Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Chernobyl and Pripyat



The entrance to the 30 km exclusion zone

Why would anyone in their right mind want to spend 4 hours on a plane and then bus north up from Kiev towards the Belarus border.

Why would anyone risk being eaten in the heat by thousands of swarming mosquitos?

Why would anyone in the sweltering heat wear trousers and long sleeves?
 
Why would I do all of this and risk exposing myself to a dose of radiation?



Basically because I like to do things a little differently. For me a beach holiday is utterly boring and the epitome of dull.

Therefore when my mate Nick and I decided a trip to Ukraine and a visit to its most infamous sight was on the cards I could not refuse his invitation.

Welcome to Chernobyl!

Wearing long sleeves and long trousers to prevent any radioactive dust settling on your skin we travelling north on an organised  Kiev Chernobyl tour. Apparently this was the same company that Top Gear used.

The only way (legally) of getting into Chernobyl is by one of these such tours.

The illegally way which I only heard rumour about was a 40 km trek through the woods and a camp out. If you got caught you were fined and probably deported. Or as Nick put it 'put in a Russian gulag and beaten'.

Reading the leaflet on Chernobyl safety I had done all it asked. Closed toed shoes, long sleeves and trousers and no touching anything.

For the entire trip I was conscious not to touch anything. Then when I got back I realised that I had causally lent against a bridge when we fed the giant cat fish!



So here we were at the first checkpoint to enter the 30 km restriction zone. Passports ready to show the border/security guards.

On 26th April 1986 reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded while a test was being carried out.

That test was to see that if by doing some very complicated nuclear scientific process they could gain more energy. This of course went spectacularly wrong.

Human error and a poor Soviet safety record resulted in the automatic safety measure being turned off and explosions in the plant leaving the radioactive core open to the  elements.

In the aftermath a cloud of highly radioactive dust spread across Europe.

The Soviets at first denied anything had happened and it wasn’t until Sweden noticed radioactive measures going through the roof that the alarm was raised and the Russians went public.

The battle for Chernobyl had begun.


The battle for Chernobyl resulted in a 500,000 man assault on the plant to render it 'safe'. In the end thousands lost their lives including the firefighters who were the first on hand. Running in to a fire with little protection. Some were irradiated so badly that they died hours later, some even had brown eyes turn blue with the radiation.

The effects of the disaster didn’t just stop there. Thousands were born with birth defects and thousands more still suffer today.
The area around Chernobyl remains uninhabitable from 800 to 20,000 years due to the radiation. Although that hasn’t stop re-settlers returning to this cordoned off land.


In the end a giant sarcophagus was built over the plant to contain the threat. This has a 25-30 year lifespan.
Geiger counter outside (270 meters away) reactor number four

 Tour Kiev Chernobyl tour.




A rather nervous smile




















The battle for Chernobyl . For the full documentary with all the information which I highly recommend watching click this link.



When Nick and I visited in June 2014 that was over 28 years later.
Next to the plant is a giant construction site that consists of the new containment project that is scarily running behind schedule.
Imagine one of the most deadly things on earth that could have wiped out Europe if the secondary explosion had not been avoided and you are running behind schedule.
This is a job that all countries should unite together for and help out.
The giant unfinished dome glinting in the sun will one day cover the entire plant. To see it is to believe it. It is monumentally enormous!

Having passed the first checkpoint we headed down the deserted road towards Chernobyl. On the side of the roads where thick threes. Diseased trees with occasional clearings where you could see the remains of a derelict farm house. For this was a huge farming community.


The memorial to the 28 Firefighters who lost their lives at Chernobyl.
This is outside the 300 strong manned fire station in the exclusion zone.

In total 186 towns and settlings were evacuated after the blast and many bull dozed to the ground. Some have the odd building rotting away but many are full ghost towns that have succumbed to the elements and time.

As we drove further into the 30km zone an elderly lady stood by the side of the road.






'A re-settler' Boris our driver and guide said. (his name was Nicolai, but all Ukrainians were known a Boris to us) He explained he would have picked her up but there was no room, there was but he hurtled past as she thumbed for a lift.

Imagine being forced to leave everything you could not carry and leave for home forever.

No wonder the older generation have said a big collective no and have come back.
Welcome to Chernobyl the sign says

The memorial to the 28 Firefighetrs who lost their lives at Chernobyl.
This is outside the 300 strong manned fire station in the exclusion zone.







Imagine being forced to leave everything you could not carry and leave for home forever.
No wonder the older generation have said a big collective no and have come back.


Reactor number 4

Here we were now, the ten kilometer exclusion zone.

On our bus was the only other Brit who we encountered on our trip to Ukraine and he seemed nervous. But not as nervous as this Swiss guy who we christened John. He was bricking it. He was so scared at everything. He grasped Boris’ geiger counter and was terrified when I beeped faster and faster.





Pripyat
One of the nine Atomic cities built to house the workers of Chernobyl!

It was built in 1970 and abandoned in 1986. 16 years of live, families and laughter all gone. This leaves a ghost city open to the elements that has been used in computer games and many music videos.

I wandered around looking at the buildings, crumbling concrete structures still with communist propaganda on the walls.
The famous Ferris wheel and bumper cars stood still with the wind rustling through them. It was eerily quiet as all you could hear was the wind and the leaves rustling on the trees.

Once upon a time families would have been having fun days out here and now it is dark tourism that brings people to stare in the face of what could have destroyed Europe.

We explored abandoned schools with work still on the walls and books with Lenin's face strewn over the floor.

Bunsen burners still stood on the desks an gas masks littered the floor in case of a Cold War American attacks.

Pripyat,built 1970 evacuated 1986
The abandoned sports hall and swimming pool had the outside world creeping in.

Trees had taken root and branches came through where glass windows once were. The diving board looked lonely and seemed really out of place.

One thing I did notice was that looting had been strife. Even taps were gone and any marble wall furnishings or even decent furniture and metals had been plundered a long time ago. Where money can be made people will take risks I suppose.


After seeing utter isolation in a city that the woods has reclaimed we boarded Boris' bus and headed to the reactor number four.

The aging sarcophagus looked haggard and worn and the new one looked half built and in need of a hurry up.
The geiger counter went berserk and I noticed as I stood at a monument to the battle of Chernobyl that many workers were still here.

I looked at reactor number 4 and though how close we all came to oblivion. All of this was in my life time and I was 4 years old at the time.


Naturally we couldn't spend too long there and after a few photos and staring intently at the reactor it was time to explore some more.

When we returned to Kiev and the random normality of having a tented city in the main square it was time for reflection.

Sipping a beer from a road side bar I looked back on the derelict buildings and the lives people were torn away from.

Chernobyl is much more of a disaster than you would expect. Not only was it the environmental impact but the impact on lives and health. An impact that continues to this day and will continue if they do not hurry up and cover over that leaking ageing sarcophagus.

I would recommend you go to see it. It  will leave a mark on you forever.






Abandoned books litter the floor in the school

Famous image of the abandoned ferris wheel

Threes grow through the smashed windows of the pool
Once this doll made a child smile

Communist propaganda ready for the May 1986 celebrations

Gas masks litter the floor of this class room.
They were in anticiparion of an American cold war attack

Going through the radiation detector. These mashines were ancient

Bunper cars left to rot. All had been scavenged for their motors

Nick takes a photo in an abandoned sports hall

Once you could stay at the Pripyat hotel



The unfinished new confinement project

Abandoned cooling tower

This photo shows the size of the new confinement project


Memorial next to reactor number four


11 comments:

  1. All of your pictures are awesome, but that shot of the ferris wheel is amazing! It's so nice to see it all lit up with a blue sky behind it - usually pictures from Chernobyl are so gray and gloomy. Ever since I read about Chernobyl mutations in humans one day on reddit, I've been so interested in Chernobyl as a whole. I'm hoping I'll be able to visit it someday myself!

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