Tag Archives: Ukraine
August 5, 2013

POTD: Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine

One question that I often get from people who want to travel to Chernobyl is where to stay in Kiev. Well, like any destination, it depends on your budget and tastes. In Kiev, accommodation ranges widely from bunk bed filled hostels on the outskirts of town to five star hotels in the city center. When my friends and I visited Kiev, we opted for neither of those options and instead rented an apartment. Yes, you can rent an apartment for just a few days, often at rates far below that of a decent hotel (especially if there are several of you, and you can split the cost). Plus, the apartments have kitchens, so you can purchase groceries and cook your own meals instead of eating out all the time (of course, we opted to eat at restaurants because none of us really enjoy cooking that much). The property manager of the apartment also picked us op and dropped us off at the airport for an additional small fee, which definitely saved us the hassle of trying to explain the location to an airport cab driver.

Another perk of renting Kiev apartments is the location. The apartment we rented was located very close to Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), the central square of Kiev. The above photo shows the monument to Berehynia in the middle of the square. In Slavic mythology, Berehynia is a female spirit who serves as the “hearth mother, protectoress of the home”. This square has also been the site of many political demonstrations throughout Ukrainian history, most notably when Orange Revolution protesters pitched their tents on this square.

In addition to Independence Square, Khreshchatyk Street was just a few minutes walk away; this is the main street of Kiev where you can find plenty of restaurants and shopping opportunities (and in our case, the TGI Friday’s where we celebrated American independence day with burgers and beer). If you have very limited time in Kiev, I would highly recommend renting an apartment in this area since so much is within walking distance, including the beautiful St. Sophia Cathedral.

Most apartments will also be equipped with wifi and TV, in case you’d like to catch up on Facebook or see what the Ukrainian version of MTV is like (actually much better than American MTV because they actually play, you know, music). I’ve rented apartments throughout Western and Eastern Europe without any issue and would definitely recommend it to any cost-conscious traveler.

pin it button POTD: Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine
January 24, 2011

POTD: Chernobyl kittens

Ryan and Laura play with kittens after our tour of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Although they were incredibly cute, we did not take them home as souvenirs.

pin it button POTD: Chernobyl kittens
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?
Yep.

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.

pin it button FAQ: I want to tour Chernobyl. How do I get there?
December 14, 2010

POTD: Chernobyl exclusion zone checkpoint

chernobyl exclusion zone checkpoint

chernobyl exclusion zone checkpoint

Yesterday, news outlets reported that you would be allowed to tour the area surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant beginning in 2011. I was a bit surprised by this, considering I had done just that in 2006. According to the Ukrainian government, however, the tour I went on was “illegal” and a “threat to my safety”. If that was the case then, I have to wonder how our bus got through Checkpoint “Dytyatky” (as seen in the above photo), the entrance to the 30km exclusion zone, which was staffed by Ukrainian soldiers who checked our passports against a list of names they had been given. That doesn’t sound too illegal to me…

pin it button POTD: Chernobyl exclusion zone checkpoint
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).

pin it button POTD: Abandoned restaurant near Chernobyl
November 20, 2010

POTD: Sculpture of Soviet soldiers in Kiev

Sculpture of Soviet World War II soldiers near the Rodina Mat monument in Kiev.

pin it button POTD: Sculpture of Soviet soldiers in Kiev
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.

pin it button POTD: Soviet decorations in Pripyat
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.

pin it button POTD: Abandoned apartment building in Pripyat, Ukraine
October 11, 2010

POTD: Colorful Tanks in Kiev

tanks in Kiev

tanks in Kiev

Tanks near the Rodina Mat statue in Kiev. I’m quiet certain this wasn’t the paint job they received at the factory.

pin it button POTD: Colorful Tanks in Kiev
October 9, 2010

POTD: Kiev Monastery of the Caves

The Kiev Monastery of the Caves is one of the most famous sights in Kiev, primarily due to its complex system of underground tunnels. Upon entering the tunnels, you are surrounded by worshipers prostrating themselves before icons, lighting candles, and kissing glass coffins that contain the remains of monks. Yeah, it’s pretty weird.

pin it button POTD: Kiev Monastery of the Caves