From Devastation to Tourist Hotspot, Chernobyl and Prypiat
There are few in the world that haven’t heard of the Chernobyl Disaster of 1986. The catastrophic event that occurred on April 26th will be forever remembered in history, and the many alive today that experienced the tragedy first hand will never forget. For years, even decades, after the tragedy the region was closed off to all that wanted to visit. While many would travel there illegally, be it for illegal reasons or for mere curiosity, most were held back by the exclusion zone.
Today, however, things are very different. The nuclear waste around reactor 4 has been removed, a sarcophagus has been placed around the worst areas of the reactor, the radiation levels have fallen considerably throughout the region, and travelers have begun coming in droves. The radiation map to the left gives you a sense for what the area looked like 10 years after the catastrophe. You can see that the majority of the fallout went north into Belarus, saving Ukraine’s capital Kiev from almost certain abandonment. The last 15 years have seen a massive international effort to clean up the region and ensure that no further environmental damage would occur.
Now that much of the region has been cleaned, there are numerous tours to the area that mostly launch from Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. The tours start at around $150, and there are numerous vendors. While visiting the actual Nuclear Plant is out of the question (at least legally), visiting Prypiat is perfectly acceptable. The city is a ghost town and will stay that way until the end of time. While visiting is permitted for an hour or two, anyone staying here for a prolonged period of time has a substantially increased risk of cancer. So, while hiking is permitted, camping is probably a bad idea. Just as a reference for how radiation may affect you, I highly recommend XKCD’s Radiation Dose Chart, it is incredibly informative and gives a great sense of what you can expect from traveling to a place like Chernobyl or Prypiat.
This week we will be discussing the Chernobyl/Prypiat region in greater detail. Each day will have a few facts about the region, highlight some points of interest, and of course we will provide numerous photos from previous travelers. Today we will give an overview for the region, how to get in and what to expect when you get there. The obvious first step you need to take before visiting the region is to make sure you have all the correct permits. While locals may find it entertaining to sneak into the exclusion zone, it isn’t recommended that tourists attempt this. Most tourist agencies can help attain all the necessary paperwork.
Once your papers are in order, you will likely get shuttled there on a bus. Once you arrive at the exclusion zone border, all papers will be checked and you will be allowed to enter. This is only the outer most check which allows access into the exclusion zone, further checks will be made the deeper you wish to go.
Entering Prypiat, visitors are greeted with shear devastation. The city hasn’t been maintained in 25 years, and all the while it was subject to looters. Since the city was evacuated in great haste, people weren’t even allowed to go back home for their belongings. Immediately after the tragedy, and ever since, those who were aware of this fact tried to turn the tragedy into a profit. Valuables were quickly stolen, which led looters to search for scrap metal. It was some time before neighboring countries caught on, but much damage was done. Now, tourists come from all over the world and while they are encouraged not to bring anything with them, they often do. It isn’t very dangerous to bring items back with you, but this may cause problems when crossing international borders. It is recommended that visitors look, but don’t touch, and under no circumstance should anyone pocket anything they see, no matter how beautiful or how valuable.
While visiting the Chernobyl Power Plant isn’t likely, the most direct route to Pripyat is to take a road that goes beside the plant. Hence, it is likely that you will be able to see the plant out of the window of the bus you take there, and it is also likely that you will be able to stop nearby to snap a few better shots. Here is what you are likely to see if you book the right tour. One thing you will notice right away, the plant is still operating. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. You can’t just stop a nuclear reaction. Hence, the plant still has a small staff who work at the plant to make sure another meltdown doesn’t occur. It is also said that much of Ukraine still feeds from Chernobyl, although I can’t find any reputable sources to validate this claim.
Looking at specific places, here are how things have changed since the plants initial christening. In short, not a whole lot.
All photos in this post are taken from two sources. The first photographer goes simply by Vadim. He often writes for Russia’s Green Peace blog, but he also has his own. The original article where his images were taken from is here. The second photographer is widely known by his nickname, Holy Mozart, but is more formally Sergey Nagorniy. Sergey is an incredibly popular Russian photo blogger whose work is well worth looking over. His original articles can be found here and here.