This is a loose translation to English of my note from August 2015 written in Russian. That's a description of the guided tour I had a pleasure to take part in to Chernobyl and Pripyat (see Wikipedia). I like to read travel notes of that kind, so there is my small contribution to the World Wide Web.
So guys, yesterday I was in The Zone. And I feel like writing a small step-by-step report about that.
Well, almost 90% of time spent in The Zone was spent, actually, in a bus driving through cheerful green forests. So, when we stopped at the Zalissia village, 90% of time we were walking through the forest, as the nature seems to have taken this land by force. Whatever remained from people are some fences, half-destroyed huts with rotten roofs and dense wine smell from a thick carpet of ripe apples crunching under your feet. You are even kind of allowed to eat them, but in fact you are not, just in the case. Despite the fact that Zalissa is located in the alienation zone, it was almost uncontaminated during the accident, and people were asked to leave this place rather because of some political reasons, not because it was absolutely necessary.
Anyway, not all of them have left the village. We have visited an old lady Rozalia Ivanovna, former literature teacher, currently residing in Zalissia in absolute loneliness. She provided our group with some supplies: we got few plastic bags of plums, apples and pears, as it was heartbreaking for her to let all those things rot. Anyway, we were not that sentimental and finally let it rot closer to the road, again, just in the case.
Well, in general there are plenty of "samosely" ("self-settlers" or rather "the Returners"), at least few hundreds of them. They just live in the Zone, lead almost normal agricultural life, but they don't have any livestock as there are too many wolfs around, so... you know. By the way, speaking about the fauna - on Belarussia's side of Zone there is a surprisingly big amount of european bisons, and from ours - packs of wild boars, mooses, wolfes, and Przewalski's horses. Latest are said to be dangerous not only for some midnight-stalkers, but also for wolfes.
As a pleasant bonus to our cultural program we had a visit to some typically-soviet-super-secret-object, namely over-the-gorizon radar system circa 150 m of height and 500 m of width. It was designed to protect our Glorious Soviet Motherland from evil capitalistic missiles. Currently it is slowly dying from boredom, as its exploitation was stopped right after the accident in April'86. According to some insider's information (our guide), in near future N thousands tonns of almost-not-radioactive-metal will be cut in pieces and sold to japans. The thing looks not just impressive, but jawdrapping-impressive. Cute guide also showed us ruins of an abandoned military base, we managed to make some photos of ancient computers, turn on and off some toggle switches, step on broken glass in pitch black darkness, ah Mensch, that was so much fun.
Red Forest and the road to Pripyat
Well, strictly speaking, the forest is not red at all. Not anymore. Now it is just a vividly green pine forest, because The Red Forest is now burried underground right under the young one. So in fact the landscape is all pretty and green, the air is very fresh and smells of pine trees. But the atmosphere is deceiving, because as soon as our guide walks few meters from the highway (which is in fact a new highway, the old, "original" one is also burried somewhere underground, in another nuclear waste repository), and the radiation level shown on dosimeter becomes 10 times as high as it was near us and the famous stella "Pripyat". What that means is that if you decide to take some rest in the grass, you can get a daily acceptable radiation dose in 10-15 minutes.
But that's not the only place where you can
become a superpower mutant and fight ghouls get a dangerous dose by an accident. In the villages and near the roads you can often see small shields saying something like "GTFO, stalker", because there are plenty of nuclear "stains" everywhere, so don't imagine you being a badass explorer, doing roadside picnics, looking for cool artefacts or short ways, and FOR GOD'S SAKE DON'T EVER DIG.
It is strictly forbidden to make photos of the building surrounding the CNPP. We get off the bus near the main entrance to the plant, but we were not allowed to go inside: it is a secure facility, and few hundreds engineers are still working there, as well as some security guards. Instead, we were proposed to feed some fishes living in a river nearby. I imagined us, dropping some bread crumbles in the dark water, and some cute fishes... But in fact it was like this: you take a big baquette (well, in fact it was a "baton"), you break it in 4 pieces (around 100-150 gramm each), and you drop it in the water with all your force, so it hits the surface with a loud sound, and then a body of fat catfish of just unbelievable size comes from the depth, and eats the whole piece in one go. Or, when it was too lazy, it did not even show up on the surface, but just gulped the water with piece of bread on it. Our guide sweared that he has seen how one of the catfishes called Gena swallowed a pigeon who came too close to the river to get some crumbles.
So, now near the notorious 4th reactor there is sort of viewpoint - small parking lot for visitors and a monument. From that point you have a perfect view on the Sarcophagus and the 125-meters high new confinement (remark: the visit took place in 2015, before the old Sarcophagus was covered by Chernobyl New Safe Confinement in 2017). However, as we were explained, the new confinement would not solve any problems, but it costs a lot and looks amazing, so let the frenchies build something fancy, and then we'll see. And then we were told a lot about the events coming right after the catastrophe... I guess there is no need to retell all those things, as there are plenty of books, and documentaries, but anyway itwas quite interesting to hear all those stories from people who have devoted almost the whole life to the Zone.
Walking through the streets of Pripyat is pretty eerie. Like, you just walk through the forest, from time to time you encounter grey buildings with empty windows, and the guide explains: ok, so now we are on the main street, and that small grove is the main football field of the town, this place is really liked by the wild boars by the way, and this small trail is in fact also a pretty important street, folks, but it was just burried under the fallen leaves, so now there half meters of ground from each side so it looks like a trail, while in fact it's not. And there is no feeling of abandonment, everything is so green and festive, and smells so fresh, there are no advertisements, and no people..... just a perfect place to live.
And what about Chernobyl - it looks like any other small town in Ukraine, but is much cleaner and there are no children. Anyway it looks nice, the streets are clean, the buildings are fresh and neat, there is no garbage. There are several dormitories for workers, around 6 canteens, some cars on the road, but there are no new residental buildings, so it is the only difference between Chernobyl and some town like Bucha or Irpin in vicinity of Kiev. So, in general there are much more things to tell you about, and probably I would even like to spend several days in Zone next time, but well... there will be another story.
What I didn't mention in the old post however, is that we were also allowed to climb and enter the buildings in Pripyat, and I have few cute photos from there - because my personal page was read also by grandma, but I decided to leave it just like this.