A Soviet City Frozen in Time: Why You Should Travel to Chernobyl

A few months ago I had the pleasure of touring Chernobyl with a Nuclear Fallout Expert. Hold up, what? Despite the protests from friends and family querying whether Chernobyl is safe to visit, and every other random person I encountered telling me that I must be insane to want to go there in the first place, I actually had an enjoyable trip to Chernobyl.

 A Soviet City Frozen in Time: Why You Should Travel to Chernobyl

Chernobyl
The abandoned theme park at Pripyat was due to open on the 1st May, 1986. Since the Chernobyl disaster happened on April 26th, these rides were never used.

I mean, enjoyable is perhaps not the word to use here. Loss of thousands of lives, world’s biggest nuclear disaster and all that. However Chernobyl is certainly a fascinating travel destination and a history lesson all rolled into one.

On the fence about going? Wondering why on earth someone would ever launch themselves into one of the most dangerous and radioactive places in the world? Without further adieu, your burning questions are answered.

Where is Chernobyl? What is Chernobyl?

Chernobyl
Chernobyl: An abandoned orphanage on the outskirts of Pripyat.

Chernobyl is an area in Ukraine that is situated 100 km north of Kiev, close to the border with Belarus. It is the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

In 1986, the Chernobyl power plant exploded. The explosions were apparently caused by a surge in power during routine checks at one of the reactors though there are a lot of conspiracy theories about what actually happened at the plant.

Chernobyl

Though “Chernobyl” is the name of the main city in the region and the name awarded to the zone, the actual area affected by radiation is huge – containing hundreds of small towns and villages, and the abandoned remnants of the once prosperous city of Pripyat.

After the explosion, some 250,000 people were evacuated. They were told that they could return to their homes in three days.

Flash forward to the modern day and experts advise that it will still not be safe to return for another 20,000 years. Most of the evacuees would go on to die from the effects of radiation poisoning.

6 Reasons You Should Travel to Chernobyl

Chernobyl
Ever get the feeling you’re being watched? Creepy dolls are scattered throughout the abandoned schools and kindergartens of Chernobyl

If you’re not already burning with intrigue, below are a few more reasons to consider adding Chernobyl to your dark tourism bucket list.

#1 Chernobyl is Frozen in Time

Chernobyl
Chernobyl : Statues of Lenin still stand watch over Chernobyl. In Chernobyl, the year will always be 1986.

In 1986, Chernobyl and Pripyat were part of Soviet Ukraine. The most intelligent people from around the country were invited to work at the Chernobyl Power Plant. At the time, its construction was one of the Soviet Union’s proudest accomplishments.

The towns and cities situated in the Chernobyl exclusion zone were prosperous Soviet Union settlements. Communist statues of Lenin stood watch over the locals, Soviet Union propaganda, paintings and murals were splashed all over walls and billboards, and the Russians built huge radars here to spy on the Americans (The “Russian Woodpecker”).

Chernobyl

Chernobyl
Chernobyl

On the 26 April 1986, Chernobyl was abruptly abandoned. Today, it still remains frozen in time. In Chernobyl, the year will always be 1986. Lenin still stands watch over the area, and the propaganda still exists to remind people of their values.

Where else could you walk around an actual Soviet Union town?  Across the remainder of Ukraine, soviet statues and structures have been torn down (understandably). Chernobyl is a history lesson like no other.

#2 It’s Like Stepping into a Post-Apocalyptic World

Chernobyl
Chernobyl

Chernobyl gives a glimpse into what the world would be like if mankind were to die out. Nature has started to reclaim the region, with outdoor plazas and streets now overgrown with trees. Buildings lay derelict, their infrastructures slowly rotting and disintegrating.

Wandering the streets of Chernobyl presents travellers with a wave of eeriness. In homes and apartment complexes, family portraits remain hung on the walls, tables set ready for dinner. In the local kindergarten, kids’ drawings and crayons are laid out in a circle on the floor as though they were just left yesterday. 

#3 Chernobyl’s Days Are Limited  

Chernobyl
Chernobyl

Over 30 years have gone by since the Chernobyl disaster and without restorations, the buildings here are slowly but surely collapsing. Soon, it will not be safe to explore these structures.

Roaming around the apartment complexes and office buildings of Pripyat, floors are caving in and exploration often means having to tread carefully over sinking floors, stride over patches of collapsed ceiling and be careful to avoid falling into open elevator shafts.

In a few decades, it will not be safe to travel here and so the opportunity to witness a significant piece of human history will be missed.

#4 Yes, it’s Safe (ish) to Visit

Chernobyl
Chernobyl

Maybe you’re fascinated by the prospect of wandering around Chernobyl but you’re terrified about the radioactivity. I get it. Actually there have been only a few reported instances of people sprouting a second head, a third leg, or seven new nipples after travelling to Chernobyl. (I jest! There were no such problems!).

Chernobyl administration have done a pretty good job of clearing up most of the zone making it accessible for short trips.

The Chernobyl zone is separated into two sections – the 30 km exclusion zone, and the 10 km zone. In the 30 km zone, radiation is only slightly higher than in Kiev.

As a matter of fact, many scientists are living here for extended periods of time. In the 10 km zone, radiation is very high, but you will only pass through for a short period.

In other words, going to Chernobyl is like having several x-rays at once. Doing it once won’t kill you but you don’t want to be doing it every day.

When you leave the zone, you must be checked to ensure that you haven’t been contaminated. The only real way this would happen would be if you started foraging in the woodlands for delicious, radioactive Chernobyl berries or smooching with the Lenin statues.

If you are interested in doing so, you can also tie in your Chernobyl visit with a day trip to nearby Slavutych, the Soviet City where many of those who were evacuated from Chernobyl were relocated to.

#5 Pay Your Respects to Those Fallen

Chernobyl
Chernobyl – The abandoned city of Pripyat

It may be considered a little morbid to venture around Chernobyl and take photos of the “cool and creepy” abandoned buildings and amusement parks but visiting dark tourism sites is just as important as taking vacations to more pleasant destinations.

Travelling to sites like Chernobyl is a reminder of what mankind is capable of and helps us to not forget some of the atrocities that humans have experienced over the decades.

The Chernobyl museum in Kiev contains exhibits that demonstrate the before and after of Chernobyl, helping to paint a picture of the beautiful area this once was. The city of Pripyat was very modern and luxurious for its time.

The average person living and working in the Chernobyl zone was aged around 26-27 and the majority of those killed and affected were young families.

What is painfully ironic about Chernobyl is the fact that many of the schools, apartment complexes and office sites are filled with glass cabinets containing gas masks that were never used.

The Soviets were so paranoid about an attack from the US that they never considered that danger awaited in their own backyard.

#6 It’s a Unique Travel Activity

Chernobyl
Chernobyl: The “Russian Woodpecker” Duga Radar

Chernobyl is a travel destination like no other. If you’re tired of repetitive city breaks that just see you and your travel companions wandering around local coffee shops, museums and shops then visiting somewhere like Chernobyl makes an interesting change of pace, particularly for those already travelling in Ukraine.

Considering a Trip?

For more practical advice on travelling to Chernobyl, including what is needed to register with the Ukrainian government and book a tour, review this guide that discusses whether Chernobyl is safe to visit and how to plan a trip.

Have you travelled to Chernobyl or other similar “dark tourism” sites? Would you consider it? Feel free to reach out to me if you need anything!
For more spooky travel inspiration, take a peek at this guide to haunted places to visit in Europe

Disclaimer: High Heels and a Backpack occasionally uses affiliate links. If you book tours through links on the site, I will receive a small percentage of commission at no cost to you. This contributes to the running of the site. Thanks for understanding.


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer and Blogger based in Athens, Greece. She writes for numerous high profile travel publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, Matador Network, The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post.

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