Pripyat, does that sound familiar to you? I’m not sure… What about Chernobyl? Yes, now I think you know what I’m talking about. Pripyat is the city where occured the Chernobyl disaster, in April 1986. Even though it’s very hard to say exactly how it impacted the population (in Ukraine and overseas), the Chernobyl disaster is the worst nuclear accident of the 20th century. We talk about approximately 60000 deaths and 100000 handicapped people because of this catastrophic accident.
A few decades later, it’s now possible to visit Pripyat/Chernobyl. I have to admit I was hesitating. Even though it happened more than 30 years ago, there might be some risks… And finally, like the teens say, I was like “Fuck it, YOLO!” (“You Only Live Once!”), I’m in Ukraine, if they propose to visit Chernobyl, a priori there’s no danger. Let’s go!
It’s not possible to go to Chernobyl by yourself, you have to book a tour via an agency. The agency will take care of everything, they’re gonna arrange the trip, and organize everything to go to Chernobyl from Kiev in small groups. So I left Kiev with about ten people to go to Pripyat, which is two hours away. In the van, we all watch a documentary about Chernobyl.
Just before getting there, the security asks for our papers. The officers inspect each passport thoroughly before letting us go. We’re now back on the road, driving through the forest. From the van, we can see foxes, deers, and even a bear! And finally here we are!
Wow… It really is an abandoned place, time is frozen. Car frames, abandoned houses, empty schools… This is insane! There’s not a living soul. We feel like we’re still in 1986. The general atmosphere is really… strange!
When I booked to go to Chernobyl, I decided to take a Geiger counter, you know, the instrument to measure radioactivity. The day before, I watched a youtube tutorial to understand how it works. Very easy to use it, you just turn it on and this small device gives us the radioactivity in microsievert.
Basically, until 0.3 microsievert, there’s no problem. This is the radioactivity we find almost everywhere. Beyond that, and especially from 0.5, it’s better to leave the place, you expose yourself a little bit too much. Even though you find yourself in a place with a radioactivity higher than 0.5, it’s not too big deal as long as you don’t stay there. By staying there, I mean staying a few days or a few weeks! If it’s just for a few minutes, it’s not so bad. I start playing around with my brand new toy…
Although the radioactivity is relatively high, today 8000 people live or work there. Before the tragedy, 50000 people used to live there. The day this tragic event happened, we let 900 children run a marathon around the nuclear power plant! To avoid a panic reaction from the population (or maybe they were trying to stifle what happened), the inhabitants were evacuated more than one day after the accident…
1300 buses came to evacuate the inhabitants. Some went to the hospital, others went to Kiev. 42000 people were evacuated to various cities. A lot of them went back to Pripyat a few years later. This is what this old woman decided to do. She went back to Pripyat not too long after the accident. She really wanted to go back because she spent all her life there. She passed away in 2015, at the ripe old age of 94.
Before the accident, Pripyat was just a common city, like those they had in USSR, with its supermarkets, schools, hotels, restaurants… Walking around this city, stuck in 1986, we realize there was a lot of schools. Our guide confirms that there was potential here, with 1000 births every year just in Pripyat. Today it’s a ghost town. And the mosquitos decided to move in (they’re all over the place!).
Chernobyl… It really blows you away. Words can’t really describe the atmosphere, you really have to go there to feel it. Before leaving, we are checked twice. We pass through a big machine (like the ones we see at airports, but slightly different) to make sure we are not radioactive. The whole group was clean, but it’s not always the case. If someone doesn’t pass the radioactive test, eitherthe security decontaminates clothes and shoes, or you have to throw away your clothes!
- As I said earlier, it’s not possible to go there by yourself. You have to book via an agency. I booked via Solo East Travel, and here is their website. The one day trip, from/to Kiev, with lunch and a guide was 79 US dollars. I paid 10 extra dollars to get the Geiger counter (I gave it back at the end of the day).
- Bringing your passport is mandatory. Otherwise it’s not possible to get there.
- You have to wear closed type shoes, long pants, and long sleeves. For the radioactivity (and the mosquitos as well!)