Ukraine Day 3. After a night staying in the exclusion zone we were ready to be shown more of the environs around Chernobyl.
The hotel was full with us plus another tour group. With the shared bathroom situation, I tippy-toed next door early in the morning to use said facilities – to find a naked male lying on the floor. God knows what that was about but I reversed out the door and retreated to my room. Pretty sure he was with the other group. They got the earlier breakfast slot so no opportunity to erm, scrutinise.
The first destination of the day only opened up for sanctioned visits about a year ago. It’s a major feature of the zone but is relatively unknown. I’d only gotten wind of it a few weeks prior when a guy at work mentioned it but I didn’t know then that the tour would include it. Some effort is required to get there but when we did it blew us away.
After the long and incredibly bumpy road in there was quite a long walk as well
But that was an opportunity for sights along the way if you were keeping an eye out
A checkpoint once upon a time
Finally it came into view, the Russian over-the-horizon radar, capable of detecting intercontinental ballistic missiles from the US. Now silent, it operated between 1976-1989.
And here we have Duga 1 aka Chernobyl 2 aka the Russian Woodpecker (because of the noise it would make over the airwaves… not a great way to stay a secret!)
We humans were dwarfed by this immense structure, roughly 150m tall and 500m long. It was impacted by the explosion at Chernobyl as reportedly 25% of the power plant’s capacity was required for the radar, but it operated for another couple of years
At some point the structure will become too unstable to visit. Apparently the government lacks the money to take it down – it will need to happen in a controlled way at some point as Tania mentioned that if it was to fall of its own accord it would be like an 8.3 earthquake
We moved onto the training facility and control room
We had to walk through and step around computer frames, pulled from the huge computer rooms by looters to pick apart. There were empty cable hoses and tape strewn everywhere inside
The control room
From the propaganda room I think where trainees were explained about the evils of the west
Tania led us to the rooftop for a panoramic view of the radar. The different heights relate to low and high frequency
We went to a few more sites before returning to the hotel for lunch to fuel up for the final couple of hours. Some of the stops were a bit rushed and more time would have been good, but we were on a schedule.
We returned to Pripyat, starting with the police station
One of the cells
Round the back of the police station
The fire station
Tania took us to another kindergarten
Possibly the spookiest place of the tour: the hospital
Protective coverings worn by the ‘liquidators’ (emergency workers) were amongst the mess on the floor. One area off limits is the basement where shoes worn by the liquidators are held; the shoes are still radioactive
We were driven to the village of Parishev, not far from the 10km boundary, to visit a pair of self-settlers. This is especially interesting given the exclusion zone won’t officially be safe for people to live in for another 20,000 or so years
This is Ivan Ivanovich. He and wife Maria moved back here about a year after the evacuation in 1986. He spends his days tending to his huge garden and woodpile. Tania brings tours here at least twice a week, bringing them some food or money each time
This is Maria Ivanovich who, like her husband, is about 80. She couldn’t talk much. It was a hot day but she was well wrapped up
He was a very obliging man. Behind is Ivan’s car – a Zaporozhsky I think – hasn’t worked for a couple of years but he still likes to show visitors
Meanwhile a tiny cute snake had a minor freak-out and raced for cover
We were taken to a neighbour’s now abandoned house to get an indication of a typical Soviet era house from 50 years ago
We were all interested in this: the huge oven which would’ve been a godsend in winter. Tucked into the back of it is an alcove for sleeping on colder nights, big enough for two adults though I think Tania said the whole family could’ve squeezed into there
Next was a house which had been vacated since 1986 and which was representative of how they lived 80 years ago
Ivan and Maria are two of only four residents of Parishev these days
Photos of the people who used to live in this house
Final stop of the trip was a vehicle graveyard
This was a dumping ground with stacks of vehicle shells sometimes metres high
Going through the radiation scanners for the last time. We were recommended to bring a spare pair of shoes just in case but I’m travelling with a single pair. Luckily we were all normal!
…In any case, I think I might replace my shoes before flying home – I can imagine the scrutiny they’ll get going through NZ border control!
The tour was over, save for the drive back to the starting point in Kyiv. As the final nice touch from CHERNOBYLwel.come, we were each given a t-shirt. With the front design ‘Enjoy Chernobyl – die later’ I’ll have to pick my moments to wear it!
It was the end of two long, hot but busy and exciting days that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives (with a few hundred photos to help jog the memories…). For me it was a major sense of achievement and I’m just rapt it went as well as it did.
Back in Kyiv a bit after 6pm, I farewelled the group and trekked back to the apartment.
Distance walked: not sure but not 20.79km (…bumpy roads!)