Where to even begin….
Two friends of mine and I started planning a trip to Europe months ago but weren’t sure when we would go. In planning the trip one day I said “do you know what would be crazy? Let’s go to Chernobyl.” Surprisingly both friends were on board so when the time came that our schedules aligned we booked tickets to Ukraine. Of course nobody wants to spend a week in Ukraine, so we also went to a few other places which I will blog about next. But first up is our two days in Ukraine with one of them being in Chernobyl!
As to be expected we spent a little bit too much time out the night before we left, so one of these was in order the next morning…
And of course ramen in the lounge.
We flew Lufthansa over and spent the night in Frankfurt, and then flew the next morning to Kiev. We could have done it all in one day but I think this worked out better because then we weren’t arriving in Kiev at midnight trying to figure out a way to get back from the airport.
Thankfully we all had empty seats next to us so we could stretch out a bit.
The cool thing about this flight is you follow the sunset for the entire flight. So for 6-7 hours of the flight the sun is setting. Pretty cool!
The hotel we stayed at in Frankfurt was literally all white and called “The Pure.” And when I say everything was white, I mean everything was white.
Since it was still early we decided to hit the town.
And we stumbled upon a traditional German eatery. Communal seating with free flowing beer.
They also specialize in this fruity wine drink thing that we watched them prepare.
The 12+ hour flight had taken a toll.
So the waiter comes over and he knows we don’t speak German so he goes “You want apfelwein? I bring you apfelwein. Pitcher right? Yes pitcher.” Meanwhile we didn’t even say anything. So we got a pitcher of apfelwein which is like an alcoholic apple mixture thing. They also give you soda water to mix in it as well.
We found out a bit later that we were adding too much soda water. The guy sitting next to Andy leaned over and told us we were using too much, and struck up a conversation. While he was German he is of Spanish decent so Andy talked to him for awhile in Spanish. Super nice people.
When we ordered our food we couldn’t read anything on the menu, so we asked the waiter for a recommendation at which point he grunted and walked away and eventually came back with this spread…
We were completely and utterly stuffed. But I saw applestrudel on the menu so……
After we finished we headed back to the hotel since we had an early flight the next day.
Morning light coming in over Frankfurt.
Off to the airport. We had a weird boarding experience in Frankfurt, I got felt up by the security officer as I was going through, I guess I set off practically every single alarm. Then we had to board a bus which took us to our plane, like 4 miles away and we boarded from the tarmac.
Upon landing we went through immigration and were instantly accosted by a billion people trying to get us to use them for a taxi. As in, there were probably 50 guys standing around asking if we needed a taxi ride. But we quickly found out that there are few taxis in Kiev and instead it’s people’s personal cars that you negotiate a price with. We opted for the bus which cost $1.50 for a 45 minute ride. It dropped us at the train station.
We thought our hotel was within walking distance, which technically it was, but it was definitely a desolate walk. Everything around us screamed cold war era architecture and communism. It didn’t help that it was freezing cold either.
Cute room at the Ibis
John sat next to a guy who worked for the Canadian Embassy on the plane who couldn’t stop raving about Kiev and how awesome it was, so as we were leaving the airport we were thinking “this is going to be a great place!” And the guy recommended a “really good place” for dinner which we went to, but it was literally on the outskirts of town and we thought our driver was taking us out in the woods to murder us, but eventually we got there 30 minutes later and it was behind a sketchy gas station with no exterior lighting. We walk in and we’re literally the only people in there and they only speak Russian, long story short we tried ordering drinks and again it was all in Russian so we got some really weird drinks so finally we went with something all of us would know, Vodka.
And the vodka was horrible by the way.
Apparently this is a steak, and the corn was just… Really weird.
This was one of the drinks, I just about threw up it was that bad.
We began to think what is up with this guy who gave us these recommendations, and I started to realize that it’s sort of similar to my situation. Maybe this guy has a form of Stockholm syndrome where he’s become so used to desolation and crappy food that their version of “good” food is actually good to him. Kind of like in Korea where I’ve gotten used to spaghetti with ketchup instead of tomato sauce, because it’s what I’ve become used to since there is no semblance of good food here.
Anyway, the moment we have all been waiting for….
We joined up with a tour that we booked about two months ago that drives you up to the exclusion zone and takes you around to a bunch of sites within the zone. The first stop is the zone checkpoint, where they “scrutinize” your passport and ask you a bunch of questions… All they did was check my passport against a list, but oh well..
Road in the exclusion zone. Desolation.
Along the way our guide would say “to your right is ___ town” and “to your left is ____ town” and I wasn’t seeing anything, until I looked closer…
There are these villages hidden in the trees, each building having a purpose – one a clinic, one a school, some houses, etc.
And then out by the road, desolation.
This is the entrance sign leading into the town of Chernobyl.
In the town of Chernobyl there is a memorial. Some people think that the Chernobyl disaster is the fulfillment of the third trumpet in Revelation 8. Reference:
“And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.” Revelation 8:10-11
Chernobyl is the Russian word for wormwood. There was a huge fire. Next to a river/lake. The Chernobyl disaster poisoned the surrounding water. Over 125,000 people died because of the disaster. Anyway, it’s an interesting tidbit of information.
Town of Chernobyl – a few people live here on a part time basis. This first picture is of their museum, which only operated for one day when they had the 25th anniversary of the disaster. Since then it has been closed.
Another building in the town.
The only statue of a communist leader still standing in Ukraine. It’s still standing because there is a law forbidding removing anything from the exclusion zone.
This is a memorial made by firefighters for the firefighters who lost their lives in the disaster.
Soviet era vehicles were everywhere, not just in the zone but also in Kiev as well.
From there we headed to the Duga radar, also known as the “Russian Woodpecker.”
It was a closely guarded secret at the time, these signs say you’ll be shot on sight.
The Duga 1 radar was a Soviet over-the-horizon (OTH) radar system used as part of the Soviet ABM early-warning network.
The Duga systems were extremely powerful, over 10 MW in some cases, and broadcast in the shortwave radio bands. They appeared without warning, sounding like a sharp, repetitive tapping noise at 10 Hz which led to it being nicknamed by shortwave listeners the Russian Woodpecker. The random frequency hops disrupted broadcasts, amateur radio operations, oceanic commercial aviation communications, utility transmissions, and resulted in thousands of complaints by many countries worldwide. The signal became such a nuisance that some receivers such as amateur radios and televisions actually began including ‘Woodpecker Blankers’ in their circuit designs in an effort to filter out the interference.
The unclaimed signal was a source for much speculation, giving rise to theories such as Soviet mind control and weather control experiments. However, because of its distinctive transmission pattern, many experts quickly realized it to be an over-the-horizon radar system. Anyway the Russians never admitted to it, and instead said it was a TV broadcast station.
There was an entire community that supported the radar system, including a hospital, so we walked through the hospital. Talk about a eerie, weird experience….
From there we left and went down the road to check out an elementary school. Most of the furniture in the exclusion zone was buried due to radiation, but the structures are intact. Well, and other knick knacks were left as well….
Since the school was almost in direct line of sight of the reactor, there were hotspots of radiation everywhere. Anything above 0.3 is considered to be “above normal” so when you start to see these numbers –
Anyway so we headed into the school to check it out.
Now it was time to drive to Pripyat. Pripyat was the town that housed most of the reactor workers. Along the way to Pripyat you drive by the reactor, which unfortunately we were unable to stop at because they were putting their new containment shell over it and it was deemed “unsafe” or something like that, so we only got pictures in passing.
Reactor number 4.
Street sign for Pripyat.
Inside Pripyat you can walk around the town and see what is around. So below are pictures walking around Pripyat, although you aren’t allowed in the apartment buildings because they are becoming condemned and for safety reasons they want you to stay out.
This was a boathouse that was next to the cooling lake.
Waste treatment admin office.
Downtown “main square.”
Immediately behind the square is an abandoned amusement park that was supposed to be used for May Day celebrations but the reactor blew before the celebrations could be held, so the amusement park was never even used.
It was cold.
Interestingly enough, metal holds radiation quite well while concrete doesn’t – so if you put your geiger counter next to the ferris wheel it starts going crazy.
Bleachers at the football field
This is the famous indoor pool that you see pictures of – unfortunately we weren’t able to go inside. You can see the diving board inside the window.
And then we left. We had to go through these radiation checkpoints that checked our van for radiation as well as ourselves, I will have to get those images off of my gopro. But you basically step into this large green thing and it checks you for radiation.
Thoughts on Chernobyl? It was an experience that I will never forget. These buildings will continue to crumble as time progresses and radiation will continue to poison the area until long after we are gone – but it seems to be totally true that the earth takes back what is hers when “man” leaves.
I’ll probably never go back to Ukraine, but I’m glad that I at least experienced it. Eastern bloc countries are not fun, and maybe I’ll make it to Moscow next year but I do know that the effects of communism are still being felt in Ukraine and it definitely set the entire country back 20 years.
Our last meal in Kiev? It was so cold we could only manage to walk half a block down the street to get greek food which seemed to have more french fries in my gyro than meat….