The town of Chernobyl is located around 90 kilometres northeast of the Ukrainian capital Kiev, in normal circumstances it would have been unlikely to have ever come to worldwide prominence, but on the 26th April 1986 an event occurred that would cause the name Chernobyl to be known around the world. On that date reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered a catastrophic failure during a supposedly routine test. The immediate failure produced a destructive steam explosion and later an open-air graphite fire. The fire sent plumes of fission products into the atmosphere which, in turn, led to radioactive fall-out over a large part of the western USSR and Europe, the effects of which are still being experienced today. Chernobyl would prove to be the most significant nuclear power plant accident in history. The immediate blast effects at the power plant caused two deaths and twenty-nine firemen and employees died in the following months from acute radiation syndrome. The long-term health effects of the disaster are unknown still being investigated.
The Chernobyl town population of 14,000 people was evacuated on 27th April 1986, one day after the disaster. While few former residents have since been able to return, today the population is just under 700 people and Chernobyl largely remains a ghost-town.
By December 1986 what remained of the reactor No.4 reactor was encased in a large sarcophagus which acts as a radiation shield to protect the crews still working at the undamaged Chernobyl reactors, some of which were still producing electricity well into the 21st century. Today visitors from around the world are able to tour Chernobyl and see for themselves the eerie aftermath of the worlds biggest nuclear disaster.
Visiting Chernobyl is a fascinating experience, a tour here takes you into an abandoned world which remains fixed in time, and largely unchanged since that day in 1986. At the village of Dytyatky on the edge of the 30km Chernobyl Exclusion zone your tour group will undergo document checks from the Ukrainian military and it is as you enter the exclusion zone that your experience really begins. As you journey through the zone, heading towards Chernobyl you will pass the abandoned villages of Cherevach and Zalissya, no-one lives here now, and they serve as a hint of what is to come later in the day.
When you reach the town of Chernobyl itself you will visit the Wormwood Star memorial which commemorates each the villages lost as a result of the evacuation, and St. Ilya Church. There is also an important monument to the 29 firemen that died containing the nuclear disaster. These men from Chernobyl fire station fought the fire when it was at its fiercest. They had no protective equipment to counter the radiation, and not a single man made it back to the fires station afterwards. A translation of the inscription on the memorial reads “For Those Who Saved The World”.
As you travel closer to the epicentre of the disaster you will pass through another checkpoint and enter the 10 km Zone.
At the nearly buried village of Kopachi you will be able to wander around the now abandoned kindergarten. See the abandoned rooms, where once children played, but which have been left untouched since the children, along with everyone else were evacuated once the scale of the disaster was appreciated.
Near here, you will also be able to view what was intended as the third phase of the Chernobyl Power Plant. Reactors 5&6 and their associated cooling towers were under construction, but were still uncompleted at the time of the disaster and were quickly abandoned.
Your tour has now reached as close as it is possible to get to the heart of the disaster. The sarcophagus which still covers the remains of Reactor 4 is visible and can be viewed from a safe distance of 270 metres, but it is not possible to approach any nearer to the ruined reactor.
As you turn away from the reactor site there is still a lot to see in the Chernobyl area. The Red Forest is nearby and also the town of Pripyat which was actually built for the Power Plant workers and their families. Your tour will allow you to see the main square, Lenin Street, the Polissya hotel, the palace of culture, the supermarket, etc. All so ordinary, but now extraordinary because of the way they have been left behind from the rest of the world. Perhaps most poignant place in Pripyat is the town school, where you can see the half marked registers and schoolbooks abandoned in the rush to get out once the order to evacuate was given. You will also see the ferris wheel from the fairground which was due to open only hours after the disaster, but which was never used, and has instead become a symbol for the abandoned town, and the impact of the Chernobyl disaster.
Before leaving the area it is worth taking the time to visit the village of Paryshiv. Here you can meet people who have returned to their homes following the evacuation. Discover first hand the impact the nuclear disaster had on their lives, and how the effects continue to be felt today.
Have you heard of the Russian Woodpecker? Chernobyl 2, the military base known as the Russian Woodpecker is nearby and a fascinating place to visit. They maintain an “over the horizon radar” base here and if you can manage a visit you shouldn’t miss the chance while you are in the Chernobyl zone.
However you spend your time in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, every Chernobyl tour ends in the same way. You return to Dytyatky Control Point at the edge of the exclusion zone where all visitors must undergo a compulsory check here to ensure that your radiation levels are still within acceptable parameters. Once through the checkpoint your tour guide will conduct you back to your drop-off point and you will be free to reflect on everything you experienced during your time in the zone.