Monday 23 July 2018

From Draft... to Published | Chernobyl

When Mary and I did our long trip back to London from Asia, we travelled through Kiev because it was convenient for the route and to avoid the large visa cost of going via Belarus. Although it hadn't been on my list of places I'd like to visit, I ended up loving Kiev. It's a cool city, especially beautiful when the sun is shining. It's chock full of pastel churches and cobble stones. While we were there, we heard that it was possible to take a trip to Chernobyl, site of probably the world's worst nuclear disaster. The trip was quite expensive, and we weren't sure whether to blow a large part of our backpacker budget on it. In the end, after deciding to go for it, we weren't able to sign up as you have to give at least four days notice.

So when my work trip to Kiev was confirmed, I knew I wanted to book a couple of extra nights and take the trip. The area around the remaining site is known as the exclusion zone, a 30km area set up by the Soviet authorities. The area is still secure and you have to pass through check points in and out. All trip participants have to register with their passport to attend.

The journey there takes around 2 hours, during which a video is shown with gives details on the disaster (referred to as 'accident' throughout by the tour guides), and also the clean up and legacy. A couple of things I wasn't aware of previously; 

1. The reactor was initially covered with a cement sarcophagus to contain the radioactive debris but this was only ever intended as a shield, a short term solution to quickly minimise the damage. As time went on, it was clear that the cover was deteriorating and would not last more than 30 years before it collapsed sending the still contaminated dust back into out atmosphere. In the early 2000s, an international team of engineers worked together to create a better cover which could last much longer (100 years) and enable the deconstruction and safe removal of the reactor. 

2. The disaster occured in reactor 4. The other reactors continued to be used after the disaster and it wasn't until 2000 that the final one (reactor 3 - next to the one that exploded!) was decommissioned.

3. There was actually greater areas of land affected by the disaster in Belarus, and these parts of the country are still no-go areas.

4. Some people have now returned to Chernobyl town, and live there safely today.

The day trip is very long, and is quite tiring. But it is completely worth it. I have always been quite fascinated by abandoned places. Pripyat is probably the ultimate time capsule town. It's so quiet and peaceful, but with an undeniable sombreness in the air. Generally the visit was conducted with sensitivity, but a couple of times I had to remind myself that this was the site of other people's misfortune and suffering and should not be minimised to a tourist attraction.

I feel that I learnt a lot from this visit, and I saw a part of history that is fascinating, sad and unforgettable. 

The stands of the Football Stadium from Pripyat

The ferris wheel is one of the famous sites of Chernobyl, and it's especially sad as it was never used. The whole playground was created for May day celebrations, and the disaster happened on 27th April.

Quite before their time, Pripyat had a large supermarket. The ruins in the town are sad to see; rusted trolleys, broken glass, fallen in ceilings and water dripping from everywhere. But in 1986 this was quite unusual.

Our tour guide stopped by this sign, and told everyone to get out for 'selfie' time. It seemed very inappropriate and as you can see I just took a photo of everyone blindly following what she told them without questioning it.

The soviets were in the process of building more reactors; this is the site of 5 and 6 - the plan was to build 12 in total. Once reactor 4 exploded construction on all of these stopped. 

A Soviet ferrari!

The empty roads were creepy but the stillness was also quite peaceful and serene.

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