I can't remember exactly when I learned about the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
It occurred just 2 months after I was born (you can guess my age now), so I doubt my mum had read the evening news report to me as a bedtime story. Perhaps it was the horror film in 2012, Chernobyl Diaries; or maybe I came across pictures on the aftermath of Chernobyl simply because I spend a good portion of my day googling about interesting destinations to visit.
I'm a huge fan of post apocalyptic (and Zombie) movies, and Chernobyl, together with the "ghost town of Pripyat", are as "post apocalyptic" as tourist attractions get. Ever since I heard that it was possible to visit the Chernobyl power plant and its surrounding radioactive "Ghost Town", I knew this would be a trip I'd definitely have to make. In fact, I even listed a trip to Chernobyl as one of the 23 bucket-list experiences I'd like to experience before I die.
I was finally going to Chernobyl. I would get to be the star in my own post apocalyptic movie.
About The Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster
On the morning of 26 April 1986, an experiment at Rector No. 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant went wrong. An explosion resulted in a radiation breech so severe, it was the equivalent of 400 Hiroshima's (400 atomic bombs); and a cloud of radiation covered most of the Soviet Union and Europe.
Residents in the nearby town of Pripyat saw the explosion, but no one knew what was going on. The incident was heavily downplayed by the Soviet media. It wasn't until nuclear physicists in Sweden detected an abnormal amount of radiation did the Soviet Union finally make a public statement on the matter.
Evidence of widespread radiation sickness was detected and people were falling sick within hours. 1 day later, an immediate evacuation of all 50,000 residents of Pripyat was announced. Residents were told to "take nothing and leave immediately, they would be back in a few weeks" (obviously they didn't return).
On 27th April 1986, Pripyat took it's first step towards its new status as the "ghost town" of Ukraine.
The Chernobyl Tour
I'm standing in front of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor listening to the guide talk about the history of Chernobyl, showing us a picture of how the Reactor was like before and after the incident.
Tours cost anything from $89 USD to over $100 USD depending on how early you book and what season it is. The hostel I was staying in was affiliated with Solo East Travel, one of the larger Chernobyl tour operators in Kiev.
I had to send in my passport information and book my tour around 10 days in advance as I "needed to be screened" (no idea for what though). There were about 10 of us on the tour and we departed from Kiev at 8am on a minibus. For what must have been half the journey, the driver played a DVD on how the incident took place and its aftermath, probably so we would understand more about the significance of the place we were visiting. From Kiev, it was another 2 - 3 hours before I finally arrived at the first checkpoint, signaling I was at the entrance of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
There was an English speaking guide assigned to us. Armed with a Geiger counter (to gauge the levels of radiation) and an album of photographs, he would explain and share stories on the incident and show us how things were BEFORE and AFTER the event.
Must See Sites in Chernobyl (Besides the Reactor)
A visit to Chernobyl and the town of Pripyat offers a glimpse into a world that no longer exists. Standing at the entrance of the exclusion zone, I felt excitement. But the deeper in got, the excitement gave way to an eerie sensation as wave after wave of the devastation and events that day actually started to hit me.
The experience of it all was just mind-blowing.
The Azure Swimming Pool
This swimming pool used to be one of the most popular places in town. Imagine what it must have been like 30 years ago.
The Azure Swimming pool from another angle. This is one pool you'll not want fall into. I guarantee there won't be a splash.
The Amusement Park
This is the entrance of the amusement park. The guide showed us a photo of how it used to be like. Look how overgrown it is now!
Arguably the most iconic "site" on the Chernobyl tour; the Ferris Wheel
I loved bumper cars as a kid. Pity the children of Pripyat never got to try this.
I read somewhere that the amusement park actually opened on the day of the incident. One day later, everyone was evacuated.
Infant care anyone? Not sure how they packed up the babies for evacuation. Sure hope they weren't left behind.
To get to the rooms, we had to walk through dark hallways like this one (this was the brightest hallway, hence the photo)
Not the best room to have an operation.
I liked exploring haunted places like "Old Changi Hospital" (in Singapore) as a teenager, but I'm not so sure I'd dare to spend the night here.
The Community Center
Like the amusement park, the community center has become overgrown.
Anyone fancy a game of soccer? The floorboards might give way though.
The community center's pool. There might be water in this one, but I wouldn't want to make a splash.
It's possible to climb to the top of the hotel for a birds eye view of Pripyat and Chernobyl Reactor.
The Middle School With Gas Masks
Hundreds of gas masks can be found all over this school
Evidently the gas masks weren't of much help as most of the rescuers and scientists died themselves
No school for today (and for the past 30 years to be precise).
Middle School No. 3
The Apartment Blocks
Dense vegetation has over run most of the town, save for the larger buildings.
It is possible to climb up close to 17 levels of stairs in some of the apartment blocks to get a birds eye view of the city and the Chernobyl Reactor. I didn't have the energy for anything like that though. Evidently, the lifts are no longer working.
Pay first, drive later. In the days of Soviet Union, you had to pay for your car first, then collect your car around 10 years after.
A typical house in the city of Pripyat. Over time, the structure has rotted away.
Doesn't this remind you of our primary school halls in Singapore? Looks like the same design is used all over the world.