If you are thinking about going to Chernobyl exclusion zone you are probably seeking answers to two questions: 1) Is it safe to visit Chernobyl and Pripyat? 2) Is the radiation level still very high?
On the websites of official tour companies you can read that it’s completely safe if you follow the rules. In fact, you have a whole list of rules – no eating, drinking or smoking in open air. Long trousers and sleeves are a must, as well as no sitting down on the ground and no walking on the moss. If you do all of that,then your dose of radiation for that day will be like one x ray. There’s a huge list of things you probably should know before you go.
Nothing to be worried about,right? Well, that actually depends where you go and what you want to do. Officially on trips you don’t enter any buildings and are only doing safe bits and pieces. But as we all know, the most fun places are indoors and that’s where the safety issue starts! However, its not due to the radiation which usually is lower in buildings that outside but the state of buildings. We actually went on a private tour, which is a bit different.
You have to remember that no one takes care of buildings and they are actually ruins. You are entering illegally and at your own risk (in fact you are visiting the whole place at your own risk) and if you break your leg or a brick falls on your head then you’ll be very much alone! Well, other than your guide and rest of your tour.
The other thing you probably haven’t read on official websites – animals. The Chernobyl exclusion zone is full of friendly dogs, but it’s also full of wolfs, bears, lynxes and even przewalski horses.
If you fancy a trip in winter, because it all looks so cool covered in snow and there’s almost no tourists, you have to remember that it also means there will be more animals. It’s really not that rare to see half eaten dogs or even an actual pack of wolfs. Our tour guide had a few accidents where they had to hide in one of check points while the soldiers were shooting the wolfs outside. In fact we even saw one running across the road and we were there in the middle of the day at the beginning of September!
Our guide told us that he also had a meeting with a lynx and family of bears. Not sure if we should consider him lucky he survived or very unlucky that all of it happened to him and he wasn’t even working in the zone for a year.
Now you know your 2 visible enemies in the zone (bricks and bears) let’s talk about the radiation. Indeed, on your route there are only places with a low radiation level. There are also a lot of people still working in Chernobyl power plant, working in and around the area and tour guides are allowed to work up to 12 days within the zone (but sometimes they work up to 25, even if they’re not supposed to) so one day walk won’t kill you… Unless you go to the red forest or to the hospital basement where you can still find clothes belonging to firefighters who were the first ones to enter the reactor.
There’s also a hotspot in the hospital reception – someone went to the basement, took out a helmet with a piece of a firefighter’s scalp still attached and left it in the reception. Now there’s only the scalp left, cause the helmet has gone missing. No one knows what happend to it.
In the hospital you can also find another hotspot – a chair like many others, but with a higher than usual level of radiation. According to our tour guide that’s where one of the firefighters had to sit down and the chair has been quite radioactive since then.
Another hotspot is the kindergarten and the toys in it – not many people know this, but children were playing on the ground in that kindergarten after the explosion. A lot of actual toys have been stolen, but it’s still something you shouldn’t touch. Our tour guide told us that once he had someone vanishing for half an hour and standing in that very hotspot next to the kindergarten. He ended up with “sun burn even though it was a cloudy day”.
Coming back to the red forest – almost every year due to too hot summers the zone suffers from fires. The Chernobyl exclusion zone is quite a big area so it’s not always dangerous, but this year the fire was in the high radiation zone and people ended up being evacuated.
If you read all of it and feel like Chernobyl isn’t exactly for you – remember, a lot of people from villages within the zone came back after the explosion… and they are still alive, even after living there for so many years, so you should survive as well. You hope.