My Dark Tourism Holiday to Chernobyl. I Survived!

Have you ever heard of dark tourism?

Dark tourism involves traveling to destinations historically associated with death or tragic incidents. Destinations that are not on the beaten path. A thrill-seeking adventure.

As a traveler, I always crave to go to unusual destinations. One place that had always caught my attention was visiting the Chernobyl Nuclear disaster site and its neighbouring town. I wanted to tick off another item of my dark tourism bucket list.

What is Chernobyl?

frederic-paulussen-548445-unsplash
Photo by Frédéric Paulussen on Unsplash

During 1986, in Ukraine near the border to Belarus a soviet reactor from a power plant exploded. The power plant was owned by the Soviet Union.

Workers were to shut down the fourth reactor for maintenance. However, they disabled the reactor without following correct safety regulations.

LiveScience states at 1:23 am on April 26th, 1986 two nuclear rods were placed into cold water. As a result, a lot of steam was generated. Due to design flaws from the Soviets, it created a lot of activity in the fourth reactor. This contributed to a huge explosion releasing radioactive gases into the atmosphere.

Then moments later, a larger second explosion occurred. This caused graphite to spill around the site. According to nuclear.org, it killed 30 operators and firemen. Also 36 hours after residents from a nearby local town, Pripyat was evacuated.

Photo by Stefan Spassov on Unsplash
Photo by Stefan Spassov on Unsplash

In total, due to the disaster 220,000 people were evacuated.

My Journey

Thirty years since the accident, on a breezy English autumn day during October 2017, I packed my rucksack for the airport. As the next day, I was to fly to Kyiv. With little warning, I announced to my mum that evening:

“Good night mum, I’m flying to Ukraine tomorrow to visit Chernobyl, I’ll be back in a week.”

Immediately in shock, my mum responded with one of her usual travel warnings:

“Alex, be careful there are huge amounts of radiation. I don’t want you to bring any back home.”

Humouring her, I smiled. As if I hadn’t don’t any prior research on my trip. Chernobyl and Pripyat had been on my bucket list for a good time.

Arriving in Kyiv

Photo by Rostislav Artov on Unsplash
Photo by Rostislav Artov on Unsplash

After a smooth gliding six-hour flight I landed in Kyiv. I arrived in the evening, tired and excited for the week ahead. Prior to the trip, I had booked the excursion through a company Chernobyl-tours with a group day trip with an English-speaking guide to Chernobyl costing around $80.

Thanks to uber, I made it to the pickup point the next day to begin the tour at 7 am. Standing outside in the icy cold for twenty minutes, a minibus pulled up. One at a time myself and several other passengers climbed into the vehicle. Whilst doing so, the driver checked booking confirmations and passports. He tried to upsell by advertising to rent Geiger Counters (a radiation measuring device) for a further $10. I opted in.

During the second half of the journey, the driver on the bus played a Chernobyl documentary for the passengers to watch.

Arriving at the Chernobyl Checkpoint

Photo by Specna Arms on Unsplash
Photo by Specna Arms on Unsplash

Towards the two hour mark, the documentary finished and the group had arrived at the checkpoint.

Upon arrival, we waited for twenty minutes and then our driver passed us into the hands of a guide. There was a rugged six-foot tall military bear like Eastern European army figure who introduced us. Vladivoj was his name.

Chernobyl and Pripyat are guarded by the army, so there was no way to enter without an army escort. After a briefing of what to do and not to do, he led us to the first gated checkpoint (which was used as the last checkpoint also).

Me at radiation Check point Chernobyl

Individually, we had to climb onto the checkpoint and place both hands on either side of a radiation checker. This measured the amount of radiation on us before we could enter.  If it detected more than needed the gate wouldn’t open.

Then, we were driven to the entrance of the town and a firefighters memorial paying respects to the firefighters of Chernobyl. We also got out and took photos where another guard joined us. He informed us he lived within the zone amongst a few hundred others who try and preserve the radiation from escaping.

The Kindergarten

Kindergarden Chernobyl

One of the most memorable moments for me was kindergarten. Due to radiation, we spent a majority of time in the van until we were instructed to leave.

As soon as we were given the green light, I got out of the van and my Geiger-counter began to beep. The sound amongst other high-pitched beeps sent a chill down my spine, signaling to my brain I was now in radioactive terrority. The area was so radioactive we were not allowed to touch the ground.

Slowly walking into the forest, I noticed lots of orange leaves scattered on the floor stripped from the lifeless trees.

Then before I progressed any further, I noticed a limbless doll covered in leaves. The child’s doll had a washed-out head and wide glaring eyes staring directly at you, just like a typical horror film.

Moving closer I noticed another limbless doll, this time resting on a post. Steadily, I walked into the eerie kindergarten. It was phenomenal, lots of untouched objects were left in place. As well as paper from notice boards scattered all over the floor. It was if time had stood still.

One room, had children’s cots still left with dolls positioned all over the room alongside pillows on each bed. On one mantlepiece lay a teachers mug covered in cobwebs.

Dark Tourism Toilets Chernobyl

The bathroom looked as if someone had ruined it themselves.

Toilets and sinks had fallen off the walls and were smashed along the floor. As well as lockers.

The Exclusion Zone

Me Outside of Reactor Number 4

Hopping back into the van, we journeyed up to two miles from the exclusion zone. Seeing the sarcophagus covering reactor number 4 in the distance. My Geiger counter slowly started to beep a bit faster. This was one of the main reasons I wanted to be a part of a dark tourism attraction. What amazed me was that there was still lots of wildlife. I came across a fox which had bright red eyes.

Following this, we got back into the van and headed to the reactor site. Due to safety guidelines, we were only allowed to stay for five minutes. Once I stepped outside my Geiger counter began beeping the fastest yet I’d encountered on the tour.

There was a dog there also. However, I think it may have just been a pet of one of the workers. He/she also had red eyes.

Pripyat The Dark Tourism Town.

Pripyat Sign My Trip To Chernobyl

In, we went to the derelict town of Pripyat where 43,000 people lived before the Soviet Union evacuated them. I explored several buildings there such as a former supermarket, an art gallery, a theatre, and a fairground.

The fairground I found the most spooky as if zombies were to come out of the forest at any moment. A rotted away Ferris wheel, dodgems, and a carousel. I could not venture too far as we had to remain within the range of the guards’ sight. After a while, we left and went back in the car to a canteen to have lunch.

Dark Tourism Dodgems, Chernobyl

Before eating we had to pass through radiation checkpoints to make sure I was not over the recommended levels of radiation.

The Duga Radar

After a heavy lunch, we were transported a bit further out to the duga radar. A two-part antenna system.

When I was walking. I looked up and seen a ginormous two-part system. The first part was 150 metres tall and 550 metres long. The second was 80 metres tall and 220 metres long.

At the time I remember looking thinking to myself
“I’ve never seen a structure this obscure or big before.”

It was a radar system containing 10MV of power used by the Soviets between 1976-1989. Originally, a top secret operation.

I thought to myself “Wow, if that’s what Russia was capable of building back then, what must they be capable of constructing now?”

It was very interesting to visit and see the scale of the structure. However, to this day a lot of conspiracy theories surround this.

Rumours have it, that it was a radio system which had an irritating tap powerfully contributing to interference to tv and radio broadcasts around the world. People commented to say it sounded like a woodpecker. It was given the name

The Russian Woodpecker.

Still, the reason for construction still remains unknown. On the contrary, some say that it was used for mind-control. In fact, there even was a documentary on it that won a Sundance grand jury award, titled The Russian Woodpecker.

After the duga radar, we concluded our tour.  Chernobyl and Pripyat was an eye-opening experience. However, one thing I wish at the end of that day was to have chosen a two-day tour. For those who are to attend, my advice for you is to book a two-day tour to experience the best of Chernobyl and Pripyat. As you will be able to cover more ground. Dark tourism is fun if you have the nerve.

Russia from above
Photo by Maria Krasnova on Unsplash

7 comments

  1. It gave me chills reading this! This is so interesting to me! I am definitely adding Chernobyl to my bucket list now!

    Thanks for the information!
    ♥Jackie
    jackieofalltradesblog.com

  2. Now, that’s very, very interesting! I always wanted to go there but I have heard that it’s very, very expensive. Is it true?
    Thank you for sharing your adventure! 🙂

    1. It cost me about . 80 GBP for a day tour. I’ve always wanted to visit, so to me it was worth it. Also Ukraine is very cheap, quite an affordable country.

  3. This is very very fascinating and bold kind of attraction. They actually exposed you to radiation on the walking tours! Never thought it would be possible. I dread to think what would happen if you had higher levels of radiation than ideal?

    Also, you’re bang on about Pripyat. The place is the perfect Call Of Duty zombies map (there’s goes.myself channeling my gamer self) – it’s literally a derelict.

    Johnny | Johnny’s Traventures
    https://johnnystraventures.com

    1. Ha ha that comment of yours really made me laugh about Pripyat! You are so right, it’d make a good place for COD. I think the radiation is good now , however my mum had it in mind I’d come back with some mutated body part.

Comments are closed.

Close

Extracts of Alex

Navigating Nepal and the World

Your custom text © Copyright 2019. All rights reserved.
Close