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Chernobyl Is Not What You Think It Is

What is the first association that comes to your mind when you hear the word "Chernobyl"? Most people think of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. InterNations member Lesley was quite surprised when she visited the place and had a very different experience.

In 2009, before I joined Bid4Papers and started working as a blogger there, I had a chance to study in Ukraine and attend Summer Courses of Practical Psychology at Kyiv International University. If someone had told me that I would visit the Ukrainian "dead city" and see the well-known reactor number four, I would have never believed it. But never say never, as they say. And here I am, writing about my trip to this gloomy (well, that’s what they call it) but still awesome place, that makes you feel sad and delighted at the same time.

My first conclusion: Forget everything they wrote and told you about Chernobyl before!

My second conclusion: Chernobyl isn't as awful as they might describe it to you.

And my final conclusion: You can never guess what feelings you'll have there until you see this place with your own eyes.

So, this is how it was:

Many Ukrainian travel agencies sell tours to Chernobyl and Pripyat. They promise you a qualified guide who (attention!) lives there and knows every corner of that place. They promise an abandoned city with a gloomy atmosphere and an extreme experience visiting a “ghost city”, an ecologically clean dinner, and a visit to the4th nuclear reactor. Sounds interesting, especially to those who consider themselves S.T.A.L.K.E.R. fans* like my Ukrainian friends. So, off we went!


Our trip started at 9:00 in the morning and it took us 2 hours to reach the Dityatki block post, where they asked us to show documents, checked our transport and luggage. There were 6 of us in a group and I was the only foreigner there. We had been asked in advance to wear clothes with long sleeves, no shorts, no sandals, and no T-shirts were allowed in spite of the fact it was July and quite hot outside. Well, okay. This was a radioactive zone, so it sounded logical.

After we've been checked and entered the Zone itself, all jackets were taken off because of extreme summer heat. Health is nothing – heat is everything!

What I Expected to See

  • no people
  • gloomy places
  • enormously big animals and fish in the river
  • gray surroundings
  • destroyed buildings, lots of bricks and stones around
  • a crazy guide (he couldn't be normal living in Chernobyl, right?) 

What I Actually Saw

  • buses with Chinese tourists everywhere (I didn’t get the impression that I visited an abandoned city)
  • beautiful nature, a lot of greenery, flowers, trees, birds singing (there was an impression I visited a forest, not a city)
  • no animals at all, big fish (but not enormously big of course)
  • we visited a destroyed school, kindergarten and swimming pool. There was no glass in the windows, but they were not destroyed completely;
  • our guide was a little bit crazy, but he was very surprised to hear that he allegedly lived in Chernobyl. (Well, travel agencies know how to do their job obviously.)

We spent 5 hours in the Exclusive Zone in general. I saw the 4th reactor of the station, the monument to the firemen of Chernobyl, the center of Pripyat, its central park with a big Ferris Wheel, the Board of Memory. We also listened to our guide telling the story that shocked and impressed the whole world... And that was the moment when I realized the power of words and the impact they can have on people: you listen to a person or you read a story, and you draw a picture of all the horror people had experienced in Pripyat; you realize how terrible the disaster was, and how it had changed the world. Still, when you find yourself in Chernobyl today, you see the quiet town with a beautiful scenery around and you cannot help feeling that you're just hanging out with friends in the woods, enjoying the singing of birds.

Writing experts and bloggers will understand what I mean here: we use beautiful words to describe something and make our story more catchy and interesting. Well, such is our job. But personal experience is what really matters and if you are inspired by beautiful tales about unique places around the world visit them, but get ready to be disappointed a bit, because you will never see the place in the way it had been described by another person. This doesn't mean that you will not like it, of course. 

Radiation Control

Certainly, we were not allowed to walk everywhere in Pripyat because of a high radiation level. Our guide had a special device to check it. We just explored some dangerous areas away. On the way back home we had a radiation control at the Chernobyl block post, and if we had not been clean they would not have let us out: we would have had to leave “dirty” clothes or shoes there in order not to bring radiation to Kyiv. Well, luckily, we all were “clean” enough to leave.

If you visit the Ukraine, and are not afraid of all the stories about radiation, you should visit Chernobyl – a place-mummy that still has a body though doesn't have a soul.

By the way, I wasn't brave enough to try that “ecologically clean dinner”. We took water and food with us, instead.



*S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is a video game set in the restricted zone around the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl.


Lesley Vos is a private educator of French language for high school students and a contributor to several trustful blogs, including Simply Hired, Edudemic, and Bid4Papers. Lesley is a novice writer who works on her first e-book at the moment; she enjoys traveling and dreams of visiting India and New Zealand one day. You are welcome to contact her.

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