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Photo: Yaroslav Khodan, ukraine.ua/imagebank


Just imagine a fully abandoned city slowly being taken over by nature, a site of the biggest nuclear disaster in history, the largest human-made movable construction in the world. Yes, we are talking about Chornobyl (some may also refer to it as Chernobyl), a once-in-a-lifetime experience you can ONLY get right here in Ukraine.

No worries, it’s totally safe and totally worth it! 

The ghost city of Prypiat, Chornobyl Exsclusion Zone
photo: Stas Burya

How it all started

35 years ago Reactor Number Four of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant went out of control on April 26, 1986, causing death and radioactive contamination to a wide area around it. The Chornobyl zone was designated for evacuation and placed under military control. It is situated 110 kilometres (about 70 miles) from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.

Today, tourism in the Exclusion Zone is booming as it brings more and more people who want to get acquainted with the history of the most significant nuclear accident in the world, to experience first-hand this post-apocalyptic world, and to see how fast nature is taking over. It gives you a unique opportunity to travel back in time, to the Soviet era, a time that — everywhere else — has long since passed. 

What to see in the Chornobyl zone  

It’s worth mentioning that everything you’ll see in the Chornobyl zone is more or less mind-blowing, but here we gathered the general visual experience you might get from your trip: 

• The town of Chornobyl – the busiest part of the zone nowadays. Almost 5000 people work and live there in shifts. The key locations in the town of Chornobyl are the main square of the town of Chornobyl which includes the ‘The Wormwood Star’ memorial, the statue of Lenin (one of the few remaining in Ukraine), the Abandoned Synagogue, the Chornobyl river port with its sunken boats and ships, the Memorial ‘To those who saved the world’ and an exhibition of original, remotely controlled robotic machines used during the cleanup.

• The industrial site of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant: the cooling towers of the Chornobyl NPP 3rd generation, Unit 5, an unfinished reactor of Chornobyl NPP, a panoramic view of CHNPP, the New Safe Confinement (‘Arch’), a visitor’s site located a distance of 250 meters away, the NPP cooling channel (feeding giant catfish — available May to September).

• Prypiat — the ghost town. Time stopped here on April 26th, 1986 and you now have a unique opportunity to travel back in time and experience the Soviet era for yourself, first-hand.  Guides have expert knowledge of the area and will help you explore the town on foot for roughly 2 hours. Please note, it is officially forbidden to enter buildings in Prypiat as they are not safe.

• The secret soviet radar Duga-1 and the military town Chornobyl-2.

• Abandoned villages and other locations.

• Breathtaking locations inside Chornobyl NPP: Defence construction, ‘Gоldеn соrrіdоr’, Central Control Room (CCR-1), Thе соntrоl rооm оf thе rеасtоr (СR). The unit control room: all 4 unіts оf NРР hаd thе sаmе tуре оf rеасtоr  — RBMK, Skala — A unique electronic computing machine, The central Hallis the power unit reactor hall, Rооm wіth MСР (mаіn сіrсulаtіоn рumрs), Unit 4 Control room — the place where you can touch Chornobyl’s history. One of the most impressive places to see in Ukraine.

Ferris wheel in the Chornobyl exclusion zone
photo: Yaroslav Khodan

What to experience in the Chornobyl zone  

1. Nature taking over

If you want to see how the world would look if humans suddenly disappeared, there’s no better place than the Exclusion Zone — here it happened for real. Thirty-four years ago people were evacuated from the settlements and were destined never to come back. Nature, which had previously been pushed out of the cities and towns in favor of the human inhabitants, woke up and re-established itself as the owner of this place. 

2. The biggest movable construction in the world 

If you didn’t know this fact here you go: the New Safe Confinement, the arch that is covering the old sarcophagus together with ruined reactor number 4, is the biggest human-made movable construction in the world. Created by consortium Novarka and sponsored by dozens of countries, it became a symbol of the scale of humanity’s work if we can cooperate on an international level. 

3. Ruins of the once most powerful empire 

Probably for your average American visitor, 16-story buildings don’t look particularly state-of-the-art, but back in the ’70s, this was the Dubai of the Soviet Union. Thoroughly and meticulously planned, Pripyat contained family-oriented micro districts with exciting new palaces of culture and entertainment, and even one of the first supermarkets in the whole empire — this is the life that people deserved because they lived next to the power plant. Yet, all these structures are now covered with dust, moss, and sorrow. 

Portraits of Lenin and other communist propaganda, hidden under the mold and radioactive dust, have become a symbol of the Exclusion Zone. While it’s of course sad to look at abandoned houses and settlements, here you get to see a lifestyle alien to many people from Western countries. And it’s a different vision of life that will be soon lost entirely to history.

Safety concerns

Potential visitors will understandably have the question of safety foremost on their minds when considering a tour to Chornobyl. Don’t worry, it’s safe to go there now! Radiation exposure during one full day in the zone is equal to a one-hour flight and 3000 times less than a CT scan!

If you are doing Chornobyl reactor #4 tour, you will get a personal dosimeter, once entering NPP.  That is how we can track the visitor’s radiation dose throughout the day. The number of radiation visitors are exposed to in a short time is not harmful and equal to about 4 microsieverts (μSv)

The main radiation hazard is radioactive dust, which might appear in some places. To protect you from it, you will get special protective clothing: strange white costumes you may notice on photos, shoes, hats, and masks. You will have to pass through a dosimetric radiation check when leaving the site and two more radiation checks when leaving the zone.

IMPORTANT! You have to be at least 18 years old to enter the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.

Explore more about the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone on its official website.

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