August 29: Chernobyl

Today was the beginning of my whole reason for coming to Ukraine in the first place!  I was at the meeting point at the train station quite early as I was paranoid about somehow getting misdirected; I wasn’t the only one though!  I found the other three people in the group but we didn’t find the guide right away which was a little stressful.  On the drive to the first checkpoint (at the edge of the 30 km exclusion zone) we watched a documentary about the disaster.

There were a lot of rules that we had to sign a form agreeing to but a lot of them aren’t enforced most of the time (wearing long sleeves, not entering buildings in Pripyat etc.).

Not long after the first checkpoint we stopped at the “village” of Zalissya.  By my standards it was definitely more of a town and had housed about 2,000 people.  Its last resident, a self-settler, died only about a year ago.  Self settlers were older people who came back to their homes illegally after the evacuation but their presence was tolerated; there were once thousands but as many have now died (of old age) their numbers have dwindled to maybe a couple hundred.  We visited her house that still had clothes in the closet, pictures on the way and such.  There were obviously many buildings to explore here including many houses, two grocery stores, a health clinic, and a school but my favourite was definitely the culture house (basically a community centre).  It had originally be a family’s house (more like a mansion) but had been repurposed by the Soviets; they even changed the founding date on the building!  I think we could have spent close to a whole day here but we all knew that there were much better things to come so we moved on by lunchtime.

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Entrance to the culture house with its Soviet founding date

The town of Chernobyl is actually still pretty active as workers as still housed there; they stay for 15 days and then leave for 15 days. This is where our hotel (more of a hostel really) was; it also has a functioning church and a (very small) store along with quite a bit of housing and some offices. There are also some memorials here including signs for all the communities in both Ukraine and Belarus within the exclusion zone; there are so many!

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Just some of the signs of the former communities with the exclusion zone.

We then headed to Chernobyl’s port where there are some rusting boats.

After that we headed to a huge formerly secret Duga radar station. It was called Chernobyl 2 or by its nickname, the Russian Woodpecker. It is about 900 metres long. It was officially a summer camp. It was down a bit of a rough road and not too close to anything else. While it didn’t take long to look at the radar itself as I wasn’t interested in climbing it, there were lots of other places to explore at the site. I especially enjoyed looking through the medical centre. This was place was the first of a number of places I encountered that had signs of the Olympics back in 1980; the Olympics were clearly a big deal for the Soviet Union. While we were there one group member wandered off and we couldn’t find him for some time which was quite distressing to our guide; it seems that she would have been in big trouble if the police had to search for him. We did end finding him eventually and got through the 10 km checkpoint (our first experience with the radiation detectors) before the 7 pm deadline.

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Just part of the radar

My feet once again felt pretty terrible at the end of the day. After dinner, we headed to a bridge with a nice view of the power plant in the distance.

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