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Chernobyl Tour: A Unique Adventure in Ukraine

Sarcophagus over Unit 4 reactor (photo: Michael Lis, Unsplash)
Sarcophagus over Unit 4 reactor (photo: Michael Lis)

The Chernobyl exclusion zone is one of the most fascinating and unusual touristic destinations not only in Ukraine but all over the world.

Chernobyl is located in the northern part of the country, close to the border with Belarus.

Sweeping the population and the culture out of there, the accident of 1986 affected this area severely.

At the same time, it converted the place into something unique: more than 2,500 km² of lands where human activity is reduced to contemplation, but not transformation; a reservation where nature has been recovering fighting ionizing radiation; and the only open-air laboratory in the world.

Today, the area consists of two parts: the 30 km zone and a 10 km one. Both of them can be visited.

Chernobyl gas mask (photo: Yves Alarie)
Book and gas mask (photo: Yves Alarie)

The Accident and its Consequences

On April 26, 1986, workers of Chernobyl nuclear power were supposed to carry out a test to check out the self-fueling system of Unit 4.

Because of various factors (e.g., defects in the construction of the reactor, human mistakes, etc.), the experiment resulted in an explosion that destroyed Unit 4 and led to massive contamination of surrounding lands.

Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were the most affected. However, the radioactive cloud spread all over Europe.

Around the power plant, a 30 km zone was created.

The population had to be evacuated, but everyone was told that the evacuation would be temporary.

The idea was to decontaminate the area (to reduce the level of radiation to safe for human levels using different cleaning up methods) and bring the people back. Unfortunately, it never happened.

After 1986, the border of the exclusion zone was expanded several times.

The last change was made in 1998. Since that time, the area remains almost abandoned.

Nature is taking over, and the signs of human civilization are declining now.

Geiger counter (photo: Jorge Fernández Salas, Unsplash)
Geiger counter (photo: Jorge Fernández Salas)

Is It Safe to Visit Chernobyl

The exclusion zone has been open to tourists for almost ten years. Before we go deep into details, the answer is yes, it is safe to go there nowadays.

After the accident, more than 600 thousand liquidators put their vital forces into making the area less radioactive.

The idea was to make it as it was before the accident so that it can be inhabited again.

Contaminated crops, trees, and bushes were buried under the ground; the most contaminated villages were destroyed and buried as well.

New roads were built while the old contaminated ones were removed.

Probably, the most significant achievement of liquidators is the construction of the sarcophagus – a shelter that covers the ruins of the exploded unit.

The sarcophagus helped to keep the radioactive dust and particles within the building so that the wind wouldn’t blow them off.

Unfortunately, even these steps didn’t make the zone safe for permanent living; however, it was enough for a temporary one and even more for visits.

Special tour routes have been established. They were made taking into consideration not only the locations visited and their touristic value but also the level of radiation.

Chernobyl Story suggests that in a one-day tour, a visitor usually absorbs 0.3 Sievert, which is equal to one hour of flying in a plane.

Additionally, there are specific rules that people are required to follow, including:

  • no eating outside
  • no sitting on the ground nor putting your belongings there
  • avoid touching the plants and buildings
Duga 1 Soviet-era radar (photo: Yves Alarie, Unsplash)
Duga 1 Soviet-era radar (photo: Yves Alarie)

What to Expect from the Tour

The Chernobyl exclusion zone has a lot to offer.

A one-day tour is like an overview; two-day tours allow you to feel the atmosphere without rush, and three or more day tours are available if you are ready to explore and uncover the deepest parts of the zone.

Also, multi-day tours are suitable if you are into photography.

A basic tour starts from the village of Zalissya, which is located in the southern part of the exclusion zone.

It used to be the most significant settlement of the area before the accident: more than 3,000 inhabitants used to live there.

There, you will visit two streets: one with a shop and a doctor's house and the other – central one – with a House of Culture.

After visiting Zalissya, you will head to Chernobyl town.

This is the only settlement in the zone that can legally be inhabited. So, don’t expect to see it abandoned.

There are several shops there, a post office, museum, dormitories of the workers, and a couple of hotels where you can stay the night in case you choose a multiple-day tour.

Later, you will be taken to the 10 km zone. This is the area where the most contaminated and interesting places are located.

At first, you’ll visit Soviet military radar Duga-1.

This array was used during the Cold War to spot American missiles and was put out of service after the accident in 1986.

The Soviet Union had three radars of this type; however, when it collapsed, two of them were dismantled.

Duga-1 is the only one that remained because it's in the contaminated zone.

The power plant is in the heart of the 10 km zone. It is possible to go inside, but you have to book a separate tour.

In the basic tour, you will approach the plant, Unit 4 in particular, and will have a stop at the observing point so that you’ll see the whole power plant, including unfinished Block 5.

Chernobyl Ferris wheel (photo: Michal Lis, Unsplash)
Chernobyl Ferris wheel (photo: Michal Lis)

The ghost city of Pripyat is the final destination. The city used to be a home for almost 50,000 people.

All of them were evacuated on April 27, 1986 and told that they would be back in three days. However, Pripyat was never inhabited again.

Today, it is a kind of museum of the Soviet era and the modern Soviet city.

You will visit Main Square there, an iconic amusement park with a Ferris wheel, river port, and other places.

Multiple day tours include these places too, however, with more time spent there.

More locations like villages, vehicle graveyards, churches, etc. might be added.

Multiple day tours also give the possibility to visit resettles – people who returned to their homes after the accident and continued living in the zone despite all restrictions and prohibitions.

Chernobyl deer mural (photo: Oleksandra Bardash, Unsplash)
Chernobyl deer mural (photo: Oleksandra Bardash)

How to Get to Chernobyl

Since the area is restricted, all the visits have to be agreed with the authorities.

If you decide to come, book the tour via tour agency, and the guys will take care of the entry permission and more stuff.

You will have to provide them with your passport details and to bring the mentioned document with you on the day of a tour.

A tour agency provides you with transport, but if you’d like to go there in your car, you are allowed to do that too.

All the visits (group, private, one day, several days) are guided, so you’ll always have a professional who will instruct you about the safety rules, provide you with the information about the zone, and will take you to the most interesting spots.

All in all, Chernobyl is worth visiting no matter what exactly you are interested in: you can be sure to find it and even more there.


This story is brought to you in partnership with Chernobyl Story Tours.

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