Exploring The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone | An Experience Like No Other

I’m not exactly sure when I learned about the Chernobyl disaster.

I can’t have been a little kid, where on Earth would I have heard about such an event? I also know that it had to have been sometime prior to 2012. It was in this year that the horror film Chernobyl Diaries was released, and I remember watching that for the first time and already having a fair amount of knowledge about Chernobyl.

Where I learned about it I don’t recall, but visiting this zone has been something I have wanted to do for an incredibly long time. I wanted to see the abandoned cities, explore inside dilapidated homes and really try to immerse myself in a world that was abandoned in a few short hours.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

My incredibly short Ukrainian stopover was purely motivated by finally visiting this zone – and it was even more interesting than I had hoped.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

First things first, lets kick off this post with a little background information about the Chernobyl disaster.

On the 26th of April in 1986, safety systems in reactor no. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant were deliberately switched off so that workers could run tests. These tests resulted in uncontrolled nuclear reactions which caused the reactor to explode in the early hours of the morning. For the next 9 days, the nuclear reactor spewed tonnes and tonnes of nuclear waste into the atmosphere, in what would eventually come to be known as the most disastrous accident at a nuclear power plant in history.

In fact, the Chernobyl accident is one of only two events classified as a ‘level 7 event’ – the other being the 2011  Fukishima Nuclear Disaster in Japan.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

The town of Pripyat was the closest town to the Chernobyl Power Plant, and home to around 49,000 inhabitants. Most of these inhabitants were the people who worked at the power plant and their families.

Despite the explosion occurring early in the morning on April 26th, life continued as normal for the town until the afternoon of the 27th. People went about their business, completely oblivious to the disaster that had occurred just a few hours prior. However, several inhabitants became severely ill hours after the explosion, reporting intense headaches, coughing and vomiting – all symptoms of radiation poisoning.

Almost no information had been given to those living in Pripyat until they were served with the following announcement at 11am on April 27th:

For the attention of the residents of Pripyat! The City Council informs you that due to the accident at Chernobyl Power Station in the city of Pripyat the radioactive conditions in the vicinity are deteriorating. The Communist Party, its officials and the armed forces are taking necessary steps to combat this. Nevertheless, with the view to keep people as safe and healthy as possible, the children being top priority, we need to temporarily evacuate the citizens in the nearest towns of Kiev region. For these reasons, starting from April 27, 1986 2 pm each apartment block will be able to have a bus at its disposal, supervised by the police and the city officials. It is highly advisable to take your documents, some vital personal belongings and a certain amount of food, just in case, with you. The senior executives of public and industrial facilities of the city has decided on the list of employees needed to stay in Pripyat to maintain these facilities in a good working order. All the houses will be guarded by the police during the evacuation period. Comrades, leaving your residences temporarily please make sure you have turned off the lights, electrical equipment and water and shut the windows. Please keep calm and orderly in the process of this short-term evacuation.

— Evacuation announcement in Pripyat, 27 April 1986 (14:00)

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

Three hours later at 2pm, evacuation was commenced and by 3pm, around 50,000 people had been evacuated to Kiev and its surrounding regions.

Residents were told to only bring the bare essentials, and repeatedly assured that this evacuation would only last for three days. Little did they know that most of them would never return to their homes.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

Ten days after the accident, the evacuation efforts were expanded and those who lived within a 30km radius of Chernobyl were evacuated. This 30km zone was dubbed the ‘exclusion zone’ and it remains today.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

There are two ways to enter the zone – the legal way, and the illegal way.

As much as it may seem cool to break into Chernobyl, Ukraine is not a country that I was keen on getting arrested in, so I chose to explore the zone the legal way – with a tour guide.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-zone

Even when entering the zone with a tour guide, the security is by no means half-assed. There are two checkpoints and at the first checkpoint you will need to present your passport for inspection. The tour companies provide security officers with a manifest of who they have booked on their tours, and security want to be certain that they know who is entering the exclusion zone.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

Though most people would recognise the name ‘Chernobyl’, there probably isn’t a whole heck of a lot of people who would recognise the name ‘Pripyat’. Though Chernobyl is the site of the nuclear disaster, it is the nearby town of Pripyat which for me, was the most interesting.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

Entering the zone was kinda eery at first, but literally within about 10 minutes of arriving I had made a new furry friend (who was most certainly not a mutant) and it made the abandoned town feel less like a scene from a horror film, and more like a real place with real history.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

However, I am not gonna pretend like all the abandoned toys weren’t giving me a mild case of the heebie jeebies. Look at this next one peeking out from the snow!

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

Technically, it is illegal to enter buildings while inside the exclusion zone, but really, it is something that most people do. You just gotta keep your eyes peeled for security guards and police and make a pointed effort to remain as quiet as possible.

These next few photos were taken inside an old school.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-zone

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

The next building I entered was the old cafeteria. If you had wondered why it was illegal to enter these buildings, it might become obvious in the next few photos! There are so many safety and health hazards present, these rules and regulations are most likely just designed to keep any more people from getting hurt in this already infamous zone.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

It is truly amazing how much the town has just been completely taken over by nature, and it is astonishing that so many plants can still grow and thrive in a zone which is so undeniably contaminated.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

By this point, some of you may be wondering if it is safe to visit Chernobyl. I mean, after all, it is still referred to as the exclusion zone – so there must be some dangers, right?

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

As it turns out, provided you adhere to a few precautionary rules, a visit to Chernobyl will expose you to less radiation than the flight to Ukraine would!

When the reactor exploded, it spewed out radioactive particles. After this explosion, a team of incredibly brave men who were referred to as ‘liquidators’ spent months cleaning and decontaminating all of the buildings within the zone. That being said, many of these radioactive particles entered the soil and earth – meaning that trees, plants and soil from the ground should still be considered radioactive. However, as long as you don’t consume these plants or soil, this radiation will have no noteworthy effect.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

There are still a few places in the zone which are considered ‘no-go’ zones. Inside the sarcophagus (the structure built over the reactor to prevent further radioactive pollution) – the levels of radiation are still high enough to cause acute radiation poisoning. So basically, just don’t try to enter the sarcophagus!

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

I spent my time exploring Chernobyl with a geiger counter in my pocket. A geiger counter is a small machine used to detect the levels of radiation exposure.

During one day in Chernobyl I was exposed to only slightly more radiation than I would’ve during one day in Kiev.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

The Pripyat Amusement park was set to open on May 1st 1986 for the annual May Day celebrations, however, the reactor exploded just a few days before this could happen.

There are some reports that the ferris wheel was temporarily opened on April 27th before the towns evacuation as a way to distract the residents from the disaster occurring just a few kilometres away, but there are also reports saying that this did not happen.

Either way, this amusement park has become one of the most famous sites in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

Of the several buildings I explored, the residential apartment blocks were perhaps the most sad. It is so strange to think that these apartments were once happy homes to thousands of people, and in just a few short hours these families were forced to leave almost everything behind and never return. I can’t even begin to comprehend what that must have been like.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

It is quite easy to find yourself getting emotional while exploring these homes, but it pays to sometimes see things through more objective eyes. This doll wearing a gas mask was most probably placed here by someone who previously entered the zone in order to get a cool picture!

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

The absolute highlight of my day was also possibly the most illegal part (whoops) – the tallest buildings in the city are 17 storeys high, and I climbed to the top of one of them. From the top I was able to see the entire city, and I could even make out the nuclear reactor in the distance!

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog
Not exactly subtle…

The downside of hanging out on the roof of a building?

It makes you rather easy to spot! Long story short, I ended up having a rather scary chase/game of hide and seek with some security guards. I wasn’t able to run fast (blasted knee) but I am pretty good at hiding, and luckily, I escaped without arrest!

After my near escape, it was time to head back towards Kiev. On the way we stopped at the Radar DUGA. This strangely named architectural marvel is what the Soviet government used before the invention of satellites to monitor the launching of ballistic missiles.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

Then, after making one more furry friend, it was time to say goodbye to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The day I spent there was completely strange, sometimes scary and absolutely incredible. To anyone who has considered visiting the zone, do it, you definitely won’t regret it.

ukraine-chernobyl-pripyat-travel-blog

THE  LOWDOWN 

Getting to Kiev: Kiev is well serviced by two international airports – Boryspil and Zhuliany
Dream Hostel Kiev: A cheap hostel in a good location, just make sure you don’t get put in room 37!
Chornobyl Tour: A one day tour costs around $110 USD – click here for more info
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2/8 lens
Remember: If you are going to climb to the roof, don’t stay up there too long!

Posted by

20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

63 thoughts on “Exploring The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone | An Experience Like No Other

  1. Do those dogs belong to someone or they are just roaming free there? So cute! I too have always wanted to see Chernobyl ever since I found out about the disaster. Interesting pics, and glad you got away from the guards! That knee won’t hold you back!

  2. That is so creepy! Also, what do the dogs do? I mean, they can’t eat the plants (or presumably any critters that eat plants) without getting radiation poisoning right? I’m so worried about these poor puppies. I hope the guards feed them!

  3. Once I watched on television. The photographs so touching, It was a big disaster/tragic event. I am sad for the dogs too. I hope they are safety place. Thank you, Love, nia

  4. This is so creepy, brings me back my childhood memories.. I was living about 800 km from the place at the time of explosion, and remember we were given iodine to drink, to counteract the radiation effect. I remember we were terrified when we’re hearing about babies born with malformations, and other stories, even few years after the disaster. Of course, in a communist country no bad news were allowed in the media, so we never knew the truth.. Nevertheless, great post Ellen!!

      1. A documentary about abandoned engineering. I love the concept that maybe nature will reclaim cities one day…just maybe.

      2. It was just called “abandoned engineering” and had about six episodes. In true modern tv style they spend the first few minutes telling you all that is to come in the next hour so best to skip to the actual programme beginning! 😄

  5. I too have been curious about visiting Pripyat ever since I started seeing photos of the abandoned place many years ago. The photos of this place are always so eerie and I imagine it would be quite an emotional place to visit.

  6. That visit must have been a very odd counterpoint to, say, the Maldives. I recall the day the explosion happened. We had to carefully explain to our Native American school children that they were not in danger of annihilation, or even radiation poisoning. It would most definitely make a fascinating visit.

  7. I would love to go and explore there but I know I would bet into trouble as I would be in and out of all the buildings. Being an architect I would interested to see the items left and the damage mother nature is now doing to these structures. What an excellent science experiment of just how nature reclaims what is hers.

  8. Haunting blog, thank you for sharing. Those pictures are so poignant. I read Svetlana Alexievitch’s Chernobyl Prayer last year, a book which is as haunting and profound as your blog entry here. Worth a read if you’re interested in learning more about the lives of people who lived in the Chernobyl zone.

  9. There was a fascinating programme on building the latest shield over the reactor recently on BBC Four http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08650s6 . It doesn’t appear to be available at the moment, but might pop up in Australia at some point. I too remember the actual disaster and the concern about the fallout. A fascinating place, I must visit someday.Thanks for your insights.

    1. Oops, I realize that sounded a bit odd. I didn’t mean that the Chernobyl accident was great but that your experiences on the tour were! 😛

  10. Really haunting pictures, especially the ones with dolls.

    FYI, Pripyat was also a key inspiration for many survival video games. I do wonder whether it would ever be safe for human living again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s