Sunday, 19 March 2017

Number 10b: Visit Chernobyl // Number 8: Realise Your Childhood Dream


Completed 16-18 October 2016
Chernobyl/Pripyat, Ukraine


Ever since I watched a documentary on Chernobyl as a child, probably a child far too young to watch such a documentary, I’ve wanted to go there. I was fascinated that such a populated city could be evacuated overnight with people never being allowed to return to their homes, fascinated by the invisible enemy known as radiation that could cause such devastation.

So for those of you out of the loop, in Ukraine back in 1986 a soviet nuclear reactor (Reactor 4), went into meltdown and exploded, causing huge amounts of radiation (Caesium-137, Strontium-90 and Plutonium) to be expelled from the reactor. Reactor 4 was within 2kms of the city centre of Pripyat and 24 hours later, the city was ordered to evacuate, with the civilians being told to only take what they could carry and that they would be able to return shortly. But the amount of radiation that had contaminated the area was much higher than originally thought, and they were never able to return. It truly is an incredible story which I strongly recommend everyone read up on, or watch a documentary… And then 30 years after the incident I would visit.



This was something I had been planning in my head for many, many years, so when I made the decision to go to Ukraine, Chernobyl/Pripyat were the first things I planned and were the highest priority. I had looked at many different tour companies, but I wanted one that I could do as a private tour to ensure I could see and do everything I wanted to do while there, without other people interfering.

During the planning phase, I ended up lining up a few other things for my bucket list - like seeing the Burj Khalifa, spending a night in a desert and visiting Europe.

Getting there was not simple, as there are no direct flights from Brisbane to Ukraine, so my flights there ended up being Brisbane to Abu Dhabi, where I stopped for a few days to break up the trip, then on to Amsterdam and finally into Kiev, Ukraine.

A few days later, early in the morning I was met in the lobby of my hotel by my guides, Alex and Olex. I was given a welcome pack with some maps/guides and history of the event, most of which I knew but it was a nice touch, and then we headed off. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is about 3 hours north of Kiev and the roads get a bit rough at times but we eventually got there.


Our papers were checked by the military checkpoint, and then we headed into the 30km exclusion zone. Our first stop was our hotel, this surprised me being inside the 30km exclusion zone and actually within the township of Chernobyl. It turns out, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant wasn’t actually named after the town of Chernobyl, but the district of the region itself which has since been renamed.


There was also a moderate population within the region, which I learned is maintained similar to a mining zone in Australia, where people will work in there in a “2 weeks on, 1 week off” rotation.

After setting up in the hotel and grabbing lunch, we were off and exploring. First stop was several outlying villages and small towns for a while, and then on to the local military base and Duga Radar Installation. The Duga Radar was a massive “Over the Horizon” radar system that was part of the Soviet Union’s ABM early warning network and it was impressive.





My guide and I spent several hours wandering around the military and civilian parts of the base and it was fascinating, seeing the military classrooms detailing rocket types, radio signatures, nuclear information and weapon guides. The civilian side of the base was equally as interesting with schools, music halls and a cinema, with separate movies for military personnel. We then headed back to the hotel for dinner and drinks, which included going through a military checkpoint and radiation scan before being allowed to leave the 10km exclusion zone.



Day two was the big day, a full day exploring Pripyat city, starting with checking out Reactor 4 and then climbing a 16 story building to look over the cities remnants from the roof. Looking out at the city, with Reactor 4 visible a couple of kilometres away, was amazing, and a sight I never thought I would have. Then it was on to the largest school in the region, the main police station, the soviet culture centre, restaurants and supermarkets before closing out with the iconic fairgrounds. At some point during day two, we also grabbed lunch at the food hall that’s used by all the reactor staff.







Day three was focused on revisiting sites from the last two days where my photos didn’t come up as well as I wanted, along with some self-portraits alongside some iconic locations like Reactor 4, the fairgrounds and a radiation warning sign. We also revisited a couple of areas, like the hospital, that were “Hotspots” where the Geiger counter went off the chart, before heading back to Kiev.




All in all, it was an amazing experience and one I will remember for the rest of my life, although I fully intend to return to see it again, maybe in winter with lots of snow around.

So with that I can mark off two things from my list, Number 8 – Realise your Childhood Dream and 23b – Visit Chernobyl.



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