The Chernobyl Tour
One of the Ukraine’s biggest tourist attractions nowadays is visiting the exclusion zone surrounding the reactors of Chernobyl, where an awful nuclear accident took place in 1986. If you’re down in Kiev, almost all hotels and hostels will try to sell you on a tour to the area. There are many companies organizing it, but unfortunately they probably agreed on a fixed price for all to practice, so it is impossible to get a cheap/budget traveler option. When we took the tour at the very beginning of January 2014, the price was of 160 US dollars. This is surely a bit overpriced since it’s a 7-8 hrs tour, out of which the drive there and back to Kiev takes about 4-5 hours. So excluding also the stop for lunch (which is included in the price) of approximately one hour, that leaves about 2-3 hours of actually visiting. However, as there’s no other way to get inside the area, if you do wish to visit Chernobyl it’s the only way to do it.
Why can’t you get in by yourself?
The exclusion zone is bordered by the authorities and the only people who are allowed in are ones taking care of the partially deserted area and , the factory workers, the re-settlers and the group tours. The so-called re-settlers are people who, after the accident, came back to the exclusion zone to live here on a permanent base. There is an estimate number of 500 people residing here nowadays, on a total area of 2600 square km. As for the factory workers and carers of the area forming the exclusion zone – they are allowed to be inside the area, only in certain parts, for 2 weeks in a row and then, for the other two weeks of the month they have to leave it. The tours ran here are guided by people with specific instruction on where to take the visitors so that they don’t walk out of the area irradiated and expose other people too to this risk. When exiting the area, everybody has to get a scan determining the level of radiation they hold on their body.
What is it like today inside the Chernobyl’s exclusion zone?
The factory is indeed still running, at a lower capacity. Out of the 6 reactors, only 4 were functioning at the time of the accident, the construction on the other two was not completed at the time, and it was not restarted either ever since. Reactor number 4 was the one where the explosion took place. Even though closely connected to reactor number 3, the Ukrainian authorities kept the later one functioning until recently and they only closed it down after being pressured by the European Union.
Besides the two remaining reactors that are still in use, the re-settlers, the border guards and the ones taking care of the area (police, firemen etc.), there is not much else going on here. Several villages and small towns were left behind completely deserted and are falling apart constituting an attraction to curious tourists in search of eccentric activities.
As we were explained, several villages located too close to the reactors were buried under ground because of the high level of radiation. The main city of the area, Prypiat, was our main stop, after first briefly stopping in the Chernobyl city, in front of a couple of monuments dedicated to the heroes who participated in the interventions following the explosion and in front of the damaged reactor, now covered in a sarcophagus. In Prypiat, we visited the city center, an old supermarket, a swimming pool, a school and an amusement park. There were old soviet relics everywhere we stopped, from the soviet-style buildings to Lenin posters, old school books and toys.
See some photos I took of creepy toys from the kinder garden and the school we visited on the tour HERE!
Is the tour worth the money?
I began by saying that the tour to visit the Chernobyl exclusion zone is overpriced. 160 $ seems indeed a bit too much for a couple of hours of walking around a deserted area, seeing some ruins of villages and towns, a couple of monuments, a quick stop in front of the reactor that caused so much trouble and a non-substantial meal. But bearing in mind that taking a tour is the only way of getting in and seeing the area, considering the fact that the tour guide and even the driver were well informed and enthusiastic to share their knowledge and explain all there is to know about the accident, the measures taken after it happened, the effects this had on the environment and on the economy of the entire ex-Soviet Union, I’d conclude that it is worth paying the price for this once in a lifetime experience.
There was also a fun part to the tour: on the ride there and back we watched, on the minibus TV screen, besides a very informative and well documented video on the disaster of Chernobyl, a series of music videos filmed inside the exclusion zone. Here’s the one we found most entertaining: