For many years I was thinking about visiting the site of the chornobyl accident of 1986.
For some reason, this place attracts me in a strange way and I am not sure why.
So I did my research and got myself a tour guide for one day who showed me around in the area that is commonly known as the exclusion zone.
This zone divided into two parts. One is about 10km around the power plant and the other one is even 30km around the reactor. In this area there is still some significant radiation if you step away from the roads.
There are two checkpoints to pass to enter the 30km and 10km zone and you need advance permission to go there, with a lot of bureaucracy involved.
Originally I wanted to go into the power plant building as well, but a few days before the visit they cancelled that permission (for some “maintenance reasons”). But even without this, there are so many impressions in such a short time, so I will focus just on some of them.
The town of chornobyl is a small town that was there before the power plants were even built. Today it is deserted with only a few people living there and some administrative buildings used to manage the zone.
The zone had to be evacuated quite quickly, and since then, mother nature has started to take back the land. Buildings are rotting away without any kind of maintenance.
25 years after the accident, the government constructed a memorial site showing one of the biblical angels of the apocalypse blowing into its horn and a town sign for every town that is part of the exlusion zone now, where people had to leave their homes behind. Seeing this makes you think about the impact of the disaster to the local population, which seems difficult to grasp.
But not only the ordinary people had to leave everything behind. Also the military, which had built a giant secret radar station close to the power plant, to search the sky for American nuclear attacks had to be abandoned and is rusting away for decades, as the metal is contaminated with radiation and there is no way (and no money) to tear it down.
My guide told me a rumor, that some conspiracy theorists say, that the this radar never worked, and the whole accicent at the power plant was just created to cover this up. While I am do not believe in this myself, it is interesting to think about this idea, as in soviet times, cover ups were not that uncommon but I think even the government in these days would have refrained from doing such an inhumane thing to their own population.
Another touching moment was when we stopped at a kindergarden, that was just 2 kilometers away from the power plant. Also here, the little kids had to leave their place and all their belongings behind at the moment of the evacutation, and while things like beds and furniture are rotting away,
some plastic toys like this doll on the picture seem to stand the test of time and look like they were just left behind a few days or weeks ago.
As we finally arrived at the power plant, we stop for a moment at a monument that was errected 20 years after the sarcophagus was built that keeps the radiation inside since its construction. At the time of my visit, the construction of a new sarcophagus was nearly completed which will contain the radiation for another 100 years, which is sill a very short time frame, if you consider, that these radioactive materials have a half-live of several thousand years if not even longer.
The power plant itself – or what one can see from it – does not look that dangerous and it is again hard to imagine what efforts were made by thousands of people who built the containment structure, cleaned the area from radioactive debris and gave their live to avoid a even bigger disaster for large parts of Europe. While a lot of them did not really have a choice, there were also many volunteers who gave their live during the first days after the disaster and others who suffered from long-term radiation illness.
The final part of our day trip took us to the city of Pripyat. This city was especially built for the workers at the power plant and their families and was one of the most modern cities in the soviet union these days. It featured a kind of infrastructure and level of lifestyle that was special for the average citizen and it was an honor to be invited to live and work there. The way into Pripyat leads over the so called bridge of death. Which received its name because, when in the morning after the disaster, people from Pripyat went over the bridge to see what had happened, the wind blew the radioactive air directly in their faces.
In the city you also see the effects of nature taking back the ground. There are so many different impressions I experienced duing my visit there, that I will just let some pictures speak for themselves.
This visit was really a once in a lifetime experience. I can now mark it as completed on my bucket list, but will not rule out, that I will come back some day to this unique place.