In this post, I’ll show you all the thing you’ll see if you decide to visit Chernobyl. It might not be what you expect it to be.
I decided to visit Chernobyl and the site of the biggest nuclear accident caused by humankind during my first trip to Ukraine, back in 2018. I was terrified but my morbid curiosity made me book the tour. And I also made my boyfriend come with me. It was not what I expected it to be!
I was so different than what you see on TV.
If you’re planning to visit Chernobyl, the most famous touristic attraction in Ukraine and the scene of the biggest nuclear accident caused by humankind, then you need some background before you jump to conclusions.
Chernobyl, is a small city in Ukraine.
And while this is one of the largest countries in Europe, and it does have some beautiful lands and tremendous history, Ukraine is most famous for the terrible accident from Chernobyl, which happened on Saturday 26 April 1986.
They are not proud of it, and we must remember it was under the Soviet Republic when it happened. Somehow, they got organized and decided to exploit this area as an unusual tourist destination, for which people from all around the world pay to visit.
How is it like to visit Chernobyl, in more words, from a different point of view, than mine, read here – A Chernobyl roadside picnic and the appeal of dark tourism, in my last guest post.
When I was planning my visit to Kiev, I discovered that Chernobyl is not as far as I thought. It is actually only 100km north of Kyiv, and there are day trips organized daily by many travel agencies. There is no other way to visit, just with an ‘authorized’ guide, they say.
Over the years, many people got curious and got into that guarded area illegally, just for the sake of discovering, while crafting their own scavenger hunts. But that can be dangerous!
Where will you go if you decide to visit Chernobyl on a 1-day tour?
What are the stops during a 1-day trip to Chernobyl?
The guides know where to take you and what to show you, (so that you can get an idea of the Ukrainian 30 km exclusion zone), with stops at different designated places like:
- an abandoned village,
- the centre of the city of Chernobyl,
- passing the 10km border of the exclusion zone,
- an abandoned kindergarten,
- the panoramic point of the nuclear plant,
- in front of reactor number 4 (the one which exploded),
- the city of Pripyat,
- passing by the red forest (the most radioactive place in Ukraine),
- Chernobyl 2 (where you’ll see a huge anti-missile antenna),
- and back to Kyiv.
Are people allowed to visit Chernobyl?
Yes, and there are people still living there, in some parts. I saw an inhabited village and Chernobyl.
Chernobyl is still inhabited by the army who secure the area and they even have a place to sleep and a restaurant. My group ate there lunch, which is included in the day trip.
Is it dangerous to visit Chernobyl?
Yes and no.
It can be if you go and wander on your own, without knowing where you are going and measuring the level of radiations.
The devices the tour guides use are called Geiger counter (Wiki:”The Geiger counter is an instrument used for detecting and measuring ionizing radiation used widely in applications such as radiation dosimetry, radiological protection, experimental physics and the nuclear industry.”)
And remember the radiation is cumulative. The longer you stay, the more radiation you will receive.
During my trip, the levels were close to normal (the same as in the Centre of Kiev).
Even in crowded cities, the levels of radiations can get higher than normal.
That’s why all electronic devices have a set max value of the emitted radiations. Also, the ground and nature in general in the exclusion zone emits high levels of radiation, so it is best to try not to step on the ground if there is a concrete alley.
What to wear during a trip to the Chernobyl power plant?
Before the trip, we were instructed to wear long pants, long sleeves, closed-toe shoes and in general to try to cover as much as possible of the skin.
Radiation “travels” through the air and the danger becomes bigger when your enemy is invisible.
Long story short, a 1-day trip to Chernobyl will probably be harmless for your health if you follow all instructions.
By the end of your visit, you will have to pass through a radiation testing machine (I don’t know how’s it’s called) to make sure you are not contaminated.
What to do if you get contaminated at Chernobyl?
In the unlikely case that you are, they will wash it off. Yes, radiation can be washed with water.
If it’s worse, you will have to leave your clothes there, but our guide said that she never heard of somebody doing that. And that would be a sign that you’ve been way off the beaten path.
Remember that it’s illegal to go there on your own and you must follow your guide’s indications at all times.
What I find interesting is that ….
The locals and the guides will not comment on the effects of radiation on the human body, as the official statements confirm only around 15 cases of cancer were linked to the Chernobyl disaster.
What will you see in you decide to visit Chernobyl?
Chernobyl is actually a small city, located today in the exclusion zone, but not the closest settlement to the reactor. Today it is partially occupied by the army who secure the zone.
They get 2 weeks in the zone, and then 2 weeks out. For health reasons.
Chernobyl Nuclear Plant
The nuclear plant area, where the infamous reactor number 4 has been covered with the largest sliding steel arch ever built by man in 2017, and the radiations levels at 100m away from the spot are normal.
There are many documentaries on YouTube on how that megastructure was built. They are all impressive. Check this video to understand how the sarcophagus was built over the Chernobyl power plant.
Pripyat is the place that will tear you apart.
Also, Pripyat was the closest city to the Chernobyl power plant, only 5 km away, and was home to the power plant workers.
The city was new, and many of its buildings were never inaugurated, as the accident happened before they did, like the stadium and the amusement park.
What is my opinion about visiting Chernobyl?
This is a source of dark tourism, of course. Nobody there is proud of this source of income. And the prices are no cheap. Way too expensive for any ordinary Ukrainian. And they would never visit such a place. It’s for us, crazy travellers in search of something new.
Radiation levels at Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine
While most of the affected area in Ukraine is still available for tours, that doesn’t mean that the radiation levels aren’t high. Quite the contrary.
According to LiveScience.com: ” Soon after the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, dozens of cleanup workers at the plant were exposed to radiation levels as high as 8,000 to 16,000 mSv, the equivalent of 80,000 to 160,000 chest X-rays.”
It is said that any exposure over 100 mSv per year is rated to an increase in cancer risk.
You must remember that radiation is all over the place, but the levels aren’t as high as in Chernobyl. For instance, an abdominal CT scan exposes a person to about 10 mSv.
Visiting Pripyat is like walking on the set of a horror film
The entire experience is meant to terrify you.
The video they play on the bus, the stories you hear and the places you will visit.
You will see many apocalyptical scenes. And this is what annoyed me.
But radiation is invisible…
As I said before, radiation is invisible and does not destroy things. Or move them.
You will see broken windows, and destroyed buildings. Basically, every building you will see will look like a world war happened there. And that just cannot be.
Radiation can do a lot of bad, but it can’t destroy abandoned cities.
One thing is for sure. Someone places some objects in certain spots just to increase the overall image of the apocalypse.
Like who would carry mattresses from the kindergarten (I guess) to the top of the swimming pool?! And why?!
There are many missing objects from all around. Those people who were evacuated were told to take only their documents and some essentials, as they would return in a couple of days.
And yet, you are presented to a scene of complete chaos, which makes no sense in this context.
There is a bad vibe of abandonment in that air, and it has to do with tourism too. A Chernobyl roadside picnic and the appeal of dark tourism
Have you visited Chernobyl? What’s you opinion about this place? Is it wrong that people have an ache for weird and dangerous places?
If you’re spending more time in Ukraine, then check out my other posts, to help you plan your trip around Ukraine:
- Heading back to Kyiv? Why you should visit Kyiv at least once in your lifetime
- How to spend 2 days in Odessa, Ukraine
- Why you need to visit Lviv in Ukraine
- Castles around Lviv to visit (You won’t regret taking this day trip)