What happens in Chernobyl, stays in Chernobyl (you hope)

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On April 26th 1986 the world’s first nuclear disaster took place in what was then the Soviet Union.

When Chernobyl happened I was only one year old, I had no knowledge of the event until a few years later when I was at school and uncovered the horrors that took place.

I’ve wanted to visit the area for a number of years now, I finally got my chance in April 2014, a mere 28 years after the disaster took place. Friends simply asked…”Why”? Well I hope this blog post will show how you can find beauty even in the most saddest of places.

To gain access to Chernobyl you must request permission from the Ukrainian Government, this is due to access to the area being restricted and off limits.

After driving for roughly one hour and 100km, we arrived at the first checkpoint. There’s very few towns in between Kiev and the border with Belarus, more than likely due to Chernobyl. Due to the on-going crisis in Ukraine I was very intrigued to see BUK missile launchers very close to the border with Belarus, at this time the country did not know where the next attack was going to come from.

After arriving in Chernobyl town I was quite shocked to see people still living there. Daily lives continuing as if nothing had happened. Only a few miles down the road is the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, some of which effects are still felt today.

You might be surprised to hear that Chernobyl village wasn’t the most badly affected place; this title unfortunately stands with Pripyat. What was once a thriving town and rapidly expanding, it was a model for the Soviet propaganda machine. The town was well situated for river cargo along the Pripyat River whilst a central railway station was situated on a major junction.

The power station is very close to town and whilst driving around our guide mentioned a bridge nearby. It’s one of the highest points facing the power plant, people used to stand and stare at it, it now has the unfortunate nickname “Death Bridge”. This is because several people who couldn’t sleep on the evening of the disaster walked out of Pripyat and stood here, sad to say they took the full force of radiation due to the proximity.

I was advised before I arrived that we wouldn’t be able to enter the buildings due to dilapidation. However, thankfully my guide was extremely knowledgeable and allowed us to wander freely around the Sports Centre and School. Creepy is not the word!! Even in daylight this place is literally like something out of a horror movie, unfortunately this isn’t far from the truth.

Standing in the middle of the swimming pool I had to think what it must have been like back in 1986 when the residents were told to evacuate. Unfortunately Ukraine was then part of the Soviet Union, the truth was far from it and they were told they’d return within a couple of days, 28 years later and nobody is allowed to return to live here.

When visiting the primary school I did feel like some items had purposely been placed to create good photos, nevertheless the empty building was really eerie and things had pretty much stood still in time…the 80’s!

One of the most famous photos you’ll see of Chernobyl and Pripyat is of the fairground. Unfortunately none of the Pripyat children ever got to try out the Ferris wheel or bumper cars, as it had not officially opened. This was due to take place a couple of days after the disaster.

I’d really not like to walk around Pripyat in the dark; now that the humans no longer live there I’ve read that wolves and other dangerous animals have moved in. Some buildings are in such a bad condition they could probably fall down at any moment. It was interesting to see that many of the windows had been smashed, I wonder who had the opportunity to do this before being evacuated? Most likely it was vandals who stupidly visited in the aftermath of the disaster.

It was rather interesting visiting the town’s supermarket, completed gutted but some relics from the 190’s remained. Sadly no products but there were a few shopping trolleys scattered around; it was too unsafe to enter so we viewed from a distance. All that is left is mangled metal; now so rusty it brightens up what would otherwise be a pile of dusty, grey rubbish.

According to my guide the swimming pool in the sports centre remained full until 1994, I’m not 100% sure of this information but if it’s true then I fear for anybody who entered the pool after 1986!

I somehow found myself alone in the basketball court. For me, being alone in a scary place, my worst nightmare, but in Pripyat, that’s a whole other story! Thankfully after hot stepping it I found the others from my group. All I can say is never watch the movie Chernobyl Diaries before you visit Chernobyl.

One thing you are advised not to do is eat any locally produced food or drink any water, this is so important as it could be contaminated. However there is a Cafe within Chernobyl village, which has to import all of their food from outside the exclusion zone. It was really tasty and well worth visiting, you can even stay here as it has a hostel attached.

Although this was quite an extreme trip to take, it was absolutely amazing to see how life has simply stood still and you get a glimpse into the past, whilst remembering the awful tragedy which took place and respecting the fact that these used to be people’s homes, businesses and livelihoods.

Chernobyl is now a photographer’s paradise, however it is still scarred by what happened on that day in April 1986 and according to scientists will not be a liveable place for the next 25,000 years.

Fancy following in my footsteps? I travelled with UK based travel agency Lupine Travel who offer budget travel to unique destinations including Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea.

Further Information

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

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