Thoughts and Photos from My Time in Chernobyl and Pripyat

My first trip to Ukraine was all the way back in 2011.  I say ‘all the way’ back because, unless you have been ignoring all major world news in recent years, you surely have heard about the revolution that took place in Ukraine and is still unraveling today.  Ukraine in 2011 is a very different place than Ukraine in 2016.  One of the plans I had whilst in Ukraine back in 2011 was to visit the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.  

I had done thorough research and at the time, there were not many tours being offered.  I finally found one suiting and was about to book it when I found out that the tours were indefinitely cancelled.  Government corruption was rampant and the tours were feeding into all of it.  I was gutted that I had to pass up Chernobyl and Pripyat on that trip but found solace in visiting the Chernobyl Museum in Kiev (which is a fantastic and kitschy museum).

Over the years, I lost a bit of interest in visiting Chernobyl.  It became more mainstream and people were visiting for bragging rights and not to learn more about the tragedy.  It seemed to be the hip place for photographers to go; one of the creepiest places in Europe … which never made much sense to me as everyone’s photos look identical in the end and it’s not really that creepy.  Even the private tours are so common these days that you rarely see unique perspectives and photos.  

No matter what tour guides say to travelers, someone else has done the same tour as you and someone has the exact same photos as you.  And while that drove me to become a bit apathetic about visiting the place, the tragedy was something of deep and sincere interest to me and has been for decades.  I have written massive research papers on the Chernobyl disaster.  I lived in Europe when it happened.  I’ve always been immensely curious about its history.  Yadda, yadda.  So, despite knowing the experience would feel contrived and a bit artificial, I still desired to do it.

I booked a tour to Chernobyl when I went back to Ukraine this March.  My group was very small, but did consist of a bunch of annoying Belgian guys on a ‘lad’s holiday’.  It also included a French woman filming a documentary (who held our group up continuously) and a Spanish girl who constantly asked what Chernobyl was and why it was a big deal.  Before even arriving in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, I realized that dark tourism there has become more mainstream than I previously thought.

In the van on the way to the Exclusion Zone, we watched a documentary about Chernobyl, which was a film I had already seen twice.  We arrived after a couple of hours and had our passports checked and proceeded into the zone.  The different tour companies had it fairly well planned so you’re not crossing other groups and have most places to ourselves, which was nice.

My highlight was definitely the Russian Woodpecker, which I previously wrote about.  It was a part of the zone I knew very little about and it was interesting to see it in person and find out a little more which drove my curiosity.  The rest of the trip seemed a bit staged, on the other hand.  I have a Ukrainian friend who told me that many Ukrainians will sneak into Pripyat or other areas of the zone at night and drink and party.  

Based on the fact that floorboards are being torn up for money and pieces of equipment and things left behind are being sold like scrap metal, I definitely don’t doubt her for a second.  The creepy dolls scattered about?  Let’s be real here- they make for the perfect Instagram photo.  And the gas masks?  Well, it really adds to the aura of the place.  Parts of it were absolutely staged no matter how compelling it is to think otherwise.  Do I care?  Not really.  I assumed it was going to be this way before I even booked the tour.

I have to say that I found the day and the cost very worthwhile and the experience was exactly what I figured it would be.  It was a mix of Belgian guys trying to squat into weird positions and not caring about the others around them as they tried to capture the perfect photo (that about 500K other people already have), the Spanish girl constantly placing her purse on the moss or pieces of metal despite being told not to, the French lady being twenty minutes late at arriving back from every building and location, and my travel partner and I enjoyed every minute of it despite all of that.  Would I do it again?  Probably not.  But if I ever did, I would book a private tour for just two people.

Regardless of how artificial parts of the tour felt, it was kind of like putting that missing piece of the puzzle with the others.  I had a lot of knowledge about the Chernobyl disaster and Pripyat.  Getting to see it with my own eyes was something I had always dreamt of doing.  And I had.  There is only one piece of the puzzle still missing and that is Slavutych.  I will be in Slavuytch at the end of this month and I look forward to sharing some photos and details about the place once I have traveled there.

Below are some photos of my time in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and Pripyat:

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; gym in Pripyat, Ukraine
Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; ferris wheel in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; gym in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; abandoned building in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; swimming pool building in Pripyat, Ukraine
Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; nature in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; ferris wheel in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; bumper cars in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; abandoned building in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; gym in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; gym in Pripyat, Ukraine
Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; gym inside school in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; swimming pool in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; school in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; school in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; piano in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; inside of a school in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; hallway in Pripyat, Ukraine
Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; school in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; swimming pool in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; art in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; creepy doll in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; abandoned school in Chernobyl, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; Chernobyl reactor in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; abandoned building in Pripyat, Ukraine
Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; swimming pool in Pripyat, Ukraine

Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; sign in Pripyat, Ukraine

Obviously, everyone’s experience at Chernobyl and Pripyat varies.  If you have been, please let me know what you thought of the experience!  If you’re looking for essential things to do in Kiev, definitely book a Chernobyl trip.

Sharing many photos and honest thoughts from my time visiting Chernobyl and Pripyat in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine. Click to view!

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Comments (9)

I love this post. I also feel the same way about it becoming a tourist destination, which is why I don’t really like travel bloggers – all their content is the same. Since you are so passionate about it (writing about it for college) I think that gives you a right to go and check it out.

What confuses me is why someone would pay to go somewhere and not learn about it beforehand. Was it expensive? I guess that was kind of me when I went to the killing fields in Cambodia, but at least I read up a little bit so I wouldn’t look stupid.

I like your pictures. I would just like to go to see what it’s like, and I love abandoned amusement parks.

Thanks!!! I sometimes contemplate whether to write about things if I don’t have much to say about it (which I didn’t here), but this is kind of like a travel diary for me in a way, so sometimes I like to do that :)

I never understand why someone would venture somewhere without a little knowledge of it. I know it is a learning experience, but it just seems like if you’re in Kiev or Ukraine, you would have a basic knowledge of its history and current events, right!? Anyways, it is like 105 bucks per person or something to visit. Private tours are more expensive. I’m not super keen to spend big bucks on a private tour only to see the same things that I felt were rather staged in the first place. I went to the killing fields in Cambodia too :( Such a horrible history.

On a side note, I’m obsessed with abandoned amusement parks too :) I have an ongoing post that I’ve been collecting for for years about amusement parks of the ex-Soviet Union. Most aren’t actually abandoned as I learned people of the east will ride a ferris wheel regardless how rotted and rusted it is :) But once I get some more photos and stuff for that post, I am going to make it live :) I can’t wait.

Honestly, there are some blogs I go to just to look at the pictures, so it’s good to have some posts with just pictures especially for those people who will never get the chance to do something like that. I struggle with not writing enough. I’ve been using my blog to work on writing better for my own personal development but I think sometimes pictures can tell a better story for me.
I also meant to add that it’s really interesting that things were staged. It never even crossed my mind that people would do that, but it makes total sense, and I’m not surprised.
Oh, I’d love to see that post about ex-Soviet parks when you finally post it. Did you go to ВДНХ in Moscow? There was a cool Ferris Wheel there. I took a picture of it on my instagram. I mean, it’s really nothing, but I thought it was cool because it looked abandoned (even though it was in that park) and there were no seats. There was a lot of construction near it though so I don’t know if they were planning on restoring it. I think an old amusement park will have to be one of my bucket list before I leave Russia.

Yea Chernobyl tours are a bit staged… even the ones that say they will take you to where no one else has been before… people have been there. But it was still a completely worthwhile experience, in my opinion!

I never made it to any parks in Moscow actually. When I was there I literally ate (massive borscht fan here) and saw the major sites… it was Christmas Day (in the western world) so I was kind of sad to be away from my dog, if I am going to be honest :P I should write a post about my short time in Moscow one of these days. It will basically show photos of food haha.

When are you leaving Russia? Do you know yet???

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