Chernobyl: Not exactly on everyone’s must-see list

I always got strange looks when I told people I was visiting Chernobyl. Maybe it was for fear of me getting radiation poisoning, or many people don’t have a desire to see a place that is synonymous with death and destruction. But for me, it was important to be reminded of how fragile life and the environment really are.

I started my day waiting for pickup at Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kiev. The driver from Solo East Travel met with me and a couple from Russia right on time. We were extremely lucky on this day because it would only be the three of us. The driver told me usually there are 30 or 40 people on each tour, but because today was a national holiday (Victory Day), bookings were slow. We all got into the van and watched a very informative documentary about the Chernobyl disaster for the two hour ride to the Exclusion Zone.

Our guide met us at the checkpoint. Here, we had to present our passports to match our names on the government list for entry to the zone. We passed through and got a quick rundown of the events for the day and she answered any questions we had.

There were a few simple rules we had to follow:

  • Don’t touch anything
  • Don’t take anything
  • Stay away from vegetation as much as possible

It was interesting to learn about the life of the guides and potential exposure to radiation. They work 15 days on and 15 days off and live in dorms in the Exclusion Zone while working.

All throughout the tour, the guide told us stories and shared photos of the city of Pripyat before the disaster occurred. She also carried a Geiger counter to keep an eye on radiation levels.

At the end of the tour, we stopped in the town of Chernobyl for lunch. We then had to go back through the checkpoint and pass a simple radiation test before being allowed to continue back to Kiev.

Overall, it was the most amazing and eye-opening tour I have ever taken. We did skip a few minor things on the itinerary, like feeding the giant mutated catfish and visiting with settlers, but being allowed to go into some of the buildings more than made up for it.

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