Despite the horrific events of 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the flow of tourists who want to visit the Chernobyl exclusion zone has only increased over time. Fascinating landscapes of Pripyat and Chernobyl cities, the post-apocalyptic atmosphere created by abandoned Soviet buildings, and spirit of the past – there is no more such a unique place not only in Europe but in the whole world!
And if for some a chance to visit Pripyat and Chernobyl makes no doubts and fear, for others planning to come to the abandoned location is considered to be scary and dangerous. Many questions arise when you first think about the Chernobyl visit, for instance, is there any reason to fear radiation? What else is hidden in the quiet and peaceful streets of the ghost town and the empty hiking trails? And the main question: is Chernobyl safe to visit today? Let’s find out!
35 years ago, the most terrible nuclear disaster happened in the Ukrainian city of Pripyat. The disaster occurred during routine nighttime safety tests at Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Pripyat, 104 kilometers from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
The plant crew intentionally shut down safety systems in order to test the turbine. However, the reactor overheated and there was a powerful explosion that released streams of radioactive material two kilometers into the earth’s atmosphere.
After the explosion, 134 employees and firefighters were hospitalized because of radiation sickness. Within several weeks 31 of them died. The USSR government created a special zone around the reactor, which was 30 km in radius, and every single person was evacuated from that area. This event is well-known as the Chernobyl Disaster.
Can you go to Chernobyl today, you ask? We answer- yes, surely. The Exclusion Zone has been open since 2010 when the authorities deemed it not dangerous to visit and allowed to make specialized Chernobyl travel.
Yes, as long as you travel officially accompanied by a professional guide. The amount of radiation to which a person is exposed when visiting the Chernobyl Zone is about the same as on a long-haul flight.
According to the Chernobyl Tourism Association, thousands of people from all over the world visit the Exclusion Zone annually, and their number grows every year. So, in 2015 there were 15,064 tourists, in 2016 it reached 36781 people. 24492 tourists were foreigners. In 2017 the number of tourists rose to 49750 people, two-thirds of them were not Ukrainians. In 2019, after the HBO series about Chernobyl was released, a record number of tourists – almost 100 thousand people visited the exclusion zone.
The main danger is not the radiation itself, but the unreliable structures, which have been abandoned for 30 years and from the structures of which a lot of metal has been cut out. Therefore, it is necessary to walk in groups and clearly follow the guide’s instructions. To measure radiation, guides always carry a Geiger counter. So the tourists can see for themselves that radiation levels are safe. However, you should still not stay in the Exclusion Zone for longer than the tour is designed for. It could be dangerous.
According to tourists who have visited every single point of the Exclusion Zone from Chernobyl to Pripyat, it is a fascinating experience and worth experiencing.
After all, it is the only place where you can:
Chernobyl city is located to the north of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv (about two hours away). For tourists who are already vacationing in Kyiv, it is an easy day trip.
Is Pripyat safe to visit for more than a day? Most tours are day trips, but you can also stay overnight. There is a small hotel in the town of Chernobyl. This is perfectly safe and perhaps a more exciting adventure than just a day trip for a few hours.
Tourists are also advised not to miss Kyiv spots. It is a very beautiful city that is worth seeing and getting to know better. And the tour of Kyiv can also include a visit to the Chernobyl Museum, where archival films made during the evacuation are located and are of particular interest.
Interesting places in the Chernobyl zone:
Since for more than 30 years, the Exclusion Zone has experienced almost no human intervention, unique conditions for wildlife have formed here: visitors can see lynxes, elks, giant bison, as well as wild horses, wolves, and other animals, many of which have long been included in the Red Book!
Some places still remain closed for visiting because of radiation risks, such as the basement of the hospital where the equipment and clothes of rescue workers were dumped. There is still very powerful gamma radiation in those areas. Visitors must undergo radiation checks when going out of the Exclusion Zone. You should memorize that there is a curfew. It is forbidden to take away or even touch any objects. It is forbidden to pick plants or eat fruits. Your body should be completely covered with clothes. No persons under 18 years of age are allowed to visit the Exclusion Zone. You should bring your passport because only with identification the authorities can give you a special pass.
So, can you visit Pripyat and Chernobyl safely? Definitely yes. But you must hurry, as the ghost town is slowly collapsing and the surroundings are turning into a wild jungle. There are no signs of civilization, only emptiness, and tranquility. No one will restore its beautiful architecture of the Soviet era, and Pripyat will probably be buried underground due to natural influences. So pack your bags and come to Ukraine to feel the spirit of the past.
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