Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Article Index


Known as Chernobyl Disaster, single event turned one of the most advanced areas of Soviet Union into forever (well, maybe not forever) abandoned place, over just few days.

On 24th of April 1986, during late night safety test of reactor number 4 of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine (then-part of Soviet Union), the worst nuclear disaster in history took place. Reactor 4 was destroyed by explosion and the amount of radiation released into air put entire Europe in serious danger. It killed just 2 people directly, but the number of victims of invisible force of radiation over next weeks, months and years has grown up to thousands, even though it can't really be measured.

Within next 72 hours, 50 000 city of Pripyat as well as the 30 kilometer radius of surrounding area was evacuated. Eventually, this uninhabitable area has become known as Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, or just "The ZONE". Nowadays, 30 years later, The Zone is accessible again. There is few agencies in Ukraine providing guided tours into it.

In order to get there, you have to use the service of one of one of 'certified agencies' which provide guided tours to this area. The good thing is that they will take care of pretty much everything, the bad one is that you will not be alone and you can't do whatever you want, and that's probably good news for the area and for your safety as well (some areas or even single little spots are still way to radioactive. If your tour starts in Kyiv and it most likely does, it will take you roughly 2 hours to drive 150 km straight up north from Ukraine's capital, in order to reach the Exclusion Zone. If you get lucky as we did, it will be +20 minutes to repair a flat tire and experience some Ukrainian countryside.


In our case, the tour was up to 10 people (I believe), 1 driver, 1 guide () and a government employee of some sort, responsible for your group. Our guide Tania was easy to deal with, knowledgeable and really enthusiastic about the matter and our government-guy Alexey was actually a guy who used to lived in Pripyat and was right there when it happened. Unfortunately, Alexey didn't speak any English, but Tania did and was absolutely willing to translate there and back.

Once you reach the Zone entrance, you have to undergo short passport-permit check. Zone Permit has to be applied for two weeks in advance and its data has to correspond with data in your passport, therefor new or other passport (if you have more than one) might be an issue. There is several checkpoints in the Zone, but for the other ones you don't even need to leave a car/bus. Once done with checkpoints, you will enter the Zone.


Chernobyl Riverside


Typically, what you will see here is the town of Chernobyl, ghost city of Pripyat, DUGA Radar (Russian Woodpecker), the Chernobyl Power Plant and some smaller, but not less interesting points in between of these. Let's start with Chernobyl, since whole area is named after it and it's also the only kinda-inhabited spot, where even you can stay for 1 or 2 nights and stay safe (unless you get eaten by a mutant-monster-hamster or something similar).

Chernobyl used to be a little sleepy town until Soviets decided to pick on this area of Ukraine and turn it into sort of 'Silicon Valley' of Soviet Union. Of course in that era it actually meant to build 12 unsafe (as it turns out) nuclear reactors around the place and spice it up with some anti-nuclear-missile radars stations, that look like something you might find in sci-fi movie from 60's (high-budget one). All of this built in the name of 'peace' and of course ... whoever the current insane dictator was. And as many times before (and after), they managed to ruin the whole thing, terribly.

Anyways, bright and shiny future was ahead of Chernobyl at that point. No one knew, that it's going to be way too bright and it will eventually destroy entire project of 'Nuclear Valley'.


Port Of Chernobyl

*if you are interested in what, how and why exactly the accident happened, just go to the very end of this article and find links to 2 documentaries (youtube)

Nowadays, 30 years later, still no one can't stay in Chernobyl area for more than couple weeks. Yet, there is a hotel, where you can stay (I think just 1 or 2 nights tops), you will get a lunch here, because all food and supplies have to be delivered from outside of the Zone and no local sources can be used for food etc. And last, but not least - there is the last real washroom too, so you better use it, otherwise you might end up somewhere in radioactive woods, with our ass uncomfortably close to radioactive ground :-) Other than that, you can see some interesting places in Chernobyl and around it, for instance the port, Chernobyl monument and some more ...


Some building in Chernobyl are renovated and being used by workers



As Cold War between USA (and Western Countries in general) was unfolding, Soviet government decided to come up with yet again one top-secret project, in which number of early-warning radars should have been deployed across USSR, as an Over-The-Horizon system. It was called DUGA and was meant to be an early warning system in case of American intercontinental missile attack. 


DUGA - The Russian Woodpecker
DUGA - The Russian Woodpecker


Incredible amount of money was spent in order to get this giant mesh up and running (I don't remember the exact figure but it was like a 'jillion dollars' or like a 'bazzilion of jillions rubles'). Long story short, after years and years of engineering, building, tweaking and whatnot, the majestic system was up and running. But! Shortly after they started testing it, they found out that the damn thing is interfering with short radio waves and pretty much whole world hears weird woodpecker sounding noise in their radios. As a matter of fact, that was also the only thing that giant thing was good for. It never really worked and was abandoned eventually, just like the political system and Soviet Union itself :-)


Checking up the Woodpecker    DUGA's Data Center
Checking up on the Woodpecker & DUGA's Data Center (right)


Anyhow, it's still there, you can walk up to it and touch it (you should not climb it though) and it's quite impressive. As far as it's size, it's about 800 m long and 150 m tall. It's kind of interesting how they wanted to keep that thing secret in the first place, since it was visible from miles away:) You should be allowed to check out its operation center buildings and datacenter as well and it's well worth it.


After we have checked on almighty (and useless) Russian Woodpecker, let's move on to the actual power plant. Number one, that thing is giant too. The original plan was to built 12 reactors in total and create a nuclear super-cluster. But as always, it didn't work out that well. After the accident of reactor n.4, level of radiation was as high, so there was no other option then scraping another magnificent visionary plan. Yet again ...

In fact, there is still quite high number of workers working at the power plant, practically making sure that everything stays safe and the situation around blown reactor doesn't get worse. 



Sickly interesting is also the fact, that Soviets tried to cover up the accident and spent well over a day pretending that nothing serious had happened. It was Sweden (yeah, that's not USSR), who after 2 days finally pointed their finger on USSR. Before that, they measured increased levels of radiation around one of their own nuclear power plants and started to panic. But what they really measured was radiation from Chernobyl which was slowly spreading over Europe, carried by wind. Under this pressure, Soviets finally revealed the truth and asked for help. At the end though, almost entire Europe was impacted by the radiation cloud, more or less.


Maximum safe level of radiation is 0.3, there is almost 7 just 2 steps away from the road. They call those "Hot Spots"



On the way to Pripyat, you can make a stop at abandoned day care in of smaller villages in the area. It's completely overgrown by trees, basically in the middle of woods, but still in fairly good shape. The thing is that radiation around it is quite high, so it might be better to follow guide and the exact path on the way there and back. Just 1 meter away from the 'sidewalk' radiation goes instantly trough the roof.

It gets little better inside, it just might not be completely safe to wander around for too long. I would love to know whether all the stuff inside has actually always been like that, or whether is at least part of it set up. It's just so cool looking (well in a very weird way of course) that it is hard to believe that it's real.


Abandoned Day Care Center near Chernobyl


Abandoned Day Care Center near Chernobyl


The closer you get to the power plant - Pripyat area, the more extreme radiation signs you will see around the road, and your geiger counter goes off all the time. At some point, you will finally arrive to Pripyat Checkpoint. Another short control of permits, time to have a smoke or try to utilize high-class washroom next to the checkpoint (well, it's maybe not as high-class as you would think:-)

That's probably also the time when you will realize that you are actually not in a forest, but in a city ... or at least somewhere where it used to be a city at some point.


School in Pripyat


Gas masks left in class & City swimming pool


There is way too many interesting spots and things to see in Pripyat. One could spend days wandering around and not get bored, but most people will get just one afternoon. Some buildings are safe to walk in, some are not. Some of those that are you will be allowed to explore from inside too. You can see places like swimming pool, school, supermarket, some shops and apartments, a caffee and so on. But in general, just walking through places such as notorious amusement park with old Ferris Wheel and bumper cars has its specific sick vibe. 



All in all, trip to Chrnobyl exclusion zone is well worth going, in case you are at least a little curious about that kind of stuff. It's not really a funny place and it should not be. I would definitely recommend to check out one documentaries at the end of this article and do a bit of research on your own. 

In our case, our tour guide was quite awesome and enthusiastic and Alexey (that government guy) was actually a person who used to live there and knows pretty much everything about the region and all events connected to disaster.

And since we were absolutely satisfied with our tour, you can find that company here: (and if you decide to use their services, you hopefully won't be disappointed :-))


One of few inhabitants with permanent address in Pripyat


Check out giant catfish chilling in water right next to reactor, they surely are doing well ...


In case you are interested in knowing more about the actual events, there is one documentary going mainly through events leading to the accident here:

Zero Hour: Disaster at Chernobyl Discovery Channel (2004) (Youtube) English

Nultá Hodina: Černobyl (Youtube) Česky

And one about the following events and actions taken in order to prevent something even way worse from happening:

The True Battle of Chernobyl Uncensored (Youtube) English

Bitva O Černobyl (Youtube) Česky