What does Chernobyl look like today? (and how we visited!)

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So you’re wondering how to go about visiting Chernobyl today? or what does Chernobyl look like now? Well, you’re in the right place. This guide was painstakingly put together by myself after our visit over Christmas. If you like the article and are considering visiting please consider sharing it by using the buttons below. We also have amazing guides on Nazare Portugal, Grindelwald Switzerland and see Cultured Kiwi homepage.

To this day, the disaster at Chernobyl on the 26 April 1986 is one of the worst nuclear disasters the world has ever seen. A combination of factors during a late night stress test of the reactor resulted in an intense explosion. An open-air graphite fire burned for 9 days spreading radioactive material across 13 European countries (162,000 square kilometres).

Two people died as a direct result of the explosion within the facility. Over the following months around 30 firefighters, first responders and employees would die from acute radiation poisoning. However, the long-term effects of cancers and shortened lifespans are still being investigated.

There are exclusion zones surrounding the power plant. These extend for a radius of 10km and 30km. Around 300 residents live inside the 30km exclusion zone. Employees of the exclusion zone (office workers, firefighters, security, tourism etc.) are only permitted to work around 50% of the time. The remainder of the time they must live outside the exclusion zone.

What does it look like in Chernobyl today?

Where is Chernobyl?

[themify_map address=”Chernobyl Ukraine” width=”100%” height=”500″ zoom=”9″ type=”terrain”]

When planning your visit you will go to two completely different cities:

Chernobyl is a city located about 12 km from a nuclear power plant with a population of about 14 thousand people before the accident.

Pripyat is located about 2 km (straight) from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and in it at the time of the accident in the city lived almost 49 thousand people of 134 nationalities of the USSR. The average age of residents was 26 at the time of the disaster.

Both cities were located on the territory of the Chernobyl district of the Kiev region, and it was by the name of the district that the station got its name. Now the district is completely abandoned and will remain that way for many lifetimes to come.

Is Chernobyl safe?

To determine if Chernobyl is safe we need to understand what happened. The explosion at Chernobyl was not like a nuclear blast in which nuclear energy is converted into the explosion and immediately released. It was a much slower, and longterm release of radiation. As the fire burned, radioactive particles were released into the air, they then stuck to dust particles and were blown throughout Europe.

“Compared with other nuclear events: The Chernobyl explosion put 400 times more radioactive material into the Earth’s atmosphere than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima; atomic weapons tests conducted in the 1950s and 1960s all together are estimated to have put some 100 to 1,000 times more radioactive material into the atmosphere than the Chernobyl accident.”

After the disaster, they removed (and replaced) the top 150mm of top-soil from access routes and up to 10 metres (30 feet) away from the road. The topsoil was then buried in a giant pit away from town. This area is perfectly safe to walk on and contains little radiation. However, outside this “clean zone” or next to trees (areas where they couldn’t remove the soil) the radiation remains.

You can see the edge of this zone by the small radioactive signs seen off either side of the road. Because of this, tightly controlled exclusion zone surrounds Chernobyl and Pripyat. It is only permitted to enter this area with an experienced (licenced) guide. Within this area Chernobyl is safe to visit.

 Pics of Chernobyl Today

How to Visit Chernobyl today

The following is a complete guide to visiting Chernobyl. We show you exactly what you will need to prepare, the clothes and shoes you’ll need for the day. Also you can see some recommended Chernobyl tours and places to stay in Kiev, Ukraine. Let’s get started…

I recommend booking a tour (a long time) in advance. Some of my recommendations for the tours that we took are linked below. All of the tours begin in Kiev and cost between $100-$500 USD per person. The cost depends on how many people you have in your tour group and how long you want to stay in the exclusion zone.

We had a private tour for one day departing from Kiev with a private driver and a tour guide. Prices vary between companies and is dependant on what is included in your package. You can expect to pay around £80-90 p/p including lunch. Putting this into perspective, in Kiev, a beer in a bar costs around £1.50 and a night’s accommodation for 4 people was around £20. So the tour was relatively expensive, but a truly memorable experience.

 

Clothing

  • It is advised that you wear long sleeves and “keep your hands to yourselves”, as our guide mentioned. Especially when in a 10-kilometre zone.
  • When travelling during the wet season make sure you have a good waterproof jacket. Umbrellas are not a good idea!

Shoes

  • Within the Exclusion Zone, expect rubble, stones, branches, rusty metal, barbed wire, etc.
  • In summer all of these wonderful things are hidden in the grass. Make sure you have some sturdy hiking boots like this.
  • In winter, they are frozen in the snow (and ice). I recommend some warm winter boots like this.
  • Inside the buildings, there is a lot of broken glass, tiles, bricks, etc.
  • In the wet season, it rains a lot and the ground will be very muddy and slippery.

Basically, wear only sturdy closed shoes with a very grippy sole. Even on a short day trip you will need to be walking for a minimum of 5 hours, so make sure those shoes are comfortable (and not brand new boots).

It makes sense to take replacement shoes. It can come in handy if you suddenly irreparably smudge the main one and do not pass the checkout on the road.

What can’t be taken with you:

  • Alcohol in ANY KIND. Before travelling, during the trip and before leaving the Zone, you must be sober. I’m not too sure how strictly this ie enforced, but this isn’t the kind of place you want to mess around in.

What to remember when booking a tour

  • Not all tours are created equal. You’ll have a much better experience if you book a private tour. Large tour groups will leave you with very little time to take photos etc.
  • Make sure there is a transfer from Kiev included. Chernobyl is around 1.5 hours drive from Kiev. Therefore, not something you really want to organise.
  • If you really want to ensure you can get great photos then I recommend booking the multi-day tours. I really regret not taking this opportunity in hindsight. It’s always 20/20 right?
  • Before booking you need to provide proof of travel insurance. Make sure every member you are travelling with has this prior to departure.
  • Make sure you have a great travel mirrorless camera and a travel backpack for your journey. Check out our recommendations! 

What did Chernobyl look like?

Where to Stay in Kiev

You will need to spend (at least) the night before your tour in Kiev. I am certainly no expert in this region and recommend you do your own research on Booking.com (check prices) or Airbnb.com (Get $50 credit). However, I can share with you what I learned on my trip. The accommodation overall is extremely cheap. Ukraine is one of the cheapest places in the world to live. But, do your research, the quality varies greatly!

For the budget traveller, Dream House Hostel is a clean low-cost hostel with very helpful staff. It had a great bar, the food in the restaurant was very nice and they even had lockers to store your camera gear! From here it is walking distance to a lot of the main sights that Kiev has to offer. Take a look at the map below, if you don’t want to stay in the hostel, check the areas around it. This is the area that you want to be based!

Chernobyl Disaster Documentary

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4 thoughts on “What does Chernobyl look like today? (and how we visited!)”

  1. Hi there,
    Cool movie, guys.
    I go to Chernobyl in September an was wandering what gear I should take with me. (I shoot Canon) I read you can’t put anything on the ground, so what about tripods? or is it a bad idea to take that with you?
    Well any input will be much appreciated.
    Thank you

    1. Morning Hans. Thanks so much for reaching out. In terms of photography, you want to book a private tour so you can take the time that you need to take the shots. There is nothing worse than rushing.

      In terms of photography gear, most tours are during the day so you’d only need a tripod if you were going for some long exposures with an ND filter on the front. I just took the 24-70 and 70-200 lenses so I could get a combination of wide and telephoto shots without having to change lenses too much.

      You’re right about putting things on the ground, as this is where the radiation is, the less you touch it, the better. They check you for radiation on the way out and I imagine that they would want to check this too. If you do book a private tour, there is nothing stopping you putting your tripod in the van, then should you really find the occasion, you could whip it out.

      Let me know what you think or if you have any other questions. I am happy to help out more if you do?

  2. Do you think summer is a good time to go? I have seen YouTube videos of Chernobyl Tours in the summer and the buildings in Pripyat are covered by leaves on the trees. What month was it when you went?

  3. Hey Sam. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. We went on Christmas day so you can imagine it was the middle of winter. Summer would be nice, I guess. The only thing I would be mindful of would be the dust. You don’t want to be breathing any of that in if you can help it. That was why we chose winter, if everything is covered in snow then the dust will be kept at bay.

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