5 Years exploring Chernobyl

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UrbanX

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As you probably know, I have been visiting Chernobyl regularly for the last five years.

This is a trip report from the last 80-Hour mission, but many locations were revisits, so this collection of reports have been built up over a five year period. Everything that appears in bold in this summary report is a clickable link to a full report including photos (including ‘back-in-the-day’ photos) videos, information and anecdotes.

There are about 70 locations discussed in detail so be sure to keep clicking the links! As well as location reports there are also information reports, i.e. Sleeping in Chernobyl, Shopping In Chernobyl, and the biggest of all Eating in Chernobyl!
I know that’s a lot to ask and I don’t expect you to have 70 tabs open. I know a lot of people like to explore maps, so here’s SOME of the locations dropped onto the map. Each pin is also clickable to reveal a report of photos / video / information.

Hopefully clicking on this map will bring the interactive one up!

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This obsession has left most of my passport looking like this, which is always fun to have to explain at UK immigration:

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Intro:
The way Access to Chernobyl works, is that there are about 6-8 licenced government guides that are allowed to access Pripyat. There are around 200-300 Companies offering Chernobyl tours, but essentially they are booking agents and middlemen. You will always get one of those 6-8 government guides.

On my previous trips I had booked through a guide directly, as I just happen to be quite good personal friends with one. But with the increasing enforcement of the “no entry to buildings” law, and the fact that my guide is very senior in rank (and sensibility) it was time for a change. GPSJim suggested we book through http://www.chernobylwel.com.

To make this trip extra special and different from the rest we managed to book 4 days in the zone. The longest any 'western tourist' had ever spent there, and is also the maximum time in the zone allowed for “4/3 workers”. We were to spend 80 hours inside the zone, 20 times longer than you get on a normal day trip. I worried that anyone would even want to go out there for that long, let alone commit that much money to an Urbex trip. Nervously I set my FriendFace Status to “Chernobyl. 4 Days. May. £____ - Who’s in?”.

Within an hour all 10 places were taken.

(Note: We’d booked all 16 available places, but chose to take a smaller number of people – I’ve found on previous trips by taking half the people, you see over twice as much)

Due to the sheer number of places that I’ve now documented, I’ve written this kind of like a summery, with clickable links to 70 location / information reports. The links are there, please click them!


Chernobyl Day 1:

Half an hour after climbing down from A spot of rooftopping I was on a minibus speeding towards the exclusion zone. On the bus a smart flip down TV was playing the “Battle for Chernobyl Documentary”, and making me question why I keep coming back here! After a couple of hours driving we have all of our documents checked at the Dytyatki Checkpoint and we are let into the zone of exclusion.

About 12 Km we arrived in Chernobyl town itself. Down the path of the central square in Chernobyl a few hundred signs with Cyrillic names on them. On my previous visit I asked my guide if they were memorials to people that had died in the accident, he soberly replied ”No, they are villages that died in the accident”. My guide today proudly told me proudly that he was born in one of the villages. I certainly didn’t believe him as he didn’t look older than 28, but he went on to explain that his village was only liquidated a decade after the accident, before proudly holding his ID with his place of birth in front of his villages sign.

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The Chernobyl Fire fighters station is still very much in use, and serves as a base for the brave firefighters stationed all over the exclusion zone. It’s not that well know but in the summer months firefighters are positioned on raised platforms all over the Red Forest watching out for forest fires. The knock on effects of a fire breaking out in the most radioactive woodland on Earth don’t even bear thinking about.

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I feel a duty to visit the firefighters monument every time I’m here to honour and respect the bravery of the people that sacrificed themselves to save others. This time round I learned that the people in the monument are actually modelled on real people, and enclosed in the concrete briefcase of this guy is an actual bottle of this guys favourite vodka!

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Almost adjacent to the firefighters monument is a display of the Reactor 4 Robots that were developed to clear the highly radioactive debris off of the Reactor 4 roof. Some ‘went bezerk’ due to the radiation, going out of control and zooming off the edge. Part of me likes to think they were committing suicide as they couldn’t handle it anymore… anyway they’re great to see and have all been refurbished and given a fresh lick of paint earlier this year.

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People often forget that Chernobyl is actually a really old settlement -it started appearing on maps as early as 1193! Since then there has always been a place of worship sited here at St. Elias church , which is the only functioning church in the exclusion zone. Orthadox ceremonies are held at all of the major festival, April 26th, and every Sunday morning. I was lucky enough to be invited to one of these ceremonies, but have decided not to publish the video.

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I was surprised to hear that there were five synagogues in the exclusion zone, none of them are functioning anymore. But seeing as Chernobyl Synagogue was only a few hundred yards away I thought it would be rude not to visit!

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Leaving Chernobyl we start driving the 17Km North towards Pripyat. Passing through the now liquidated village of Kopachi. It was the largest village in the zone and was almost completely liquidated. Where each house once stood is simply a radiation marker. The village is only a few kilometres South of the Reactor and was unlucky enough to receive a high dose immediately after the accident (the wind was blowing south). It’s still quite ‘hot’ now. My Geiger didn’t move off of the alarm-sounding ‘Dangerous’ reading the whole time I was there:
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The one remaining building is the Kindergarten, which I was really interested in seeing to compare it to the Kindergartens in Pripyat You can find a report on the Kopachi Kindergarten here.

From here we passed the infamous Pripyat City Sign for a group photo, over The Bridge of Death and through The Pripyat City Checkpoint into the abandoned city. I’ve entered the city through this checkpoint 20+ times now, but the total awe when you drive along Lenin Avenue never fails to take my breath away. The scale of the street scene is grand: and one cant fail to acknowledge that 50,000 people were evacuated down this road in just 3 hours.

Pulling into the main square I wanted to start exploring the city with something new, so headed straight to the Restaurant in the square which I’d never actually visited before. Pripyat was a young, and prosperous city, which boasted way more leisure facilities than most soviet towns of that size. It showed too, the restaurant was so massive I got lost quite a few times in there!

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Behind the restaurant is the Post office / telecoms centre which I’d also never been to before. An amazing mural is still in pretty good condition on the wall and postcards still cover the floor:

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From here it’s only a matter of crossing a road to get to the tourist hotspot which is the fairground . Made popular by some computer game or other, its iconic Ferris wheel stands proudly above the trees. It was set up for the May Day celebrations in 1986 (which are a massive thing in Ukraine) but obviously the accident was on April 26th: so it still stands here, creaking away.

Fun Fact: there is a really ‘hot’ bit of the fairground where a lump of reactor landed from the initial explosion. They have removed the offending item, and re-tarmacked it several times, but you can still get readings above 100uSv if you know where to look.

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While in the fairground, it’s hard not to be tempted into the nearest big building, which happens to be The Palace of Culture Again, I have visited this on my last five visits, it never gets old, and there’s always new things to find…Like the underground shooting range! Or the boxing ring built above a swimming pool… Of course my favourite place in there is among the letters on the roof, but there’s still a lovely mural going down the main stairs.

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There is an attached theatre which houses several large paintings backstage, which unfortunately I’ve seen deteriorate, and be vandalized over the years. There are a lot of photos online of the building in-use if you know where to look: my favourite of which is of Pripyats own rock band “Pulsar” performing on the steps!

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By now it was getting dark, and I was getting tired, so I decided to end my day in the very first building that I went into in Pripyat Hotel Polissya Despite going straight up to the penthouse on my first visit, I’d never gone that one stage further and climbed the rickety rusting ladder bolted to the outside of the building until today.

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I sat among the rusting iron letters on the roof watching the sky turn orange over the main square and reflected on my first day back in the zone. I looked across to the new safe-confinement arch which dominated the horizon next to the dilapidated sarcophagus, hoping it would bring a bit more stability to the future of the zone.

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We drove back to the new hotel in Chernobyl town itself which has recently opened. To my surprise (and delight) they have a fully stocked bar! You can now legitimately go drinking in Chernobyl! They're prices are silly cheap too, a pint is 10UAH which at the time of writing is just under 50p. Wine seemed to vary depending on my sobriety, but started at 13UH about 60p. So needless to say after only eating a measly portion of unidentified meat we were all nicely pissed, swapping old explorers tales. I've done a whole separate report on sleeping in Chernobyl here if you're interested:


Boom! Day 2!
Waking up in Chernobyl always feel slightly surreal, in a "Did I just spend a night sleeping IN Chernobyl" kinda way! So with some more unidentified meat in us we were ready for what was going to be a big day: Duga Day.

Duga is massive.

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Archive Pic

I've seen it on every trip just on the horizon. It looks like a huge scaffold: It's nearly a kilometre long, and nearly twice the height of St. Pauls Cathedral. It's HUGE! It's always been "forbidden" (in an enforced way) to even go near it. However this all changed in October 2013 when they decided to let tourists go up close to the array.

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Duga was Top Secret right into the 90's. It even appeared on maps as a 'Childrens activity centre'! Pulling off the main road, all of the bus stops to Duga are still covered in childish murals of teddy bears. To maintain this secrecy all the vehicles were maintained and stored 'in house', so my first stop was to see the Duga garages and driver learning centre attached to the project:

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The two facts that you need to know about Duga:
1) It used 30% of all of the power produced by all of the Chernobyl reactors
2) It cost TWICE as much as all the Chernobyl reactors put together.

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I walked the couple of hundred yards until I was beneath the array. The scale of it is completely incomprehensible. The sounds it makes are incredible! There is the general “whoosh” of air going through it, which sounds a bit like the white noise of a plane in the distance. But the metallic creaks and moans seem to be amplified through the hollow tubes. Looking over my shoulder with no one about I jumped onto the first ladder and began to climb. It wasn’t long before sweetpea and Mr Dan were also scaling past me on the ladders! I looked around for GPS Jim who I know would love this, but he was nowhere to be seen, I later found out that at this point he was actually a few hundred feet above me!

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They have started dismantling Duga as there is simply no need for it anymore. They seen to have started by simply cutting off all of the lower ties at head level! I wonder if they’re just waiting for the wind to fell it?

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UrbanX on the roof of the control room

In front of the array is the control rooms: There’s nothing too exciting in here, there’s a few nice peely corridors etc. When I was in one control room, seemingly alone, I heard some people approaching. Not a problem, I just assumed it was other members of our group, but no: two guys in nuclear protection suits and a guard walk in, Geiger’s clicking away. They see me sat on a beam in a T-shirt, greeting them with a “Oh Hai!”. They rolled their eyes and walked off, clicking into the distance!



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Of course if you have this massive secret project, you need lots of people to operate it – and you can’t have thousands of military specialists buzzing in and out of a ‘Children’s activity camp’ all day. So another town of 15,000 people was built within the grounds of the array. It was simply called “Chernobyl 2”. As this area has been off limits to tourists and explorers for a lot longer than Pripyat, it’s actually in a lot better shape. In a lot of apartments wallpaper was peeling off in huge chunks to revel where the previous resident had dated the wall with the year of redecoration “1975”.

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Apartment blocks in Chernobyl 2

By now I was starving, so started heading back to Chernobyl 1 for lunch. On the way I passed five or six of these fantastic murals. Amazing to think they have been weathering for 30 years.

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There was also this guard dog, who ended up getting more attention than the actual array!
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After a dodgy lunch in Café 10, we set back off towards Pripyat for all of a quarter mile before the vehicle coughed to a stop. My guide ushered us out whilst on the phone, I don’t speak Russian, but there was definitely a “fire service” in there somewhere; this didn’t sound good. Then all of a sudden the timber gates next to where we were parked were flung open, by a firefighter who ushered us in. Odd…

“Welcome to Chernobyl Zoo” said my guide beaming from ear to ear. Now I have been researching Chernobyl quite heavily for five years, and have never even heard of a hint of a zoo! To be fair “Zoo” is quite a strong word: “Small holding with some animals the firemen have managed to capture” is possibly a better description. Although the excitement and novelty of the situation overwhelmed me enough to run like a school kid straight to the wolf enclosure!

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One of the guys decided to wake up the wild boar, a brave man indeed, even if he did feel the need to carry a scaffolding pole with him. I’d always imaged a boar to be about the size of an Alsatian; Oh no, think more Shetland pony! They’re huge! I would not want one of them running at me at ramming speed!

[ame]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LB1SMeAqyxg[/ame]

When the novelty had worn off we sped back through the Pripyat City checkpoint and went to visit Schoool #1. This is known in the exclusion zone as the first building to have collapsed in Pripyat. It was in the middle of the night in July 2005, and no one was near it at the time. It also suffered another collapse this previous winter, adding to the suspicion it wasn’t as well built as the rest of the city.

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If a school falls in an abandoned city does it make a sound?

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Pripyat hospital was used to treat people suffering the effects of radiation in the immediate aftermath of the accident. There is some firefighters clothing in the reception area that can send a Geiger counter off the scale (i.e. over 1,000uSv) even 28 years later. I’ve been here before but I was obsessed with getting on the roof then! So I spent much more time exploring the actual hospital on this visit justifying Hospital 126 - a new report here:

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One place I had definitely not been to before was the Landing stage / houseboat . After the accident this somehow lost its mooring and drifted down the Pripyat river before coming to rest on this bank at a list of about 30 degrees. I’d always seen it from afar, but never really had time to climb aboard until now:

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The best view along the river can be found at Café Pripyat, just a few hundred meters along the bank, so that’s where I headed next. The residents of Pripyat enjoyed their recreation, and watersports were a big part of that. There’s lots of photos online of people sailing on the river, fishing was popular and there were even regular boat services from here to Kiev. Report, and some retro photos of the café here:

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Walking from the Café back into the city you pass through a sort of ‘leisure district’. Coming first to the Prometheus cinema. So called as there used to be a statue of Prometheus out the front (The Greek God credited to giving fire to mankind – apt). The statue was moved shortly after the accident amid fears that it would be looted / damaged, but is on public display between Catfish Bridge and the Reactor 4 offices.

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Guide holding an old photo showing the Prometheus statue in place

The next building along is Pripyat Music School. It’d normally be unheard of to have a dedicated music school in a soviet town of this size, but with Pripyats young and creative population, it would have been buzzing. As well as being a school, it housed a couple of large auditoriums where recitals were often held. Sitting at the piano, you can almost imagine a student playing one of the soviet classics by Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff in front of a room of parents.

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As light was fading I started to walk back through the main square to our meeting spot on Lenin Avenue before leaving the city for another day. On the way I popped into some of the shops on the corner of Lenin avenue: A furniture shop, and an appliance shop (think DFS & Currys).

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Back in the Chernobyl Café another meat & pasta meal was presented, but this time the meat was distinctive enough to identify: Rabbit!

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Chernobyl Rabbit & Pasta

Although identifiable, the portions were measly, and conversation soon turned to cake. At that point the lights dimmed and in walks our guide; gingerly holding the biggest birthday cake, singing his heart out to Happy Birthday!. Instinctively we all joined in, realising he must have seen Sweetpeas date of birth on the official documents, and taken the initiative to find a cake (God knows where in Chernobyl!) Nice touch http://www.chernobylwel.com.

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Day 3:

One of the best things about sleeping in the zone is being able to get up and start exploring straight away. So at silly-o-clock in the morning after a nice cold, but probably radioactive shower I found myself heading off in to the red forest. It wasn’t long before we’d found the Red Forest Vehicle Graveyard.

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It wasn’t massively radioactive here (except the trailer that Mr Dan decided to stand on…) but I wouldn’t want to spend much more than an hour here:

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11uSv – 110 times higher than normal background radiation

So I headed into Pripyat. I don’t like revisiting places, especially when I’ve been so many times, but it would seem silly to come all the way to Pripyat, and not go in the Swimming Pool!

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Fun Fact: Pripyat swimming pool was actually in use in 1995 – Nearly a decade after the disaster!

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The swimming pool in 1995

I knew I’d be alone for a while, so I decided to hit some rooftops. I started with the next building along from the Swimming Pool in District 3 - here’s the view looking down onto the pool.

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Then I done something I’d never done whilst exploring Pripyat before.

I got naked.

I’m not sure what prompted me to do it, I guess the overflowing feeling of freedom. Of feeling like I was the last person in the world. Due to the Radiation in Pripyat, you’re advised to wear full length clothing at all times, so I’m not recommending you do this, but… my God it feels good.

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So good in fact, I popped over to District 4, and went Rooftopping there too: Stark bollock naked.

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In Pripyat it is forbidden to point your winky at the reactor

After feelings of freedom come feelings of guilt. So I decided to hand myself in to Pripyat Police Station.

Pripyat did have a small amount of crime. Mainly drunkeness, and therefore had it's own Police station. There's a bit of a scrapyard of impounded vehicles out the back and on the roof, I had a good look over them here:

I spent loads of time up there last time, playing on the roof, sitting in all the vehicles, when I didn't have a Geiger with me. I went up there this time with my new Geiger, only to see it go nuts and shoot up to 29 uSv! (290 times the background radiation!) So legged it straight back down this time!


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Just across the road from the police station is Pripyat Fire Station. It was one of the most important hubs in the hours following the accident. It’s large enough for four engines, and has a wicked tower, which I’ve had the pleasure of climbing several times now. It was a documented fact that the fire-fighters were plied almost constantly with vodka, to ‘flush out the radiation’ or just get them so blind drunk they were more ‘courageous’ in their actions.

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In Soviet Chernobyl light bulb light itself

It was time for lunch. The new owners of the Chernobyl Hotel have dictated that anyone who stays there must eat all of their meals there. I for one was sick of the unidentified meat, plus it was also 15 Km away - and I want to finish Pripyat off today. So we tried our chances and just rocked up at the Reactor 4 Workers canteen

We told them our plight, they said they had been expressly asked not to serve us. But a few iphone photos of what we’d been fed at the hotel soon had the babushkas running around, frantically trying to prepare a better meal for us. Which they did:

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This is what I’m talking about!
Borch with crutons,
Salad and meats,
TWO drinks, and the main course:
Battered fish and hand cut chips!

I left giving the babushkas a wink “See you tomorrow!”

Feeling stuffed, but energised, I marched back into Pripyat and shot up the first 16 storey tower block I could find!

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Looking out over Pripyat, Reactor 4 in the distance

As I was at the most Northerly point of the city, I took the opportunity to check on Belarus too, only a few Km away:
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Arsing about with the best view in the world. The whole city behind me is abandoned

Believe it or not, some people do manage to get in the zone illegally. It’s well guarded, but is a massive area. The risks are huge. It only takes one drunk armed guard in the wood to hear a rustling to end a trip very quickly. But some people risk it, and this is the most popular spot to stay apparently. The “Stalkers Flats” are one of a few apartment blocks in Pripyat that offers duplex apartments. Apart from that there’s nothing really that different about them.

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Despite making a dramatic entrance shouting “POLICE! POLICE!” there was no one in today

Kindergartens are another one of the clichéd views of Pripyat. With good reason too, there were 15 Kindergartens in the city at the time of evacuation, none of them particularly small either. This one is Kindergarten #13 “Goldfish” But there are a lot more on my site if you’re interested.

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What always wrenches my heartstrings is that I was at Kindergarten age at the time of the accident.
When I see photos of kids playing or dancing I can’t help wonder what their life has become.
What do they do for a living?
Do they have hobbies?

Then I remember that it’s very unlikely that any of the kids in the photos are still alive.

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We all know the iconic Pripyat sign, I’ve even managed to squeeze a whole report out of it here: But did you know there was a second Pripyat sign for those entering the city from the North?

Well there is, here it is:

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There are more photos of the second sign, and it’s associated checkpoint here:

Despite my third day drawing to a close I wanted to revisit the mysterious Jupiter Plant. But I was told that that was now Strictly Forbidden (They seem to have different levels of forbidden in Ukraine). But I was to settle for the associated Jupiter Plant Vehicle Graveyard:

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With it being our last night in the zone for now, we partied like it was 1986. We found that they kept a small reserve of “Champagne” behind the bar in Chernobyl, and we tentatively enquired as to how much it might be…

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”That works out to £2.50 a bottle!” – Sweetpea

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After closing time just as we were leaving, a few local workers came in. Although they were interesting to talk to, we wondered why they chose to come and drink with tourists instead of their colleagues? Less than a minute later one particularly creepy guy (triple denim too) had bought me a large vodka before proceeding to stroke my arm….Right time to be off!

We all headed back to my room (excluding the creepy workers) to carry on the drinking, dancing, and a game of ‘name that tune’ followed by an urbex quiz!

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Success as the first branch of Butlins opens in Chernobyl

Day four arrived with a distinctly worse hangover than the previous few days. I couldn’t face eating any unidentified meat at breakfast, and just tried to fill up on strong black coffee before heading out into the cool fresh air of the morning. After meeting the Urupa family of resettlers in 2012 , it was my number one priority of this trip to meet some more, so that would be my mission for the day.

If you remember from my last report, there were only 3 villagers in Parishev: Maria and Mikial (Ivan) Urupa, and another lady. I was desperate to get back to see them, however the night before I was due to visit the other lady passed away. I couldn’t bear to bring myself to visit them, and I really doubted they wanted to see me.

Luckily, as I pulled into a small village about 20Km East of Chernobyl I was met by Hanna, an 80 year old ‘self settler’ who clearly ruled this village. The full story / photos of meeting the ‘Self Settlers’ is here. If you’re going to take one report away from this mammoth essay, make sure it’s this one.

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Despite me only being there for less than a minute she begins to prepare a meal, and shoos me away while she does. I walk through the smallholding trying not to tread on the gaggle of chickens running round my feet. I start walking towards the village graveyard which is just behind her cottage. On the way I pass another elderly lady hobbling down the road. She stops me, again with a quick string of Ukrainian which I don’t understand. But then she holds her hands to her face making the international gesture for ‘Photo’ before pointing her stick to the road. I look where she’s pointing and there is a small snake at her feet! I look up at her and she does the ‘photo’ thing again, so I get as low and close as I dare to take a photo of it:

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After my shutter clicks I realise she’s moved her walking stick away; I look up to make sure she’s OK, just in time to notice she has raised the stick above her head.

I pause, she swings it down at great speed, I feel the ‘woosh’ of it passing inches from my face, before the crunch of it going through the poor snake’s skull!

I jump back up onto to my feet as she grinds the stick into the lifeless snake whilst muttering something in Ukrainian (although I swear I heard ‘Putin’ in there somewhere).

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The graveyard was amazingly well tended, and seemed a stark contrast to the rest of the exclusion zone. There was also a large portion of new graves from recent years. There are 19 People left in the village. Most of them were born in this village - They will all certainly be buried right here.

Unknowingly, I’d coincided my visit with the weekly supplies van visit, It was also pension day, which is bought in the same van once a month. Their pensions are actually quite generous, equivalent to someone working 40 hours a week on minimum wage. The whole village came to meet the van, patiently queuing. After collecting their money they bought basic supplies like toilet rolls and flour, although they actually consume very little; growing and slaughtering what they need themselves.

As I’m admiring the food Hanna brushes past me at quite some speed for a lady of her age, holding a gleaming machete. She quickly and expertly slices a lump of fat the size of a fist which is sat on the table into thin slices before laying them into home cooked bread. There’s a jar of pickled gherkins (a Ukrainian favourite) some fried meat balls, and a large pot of seasoned potatoes also laid out.

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There was also two small bottles of clear liquid, which I’m guessing wasn’t water. I was painfully hungover and my stomach has been on a spin cycle since the snake slaying. But I’m a polite guest, and quickly tucked into the food which was actually delicious.

Then the time came… Hanna poured out the home made moonshine into glasses. As she poured she didn’t even look at the glasses, she made eye contact with each of us in turn, almost sizing us up to see if we would be able to handle it.

After a short speech from our interpreter we all raised our glasses and I threw back as much of it as I could. My god it burned. I could feel a sear from my lips down to my throat, staining everywhere that the liquid had touched in pain. I’m ashamed to say I only finished half my glass, but my reaction was enough to give Hanna a big belly laugh.

As I was swilling the remainder of the moonshine around the bottom of the glass, an elderly gent emerged from one of the sheds and greeted me with the same string of Ukrainian which I’d failed to understand twice already today. I replied with the usual smile and nod, but I also realised I could probably palm this moonshine off to him.

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I offered him my glass and raised my eyebrows. He happily took it and drained it without so much a grimace.

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Hanna didn’t like it though. Not because of my inability to finish the drink, but because of her neighbour getting bevvied up at 10am. She slapped his hand and he laughed like a schoolboy a tenth his age. As soon as Hanna was distracted enough, I managed to sneak him a few more half glasses of moonshine (I’m glad it wasn’t just me that couldn’t finish it). After Hanna had cleared away all of the empties (eyeing us, and the now swaying man with suspicion) she joined us to talk about the resettlement.

“The Soviets declared that the village was within the 18-mile uninhabitable zone, so evicted all of us [116,000 residents] with a pension, an apartment and sketchy information about the health risks. In the following years, we were joined by a few hundred thousand more, all displaced, most from the land where they’d grown up.”

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But Hanna, who had been forced out in the first group, did not accept that fate.

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Three months after being relocated, she returned with her husband, her mother-in-law and a handful of other members of their collective farm, most of whom are now queuing at the blue van behind me. When government officials objected, she responded, “Shoot us and dig the grave; otherwise we’re staying”

Hanna was among some 1,200 returnees, called 'self-settlers’, most of whom were in their 50’s, who made their way back in the first few years after the accident, despite the authorities’ legitimate concerns - Although the self-settlers’ have a deep love of their ancestral homes, it’s a fact that the soil, air and water here in the Exclusion Zone is the among the most heavily contaminated on earth.

It is now estimated that there are under 200 resettlers in the whole zone. A number I have been freshly reminded is falling all the time. I guess that’s what saddened me the most about visiting the village - the thought that in five years time it’s unlikely there will be anyone alive in this village at all, it’ll just be empty.

I asked if she was scared of the radiation at all? She laughed and gave a similar response to what I had heard from the previous resettlers: She told me that she was born in 1934, right in the middle of the Holodomor. Stalin was starving the people of Ukraine to keep them subservient, where it’s estimated that up to five million Ukrainians were starved to death. She explained that a lot of families were forced into killing and eating their own infants just to stay alive.

She survived this, but things didn’t get easier; when she was six years old the Nazis stormed through the village, raping and pillaging. When they stole all of her father’s potatoes, he begged for mercy and asked for them to just leave a few for the family, they threatened to kill him. Ten and a half million Ukrainians were slaughtered by the Nazi, but miraculously Hanna’s family survived. She made it clear that she wouldn’t be moving for some threat that she cant even see, smell or taste.

As I departed, she left me with the words “You can take me from my mother, but you can’t take me from my motherland.”

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We sped back through the Red Forest heading North until we got to the “Parishev Vehicle Museum” I feel bad calling it a “museum” as all the vehicles here are serviceable and can be bought into action at any time if needed. There are fire fighters positioned all over the exclusion zone due to the consequences of even a small forest fire. At first these fire-fighters were all “Do not touch the vehicles!” but five minutes and a few hundred notes later, they were opening up all the vehicles for us to play in!

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It was time for lunch: I still felt pretty rough and the moonshine hadn’t taken the edge off at all, just made me feel worse. So I decided to chance our luck in the forbidden Reactor 4 Workers canteen again! As soon as we walked in the fearless babushkas shrieked with excitement and the kitchen became a hive of activity again. Soon the whole buffet was filled with plates of amazing looking food.

They surpassed themselves! Wild Boar steak, with melted cheese on top, and hand cut chips!
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After we’d finished our guy from http://www.chernobylwel.com made a lovely speech about how much he loved travelling with us, and handed all of us really cool team T-shirts! What a lovely touch!

We managed to sneak a few loaves out, and take a walk down to the quarantined section of the cooling canals to feed the Giant Catfish.

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Right next door to the cooling canal is the Prometheus statue mentioned earlier, which used to be outside the Prometheus Cinema in Pripyat, but was moved here after the accident for safe keeping.

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It only seems fitting then before I leave to visit the one thing that bought about this five year long obsession.

Reactor 4.

I’d always recommend to anyone visiting the zone to read up extensively on the disaster to understand the gravitas of what one is visiting. The wiki entry here is a good starting place:

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Reactor 4 in 2012. Note: it still has both chimneys

The gravitas of this structure first hit home to me when we were driving to the reactor for the first time and I turned to one of my fellow explorers to ask how he was feeling about the visit:

“It’s like visiting a serial killer at the scene of the crime”

He was right. At the time of writing this building is estimated to have claimed over one million lives.

When people interrogate me as to why there is so much security surrounding the exclusion zone “Just for an abandoned town” it’s not for Pripyat – it’s for this. This crumbling, cracking, makeshift concrete sarcophagus, which is held up partly be friction, and partly just leaning on the original structure contains Chernobyl’s legacy. 180 Tonnes of highly, highly radioactive lava, formed from the Uranium fuel.

To put this into context: 1Kg of uranium holds more energy than 2,700,000 Kg of coal.

To compare the radioactive contamination to Fukushima:
So far Fukushima has released 370 PBq.
Chernobyl Released 5,200 PBq almost instantly.

During the disaster 5% of the fuel was thrown into the air in a steam explosion, which has contaminated most of Northern Europe indefinitely. 95% of it is still here. In there.

The old sarcophagus was put up in such a hurry, not to any real design, in the very worse conditions, and was only expected to last 20 years. There are a few photos in my Reactor 4. report of the concrete silos used during production of the Sarcophagus which can be found just up the road.

I still find it astounding that I can stand here, a mere 100 meters from it.

Tourist:
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So it’s on borrowed time. It’s been patched up a few times though…Here’s a before and after of the when the roof covering was repaired in 2009. (The new roof partially collapsed in 2011 under snow, but to no detriment)

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Here’s Mrs X and myself celebrating my 30th Birthday at the reactor (Note the badge :p)
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So we started driving out the zone, passing through a full body scan at the Leliv checkpoint. But just before we arrived at the 30Km Checkpoint the guide stopped the van yelling “Come on! We’re not done yet, there’s still more!” I loved his hunger to explore!

So we visited the village of Cherevach and its Cherevach Town Hall. Cherevach also has a shop which is featured in Call Of Duty, there are some comparison photos on the above link.

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Thank you so much if you’ve made it this far, I hope you’ve clicked on a few of the links above and begun to explore the Exclusion Zone with me. If you want to email me any questions or need any advice on visiting the zone, please feel free to contact me via my website in my signature. Thanks again.
 
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SlimJim

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Very impressive! I particularly enjoyed the "Eating in the zone" link :D Were the icecreams actually potent or just a gimmick type thing?
 

UrbanX

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Very impressive! I particularly enjoyed the "Eating in the zone" link :D Were the icecreams actually potent or just a gimmick type thing?

Cheers!
Lol not sure! We certainly didn't get stoned. They had alcoholic Starburst too, but you'd have to eat quite a bit to get bladddered!
 

gingrove

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Fantastic report! I havent had time to follow the links yet but I'll work my way through over the next few days. I do like your new radiation monitor, your shots with it in give a great feel for what the place is like now (ok I admit that it's probably due to me being in the radiation safety Dept. (Health Physics) at Harwell for the last 30 odd years.) I remember waiting for the fallout cloud to arrive and running the first air samples on the roof of our building when it got to Oxfordshire. As I remember that was on the Friday afternoon before the bank holiday all those years ago. If you decided to publish all of your reports from there I'm pretty sure that it would become the definitive guide! Thanks for putting in all the work to let us see it! And let me know if you ever find a way into the reactor building I'll come and do the radiation survey for you! :skull::skull::skull:
 

UrbanX

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Fantastic report! I havent had time to follow the links yet but I'll work my way through over the next few days. I do like your new radiation monitor, your shots with it in give a great feel for what the place is like now (ok I admit that it's probably due to me being in the radiation safety Dept. (Health Physics) at Harwell for the last 30 odd years.) I remember waiting for the fallout cloud to arrive and running the first air samples on the roof of our building when it got to Oxfordshire. As I remember that was on the Friday afternoon before the bank holiday all those years ago. If you decided to publish all of your reports from there I'm pretty sure that it would become the definitive guide! Thanks for putting in all the work to let us see it! And let me know if you ever find a way into the reactor building I'll come and do the radiation survey for you! :skull::skull::skull:

Fascinating! Great to have a first hand anecdote from someone in the field!

I know I wasn't sure how to publish this really: I've narrowed it down to 70 odd locations - but didn't want to take over the forum and post them all!

It's a shame I cant embed the map as I think a lot of people will like that format!

Hopefully clicking on this map will bring the interactive one up!

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Thanks for reading this far!
 

GPSJim

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Wow! Excellent report, mate!
Made it in life (inside joke) :)
 

Stealthstar79

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I really enjoyed that!
Love the story and photos of Hannah and her neighbour, really thought provoking!
I think I would do a Karl Pilkington though, and take a packet of Pickled onion Monster munch ( Unidentified meat is not for me!) ;)
 

Mikeymutt

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That my friend is prob the most amazing thing I have read on here.thank you so much.and I ain't started exploring the map yet :)
 

IHuey

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Blimey... what a fascinating place. I have always been intrigued with the 'aftermath' of Chernobyl. Great photo's and a glowing report (or was that just a result of the radiation? :) )

Thanks for sharing...

IHuey
 

AgentTintin

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You must be the world's number one expert on Chernobyl now :mrgreen: Always thoroughly enjoy your posts!
 

MrDan

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Lee, I have to commend you on this effort!
it was fantastic visiting with you and I definitely want to visit again, I still haven't really sorted my photos... partially due to being busy, partially due to actually being quite overwhelmed when I look through them.
 

Onmyown

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My word, what a report, well more like a documentary. All I can say is it's absolutely amazing, thanks for putting so much effort into producing a piece of work like this. It must've taken you weeks, cheers fella.
 

gingrove

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Fascinating! Great to have a first hand anecdote from someone in the field!

I know I wasn't sure how to publish this really: I've narrowed it down to 70 odd locations - but didn't want to take over the forum and post them all!

It's a shame I cant embed the map as I think a lot of people will like that format!

Hopefully clicking on this map will bring the interactive one up!

MapGrab_zps66847150.jpg

Thanks for reading this far!

Call me old fasioned but I was thinking of a glossy large format book that would do your photographs justice! or how about an exhibition in a gallery?
 

egodge

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Really impressive report! Pictures look fantastic- and St. Elias Church quite beautiful. Really great to be able meet some of the people who have resettled there too. In all seriousness, have you ever considered publishing any of your material on Chernobyl as a book? As yet I've only read this report that you've done on it - but there's so much here and so much more! Really, really amazing report. Thanks very much for sharing :)
 
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LittleOz

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Awesome. You've set a new standard in reportage with this little lot. Definitely got to be a book (though I could do with not seeing the nudes again :)
 

Desolate Nation

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Now that is a report to be proud of Mr X,absolutely stunning work :) ,cant wait to make a visit here myself in the not to distance future :)
 
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