Tag Archives: pripyat
December 15, 2010

FAQ: I want to tour Chernobyl. How do I get there?

Chernobyl nuclear power plant

Chernobyl nuclear power plant
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, July 2007

Since the Ukrainian government recently announced that the exclusion zone surrounding the Chernobyl disaster site will be open for tours beginning in 2011, interest in touring the region has exploded (along with traffic to my blog). Media reports have been rather erroneous, however, as private companies have actually been leading tours of the exclusion zone for many years. I traveled there in 2007 and since then I have received a substantial number of emails from people who are interested in making the trip themselves. I’ve been meaning to put together a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to address most of the common questions but have kept putting it off. Well, no longer…here is the list of frequently asked questions posed to me by readers, and my answers.

How did you get there?
As strange as it sounds, a Chernobyl tour was actually quite easy to arrange. We booked our tour through the travel agency SoloEast. You have to let them know ahead of time so that they can submit your details (i.e., passport number) to the Ukrainian government for clearance. Also, if you do this far enough ahead of time there is an opportunity for others interested in touring on that day to sign up for your tour, which will lower the cost. SoloEast will pick you up in Kiev and take you to Chernobyl, and then bring you back to Kiev. Yes, it’s really that easy.

Another option you might want to consider is taking one of the tours that is led by former Pripyat residents. I’d really like to visit Chernobyl again, and if I were to return to Ukraine, I would definitely look into doing this. You can find out tour dates and more info at chernobylzone.com.

Amusement park in Pripyat, a city of 50,000 abandoned shortly after the Chernobyl disaster

How much was the tour?
At the time we went, our tour cost approximately $115 per person. Prices have risen over the years, however. A solo tour will cost you $490, but if you round up a few others the price drops to $100-205 depending on the number of participants.

Soviet crest atop a Pripyat apartment building

Where do you go? What do you see?
Everywhere. A lot. You’ll visit the Memorial to the Liquidators who literally saved the world. You’ll visit Kopachi, a village so contaminated with radiation that the government bulldozed it and buried its remains. All that remains of it are mounds of dirt skewered by the occasional radiation sign. You’ll stand 100 meters from the infamous reactor #4, where the explosion occurred, and feed the giant catfish in the nearby cooling pond. The highlight of the tour is Pripyat, a city that 50,000 residents called home until they were evacuated following the explosion at reactor #4. Today, Pripyat remains as a Soviet city frozen in time, visited by curious tour groups, vandals, and looters. You’ll visit the graveyard of ships and a collection of vehicles that were used in the cleanup of Chernobyl. And then you will be provided with a hearty lunch back at the Chornobylinterinform office.

chernobyl ship graveyard

Where do you fly to?
Boryspil International Airport (KBP) in Kiev. If you go in the summer (I went in July 2007), like I did, roundtrip to Kiev from the USA will run about $1000+. If you’re coming from Europe, or going to Kiev in the winter, it will be substantially cheaper.

Where do you stay?
SoloEast now gives you the option of spending a night at a hotel within the exclusion zone area itself (it is primarily for visiting scientists and researchers) so you can ask them about that. But in general since tours are only for a day you will stay in Kiev, which is 2.5 hours from the zone. As for accommodation in Kiev, skip the overpriced hotels and rent an apartment. We used KievApts.com and rented a place in the city center near Independence Square. Can’t beat that location. KievApts will also arrange to pick you up at the airport if you’d like.

kiev apartment bedspread
You know you want to stay in an apartment that features this bedspread!

Is it safe to visit Chernobyl? Were there any protective measures?
Is it safe? Well, they say it is, and obviously it wasn’t a huge concern of mine, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone. One of my friends used to work in the nuclear industry and thought I was nuts for going there, though. There are a lot of rules you have to follow there and they go over them once you get to the zone (i.e, stick to the asphalt and don’t step on the radioactive moss). When you book your tour, SoloEast will advise you of the proper clothing and shoes to wear, but other than that, you won’t be walking around the zone in white suits. At the end of the tour, you’ll pass through a checkpoint that will scan you for any stray radioactive particles you might have picked up. Our group cleared the checkpoint with no problems, but if you don’t then you might be subject to a chemical shower.

radiation checkpoint near chernobyl
All clear

Was the tour in English?

Do they speak English in Ukraine?
From my own experience, many of the younger Ukrainians spoke English. I speak horrible Russian and managed quite well over there, but I think you will be fine if you don’t speak Russian or Ukrainian. Just think of it as an adventure. I would recommend learning the Cyrillic alphabet if you are not already familiar with it because all street/metro signs in Kiev are in Cyrillic. It’s not that hard and will only take a few hours to master it. Trust me.

If you have any further questions that haven’t been addressed here, shoot me an e-mail or leave them in the comments section and I will answer them.

December 7, 2010

POTD: Abandoned restaurant near Chernobyl

Pripyat restaurant

Pripyat restaurant

This abandoned building was a restaurant until the city of Pripyat was evacuated following the accident at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The sign on top of the building, which reads PECTOPAH in Cyrillic, means “restoran” in Ukrainian and Russian (and “restaurant” in English).

November 19, 2010

POTD: Soviet decorations in Pripyat

These decorations were hung on the lampposts in Pripyat in preparation for the 1986 May Day parade that never occurred due to the explosion at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

November 2, 2010

POTD: Abandoned apartment building in Pripyat, Ukraine

pripyat apartment building

pripyat apartment building

An abandoned apartment building in Pripyat, Ukraine, a deserted city located 3km from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The city’s 50,000 residents were evacuated shortly after the Chernobyl disaster, and the city has been uninhabited since.

September 3, 2010

POTD: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

Chernobyl nuclear power plant

Chernobyl nuclear power plant

View of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant from a bridge leading into the deserted city of Pripyat. Taken during our July 2007 excursion to the exclusion zone.

July 24, 2007

Dispatches from Chernobyl, Part III: The ghosts of Pripyat

Chernobyl radioactive moss

“Stay off the moss. Very radioactive.”

We were standing on another bridge outside the city of Pripyat, this time surveying the lush green landscape below, hoping to catch a glimpse of the rampaging packs of wild boar that were apparently proliferating throughout the exclusion zone – or so our guide claimed. We didn’t see any.

Chernobyl radioactive moss
No boar, but lots of radioactive moss

road to Pripyat
The road to Pripyat

Pripyat town sign
You are now entering Pripyat, Population: 0

Founded in 1970, Pripyat was a model Soviet city built for the Chernobyl plant workers and their families. It contained all the conveniences that a young Soviet family could desire: high-rise apartment buildings, schools, a cultural center, hospital, swimming pools, theatres, stores, restaurants, cafes, playgrounds, and a stadium. On the morning of April 26, the citizens of Pripyat awoke to the sound of helicopters buzzing overhead and a column of smoke rising from reactor four off in the distance. At noon on April 27, the Soviet government informed the citizens of Pripyat that they had two hours to gather their essential belongings and board a bus for mandatory evacuation. They were told that their evacuation was only temporary, for perhaps three days at the most, and so the residents left most of their clothing, photographs, toys, and family pets behind. The 50,000 citizens departed Pripyat on a line of Kiev-bound buses that stretched for miles, all of them expecting to see their hometown again in just a few days. They would never return.

Today, the entrance to the town is guarded by an officer who sits in a run-down shack for hours, waiting for the occasional town visitor. After exchanging a few words with our guide, and checking papers, he waved us into the “ghost city.” We entered the city on the main road, Prospekt Lenina, now lined with crumbling apartment buildings and overgrown trees, and stopped in the center of the city. Our guide was content to let us wander around on our own, with the caveat that we stay out of the buildings (“for your own safety”) and away from the apparently highly radioactive moss. It was hard to avoid the latter, as the stuff was growing in huge swaths throughout the city, so you would often see us hopping from concrete patch to concrete patch, employing a variety of run-and-jump tactics. I’m surprised I didn’t come back from Pripyat with a sprained ankle.

main road in Pripyat
Prospekt Lenina

Pripyat apartment building
Apartment building in the city center

Pripyat May Day decorations
Decorations for the May Day parade that never was

Pripyat Cultural Palace
Cultural Palace “Energetik”

Pripyat steps

Pripyat restaurant

Pripyat theatre

Pripyat doll
Some of the things they left behind

Pripyat graffiti
Not even a nuclear ghost town is immune from graffiti

Apartment building and city center, pre-Chernobyl disaster (courtesy pripyat.com)

Pripyat apartment building
The same “All power to the Soviets” apartment building, now

Hotel Polissya, pre-Chernobyl disaster (courtesy pripyat.com)

Pripyat Hotel Polissya
Hotel Polissya, now

Pripyat grocery store
No more fruits and vegetables, just rusting refrigerators and shopping carts

Pripyat radioactive moss
Stay off the moss

At one point the group started to head toward the amusement park. Ryan and I had no idea where Laura went, so we backtracked to the cultural center and started shouting her name. I ran into our guide, who was looking quite bored with his surroundings. After doing this several times a week, it probably does get monotonous. He grinned at me and warned, “Stay with the group. We don’t want wild boars to find you alone.” My fear of stepping on a patch of radioactive moss was now replaced with that of being impaled by the radiation-coated tusks of an angry wild boar.

We eventually ran into Laura and continued past the cultural center until we arrived at the amusement park. Small and desolate, it is probably the most depressing amusement park you will ever come across. The park was scheduled to open on May 1, 1986, but fate intervened and the brand new rides were left to rust away, never once touched by the children of Pripyat.

Pripyat bumper cars
Bumper cars

Pripyat bumper cars

Pripyat ferris wheel
Ferris wheel

Pripyat amusement park

Pripyat amusement park

Pripyat flowers

We probably spent an hour in Pripyat, wandering around this deserted city of 50,000. It was eerily silent, the only noises coming from the flies that constantly buzzed around, the sound of digital cameras taking hundreds of photos, and, at one point, a loud crash that reverberated across the empty buildings. I will admit that walking through Pripyat was, at times, both unsettling and voyeuristic. I felt that I really had no right to be there, but on the other hand, if given the chance, I would have stayed there for hours.

Happier times – Pripyat Pioneer camp, 1985 (courtesy pripyat.com)

Read more about the tour:
1. Dispatches from Chernobyl, Part I: Dude, where’s your Geiger counter?
2. Dispatches from Chernobyl, Part II: Liquidators Memorial / Kopachi / Catfish / Reactor 4
4. Dispatches from Chernobyl, Part IV: Chisto?