much lower than even that at the security check point miles away, since the radiation did not enter as much inside buildings. Upon leaving, our tour guide told us about the radiation hotspot that existed in this area, 90 times higher than the normal amount we were seeing. These hotspots exist in those areas were the soil remains exposed and is not covered by asphalt as are most other surfaces to suppress.
Arriving At The Power Plant
– Chernobyl Railway Bridge –
As we left the elementary school, we gradually started to come into view of the giant shiny silver dome that now houses the infamous reactor number 4. This panoramic view of the power plant we got from across the Pripyat River was magnificent as we got to see the huge and wide-stretching power plant and the sarcophagus that now covers it.
We then drove to the entrance of the Chernobyl Power Plant where we headed to the famous railway bridge, now obviously unused, to feed the huge catfish that famously swim in the Pripyat river. Our tour guide had brought some bread along from the canteen we had eaten at earlier and gave some to us to throw to the catfish. They catfish were larger than normal and in such high numbers.
– Reactor Number 4 –
It was now time to go to the gates of the Reactor Number 4! Here we got to see the famous sarcophagus up close and took many photos next to the Chernobyl Monument. The radiation here was no longer extremely high after the construction of the sarcophagus had been completed with the help of French constructors. It was extremely overwhelming to stand so close to the site of one of the biggest human-made disasters in the world, and at a site where at one time such chaos and mayhem ensued.
Inside The Town Of Pripyat
– Pripyat City Sign –
We were now headed for one of the most exciting part of the trip – the town of Pripyat! First, we stopped stopped shortly in front of the Pripyat town sign, and took several photos. Then we passed through the Red Forest, where the radiation level still remains higher than the rest of Chernobyl.
– Pripyat Downtown –
We finally arrived in main center of the town of Pripyat! To our right, was a large apartment building where many of the residents once lived. It was one of the luxurious apartment buildings of the town in those times. Our exploration inside the town of Pripyat had finally begun!
– Supermarket –
Our first sight was the ruin of a supermarket that was once a prime example of the modern Soviet constructions and facilities. Fun fact: after the evacuation of the town, it was only in 2001 when the next major supermarket was constructed in Ukraine! It was one of many modern and luxurious buildings the Soviet government built as part of their plan to make Pripyat a model city in the Soviet Union.
– Theather –
We then walked to the theater, now ruined and falling down but still possessing some remnants of the past. The theater chairs were still fixed upon the ground, and the overhead stage lights had fallen onto the stage but still remained intact. The wooden stage floor was partially collapsed and the wood decaying in many places. Many equipments had become rusty over the years but the environment was truly impressive and preserved the past so hauntingly.
– Pripyat Amusement Park –
The next stop was perhaps the most popularly advertised and well-known spot in Pripyat – the amusement park! True to it’s word, the place was a haunting picture of a once lively and joyful spot where children once played and families came together for recreation. We started by walking towards the bumper cars, seeing a beautiful mural on the wall painted almost 30 years ago, of a herd of reindeer grazing. The cars, which had sat in the same place for three decades now, were embraced by mother nature by now.
– Ferris Wheel and Bumper Car Field –
Next to it, standing tall and mighty was the Ferris wheel, with its yellow carriages flowing in the wind still holding onto the wheel. It seemed like any moment the wheel would open and queues would form and the park would liven up! Everything was in its place and untouched by anything except the years and the environment. Probably, this place had the highest level of radiation among all spots we covered in our tour.
– Culture Center of Pripyat –
We now moved on to the culture center of Pripyat, which included two very interesting locations! As we walked into the culture center and up stairs that were completely disintegrating, we first entered the large basketball court, with the hoops still attached to the board. The place looked half demolished as the years took a toll. We moved onto the next room through a small passage, to the swimming pool. The pool was one of the largest public pools I’ve seen! Around it, changing rooms for men and women separately were aligned next to each other. Both seemed damp and dark, however the structure had remained intact and you could still see the showers and the cabins inside for changing.
– Grammar School –
Next up was the grammar school! This was probably the most picturesque place of all! We entered through a large hallway that led us to a room on our right. This large common area was a dining hall and a study room. As soon as we entered, we were overwhelmed by the number of stimuli that hit us.
To the left corner of the room, a sea of gas masks piled up. Around the room, tables lay with various kinds of books and pages, and notes written from even before 1986. A cashier machine sat atop a table with its buttons coming out and the rust gradually creeping over the whole thing.
After exploring, we moved onward down the main hall, which led to the L-shaped corridors full of classrooms, most locked. We walked into an open one and were beheld by amazement. In other words, it felt as if I had entered a portal into 1986. Desks lined up in rows and columns still remained and shelves had fallen down along with the books they contained. The desks still had countless books and pages scattered around and projects made by students. The sight is difficult to give justice to in describing it in words!
– Pripyat Recreational Club –
After a long and weary day, we arrived at our last stop of the trip. As we walked up the stone path, our guide told us we were at the Pripyat Recreational Club. This building was cornered by the Pripyat River, which was overlooked by a large porch where parties and events were often held. Inside, plates, glasses and shelves and even vending machines lay broken and scattered everywhere. It was a haunting scene of a place once full of parties and liveliness. In a large room, which appeared to be a ball room, was a glass mosaic wall, painted with Soviet art, as we were told. We explored and walked around, taking in the lack of life in the place – the only sound of us walking around.
We finally headed back. It had been a tiring day but that was not of the slightest concern considering the incredible and unique day we had just had. It was a two hour journey back to Kiev, and on the way we stopped at the security check point once again where the military officers scanned us for any radiation left on us. Upon reaching the Kiev central train station, we all said our goodbyes and parted our ways.
THANK YOU FOR READING!
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