Belarus blogger, Maxim Mirovic, has been to Chernobyl four times. He has some facts he would like to share. The first one (pictured above): “The Chernobyl zone has two perimeters. One at 30km, called by hikers ‘Tridsyatka’ and another at 10km, called by hikers ‘Desyatka’. Unlike Desyatka, Tridsyatka is virtually clean.”. More:
The name “thirty km zone” is very vague – in reality the zone is much bigger, it stretches almost 90 km to the west from the power station.
Just here in the western part of the zone, there were recently forest fires. On both sides of the roads you can see those partially burnt pine trees
Also in the western part of the zone you have the little known town of Pollesskoye. Hikers rarely come here as the town is located away from the usual routes, a highway passes through Pollesskoye but people are not allowed to stop and get out of their cars.
After the Chernobyl accident, they wanted to make Pollesskoye an “ideal town near the nuclear polluted area”. They even built new buildings and developed it a bit, but in fact the USSR was hiding the fact that the soil around Pollesskoye was highly polluted with Cesium-137.
People still mistake Chernobyl and Pripyat. Chernobyl is a small town 12 km away from the power station, while Pripat is a city right at the station. 50,000 people (mostly people worked at the station) lived in Pripyat. Most photos of “Chernobyl” are actually taken in Pripyat.
Chernobyl now has no civilian population, but there are a lot of workers that live temporarily in dorm buildings inside what used to be residential complexes.
Chernobyl looks like a regular Ukrainian countryside town, with normal, peaceful courtyards, left over from the pre-war era. The exception is that it’s very clean in Chernobyl – some part or another is being swept all of the time because of the radiation safety requirements.
This is what a typical yard in Chernobyl looks like. What is different from other parts of Ukraine is that there aren’t many vehicles around and there are totally no children.
One more thing that is very recognizable in Chernobyl is the external pipelines. You can’t dig in the ground in Chernobyl (so as to not disturbed radiation that went to the ground), so all pipes in Chernobyl are laid above the ground.
In Chernobyl, there are some pretty normal shops that look like old Soviet shops.
In 2017 in Chernobyl a normal hostel was opened with wifi (no, this is not a joke). But only people who have permission to visit the Zone can stay there.
In other respects, Chernobyl is still trying to not lag behind modern life. For example, recently a mural appeared on a building.
Before 1917 Chernobyl was mainly a Jewish town with a good infrastructure, good hospital, college, schools, shops, etc.
In Chernobyl dorms there is running tap water, electricity, and central heating. Furniture is mainly local, often brought from Pripyat. These used to be dorm rooms, for workers of the company Novark, that were building a new sarcophagus around the damaged reactor. This is how the buildings look now.
Right in the nuclear station in Chernobyl, there is a good cafe. Usually, workers at the station eat there, and sometimes rare tourists visit.
To get into the cafe, you need to pass a frame that will detect radioactivity on your clothes and won’t let you in if it detects radiation. The food is very tasty and filling.
Near the firefighters unit in Chernobyl, there is a monument saying “for those who saved the world”. From these gates, the first firefighting trucks were going to fight the fire burning in the Fourth Reactor – the one that exploded – so that fire didn’t spread to the other reactors.
The monument is very expressive – workers, firefighters, soldiers and radiation experts – sort of wrapping the exploded reactor into a huge blanket. In the background, there is a human sitting, not being able to stand because of the first symptoms of radiation illness.
Near the monument there is an open air museum with the machinery of the liquidators – the ones who fought the accident – including some of the robotic machines. One of the machines is even built on the Lunokhod chassis – the infamous Soviet Lunar explorer.
The average age of Pripyat residents was around 26 years old. It was a city of young people, built for young people, and you still get that feeling today.
Even now, Pripyat isn’t a totally dead city. Until 1998, there was a pool for the workers of the station, now there is a special laundry where everyone is washing their radioactively polluted cloths. It looks exactly like it does in the game “Stalker Call of Pripyat”
The Pripyat laundry is considered to be a special place, and you are not allowed to take photos inside there. I managed to take just two photos there, in there third photo you can see a special grid laying at the entrance to the laundry – everyone entering should clean their feet on it.
Architecturally, Pripat looks very interesting – all of the city was built in the minimalist style of the 1970s – all the public places (including schools and the police station) have glass doors and huge panoramic windows. Amidst the surrounding villages, Pripyat looked like a city from the future.
However, the quality of construction could have been better. Pripyat was built as a speedy Soviet project, and because of this the brick masonry everywhere is horrible, and buildings are already collapsing.
A famous mosaic of a girl is located in a “Pripyat” cafe, which is on the river embankment. In the cafe there were two halls, one for deserts and another for the hot dinner meals. The mosaic with the girl is in the hall with hot meals, it doesn’t overlook the river but overlooks the city itself.
The movie theater “Prometheus” was the only movie theater in Pripyat. In 1988 one more cinema was due to appear in the city, sp there would be two movie halls in it, as well as a “House of Culture Jubilee” and a new supermarket “Pripyat Dawns” but the city stays forever locked in 1986.
As locals say, the last movie in the “Prometheus” theater was a Belarussian movie “Flight to the country of the monsters” in which people were putting on gas masks and running away from unknown weapons of mass destruction.
Many people think that the 16-storeyed buildings inPripyat were the residential buildings full of luxurious apartments. In reality, each building had just one entrance and inside there were long hallways with numerous doors – like dormitories, and the apartments were very modest.
From the roof of a Pripyat 14-storey building, you can see the station nicely. On the 26th of April 1986 many people in Pripyat were watching the nuclear fires from these roofs.
During the second half of the 1980s, there were efforts to clean Pripyat and deactivate the radiation so that people could return to live there, however they couldn’t wash the city enough to completely clean it, however it was enough to bring tours to the place.
In the fall of 1986, disinfection teams were coming around the Pripyat houses. They opened the doors and threw fridges full of food out of the windows to prevent spreading of disease. Later on, the furniture was also thrown out the windows – it was thrown right into the trailers and trucks and taken to the dump sites.
The most expensive things like pianos, home electronics, etc, were brought to the “Raduga” (rainbow) shop in the city downtown. It remained under the control of security guards through almost all of the 1990s. Now doors are still open, and the things that were not wanted by anyone have been destroyed by time.
The most scary place in Pripyat is an underground cellar of MSCH-126 – a hospital where the firefighters and the workers of the station were brought in the first hours after the accident. In the cellars they stored clothes and firefighters uniforms that absorbed Cesium, Strontium, Plutonium and Americium from the nuclear fire.
In this photo, people from “Chernobyl Tours” measure the radiation level of firefighters boots inside the cellar. Sometimes the radiation level is as high as 1-2 roentgen per hour – which 100,000 times higher than normal. Don’t go there, it’s not worth it.
We also need to say that Pripyat was, in some sense, very lucky. After the fire in the fourth reactor started, the wind currents sort of made a curve around the city from two sides – one went directly to the North and another went to the west. If the wind blew to the city there would have been no one left to evacuate from there.
You should also know that ALL of the Chernobyl zone has been fully cleaned out by looters. Everything is broken, shattered, or stolen. In the 1990s, they even stole the ceramic tiles from the walls. The stories about Pripyat having “apartments with everything remaining like it was in 1986” is a total fairy tale.
I am often asked about reasons for the explosion in the Fourth Reactor, and I always respond that the guilty are, first – the engineering flaws of the RBMK-1000 reactor, second – stupid Soviet experiments to test “idle run of the turbine rotors” that shouldn’t have been allowed.
The working shift of a “liquidator” on the roof of the Third reactor lasted only two minutes – a special person was counting the time, and after the two minutes expired, he hit the hanging rail – it was a signal that people have to return to the shelter. In these two minutes people were still able to amass huge doses of radiation.
Those people working on the roofs had no protection. The most protection they had was the lead apron which were coming from doctor’s x-ray offices all across the USSR, and they also had plastic glasses to protect their eyes from beta-radiation. But it was little more than psychological protection.
Building the Sarcophagus over the station in 1986 was a sort of improvisation. Engineers had to invent how to make this structure in the middle of the nuclear debris. So one of the support structures was dubbed “Mammoth” and was just built on the ruins of the reactor hall, and the roof was made in a sort of tubing.
By the way, the old sarcophagus wasn’t a sealed shelter – this is how it looked from the inside. You can clearly see the sun beams coming inside.
Inside the sarcophagus there is a control chamber of the Fourth Reactor, part of the machine hall, and some other rooms. The part of the rooms were fully encased in concrete during the construction of the sarcophagus, some parts of the rooms have never been visited since April 26th, 1986.
Let’s continue, one more fact about cleaning up the roofs of the third reactor – the garbage thrown away from the roof was collected on a special adhesive polymer tape and then brought to the dumpsite.
This tapes were carried by IMR – engineering vehicles covered with lead. Some of these vehicles still remain a few hundred meters away from the sarcophagus walls.
The sarcophagus of 1986 was a massive structure over 60 metres tall, to make it possible, they built two concrete producing factories right in the grounds of the Chernobyl station – it was cheaper and easier than bringing concrete from somewhere else. Also trucks coming and exiting would help spread radioactive trash around.
One of the concrete walls of the sarcophagus was made in a step fashion – first they made the first step, then on it they put the concrete pumps and then they starting making the next “step”. The concrete mixers and pumps were later also covered with concrete as they were too polluted and it was too hard to take them down from the building.
After the accident, Chernobyl was visited by different scientific expeditions. They were studying the effects of radiation on soil, animals, and plants. This is a remains of a fish farm – that was almost neighboring the station
Chernobyl Lenin Atomic Station (full name of the station) is allowed to be photographed only from one side – from the observation deck. You are strictly prohibited from taking photos of the Chernobyl station from over here:
In the pond of the station there are huge catfish (it’s not a joke). Some catfish are a few meters long – just because no one catches them, and instead feed them with bread from the bridge. Catfish see the tourists and swim closer to ask for food.
In general, there are plenty of animals in Chernobyl – the rare Przhevalsky horse is thriving there, also boars, wolves, foxes, hares, etc. Due to the short lifespan of the animals, radiation doesn’t harm them much.
In Pripyat, a new forest ecosystem has formed. There are new levels of forest, food chains, and other attributes of wild nature. Boars walk around in the stadium, and birds make their nests inside the “Prometheus” cinema (in photo above). Pripyat is not a dead city at all, it’s now a part of the forest, which is full of life.
Regarding the radiation – inside the town of Chernobyl, the radiation doesn’t exceed that found in Ukrainian capital of Kiev – 10-15 mR/hour. Inside the 10-km zone – it increases a bit, then in Pripyat the average radiation is 50-80 mR/hour, which is very safe for short visit.
The “orange forest” that is in the game “Stalker” is not a myth, it’s a real thing. This forest is near the station and it became orange because of the radiation in the first hours after the accident. The needles of the trees die fast and turn orange because of the high radiation.
After the liquidation works began, they decided to destroy the “orange forest”, to bury it to “reduce side shots of radiation on the approach to Pripyat”. In 1987-88 the liquidators were cutting down the trees and putting them in trenches.
Now there are no orange trees left, just long grass growing. Here is my shot of the place – a couple of dry trees can be seen in the background, they are the remains of that “orange forest”. If you step from the road to the ground the radiation sharply rises a few tens or even hundreds of times.
The Chernobyl zone in the Stalker game is very much like the real one, except for one detail – there is no Limansk city in reality. The technical prototype for Limansk was actually a “DUGA” installation and also the houses from Kiev near Chernigovskaya metro station. I was there too:
During tours to Chernobyl, tourists are being told that nuclear pollution of the village Kopachi was so strong that it was buried in ground – this is not true. The village was buried for real but only because nobody want a free empty property right near the station walls.
The only remaining buildings in the whole Kopachi village is an old kindergarten and an old farm house, but tourists don’t go there.
The “DUGA” radar is one of the most interesting objects in the Chernobyl zone. It’s a huge set of antennas over 150 m high which were used to track enemy rocket launches over the horizon from the USSR.
Tracking those launches would give the Soviet government around 30 minutes before the missile arrived to be able to hide in the bunkers. It was the only reason for building this object, but the Soviet people were told it would bring “peace for the world”.
When foreign journalists started to arrive in the 1980s they couldn’t hide the huge antennas from them, and when they asked what they were, the special KGB agent who was present in every tourist tour group would telling them: “This is our new unfinished hotel”.
By the way, the exit from the highway that leads to the “DUGA” installation is marked as “Pioneer camp” to hide the place, and right next to the exit there is a Soviet Olympic symbol at the bus stop.
The “DUGA” itself is not just the antennas that many have seen, but also a town for military personnel, a military regiment and a lot of support structures like this laundry.
This is how the regiment near DUGA station looked. You can see that army construction standards were much higher than the civil construction standards of Pripyat – there are even no roof leaks here.
And those were the technical rooms for “DUGA”. Those were long halls with many rooms and old Soviet computers that were calculating the trajectory of launched missiles.
Some ceilings and places look like they are anomalies from the Stalker game – but this is just the result of looters who were burning the plastic insulation from copper wires to steal the metal.
And this was a study room for soldiers, to teach them how to use DUGA radar antennas.
The antennas of DUGA stand on a small hill, and nearby you have a small ravine where all the water goes, and you can see that mushrooms absorb radiation very well – in fact those are not mushrooms really but a nuclear waste or something.
Also, I forgot to mention, in Chernobyl there are a few cafes – some are abandoned and some are working to this day. One of the cafes called “Ten” as in the name of the “Ten km exclusion zone” looks like this. On the second floor there are hotel rooms.
This is an abandoned Chernobyl bar called “Polesie” – tourists aren’t taken here.
To fly a drone in Chernobyl is pretty problematic – you need to get a permit for this and for me they permitted me to film only in Pollesskoye.
The everyday life of Chernobyl workers is very modest. In every room of what was a three room apartment, there are two persons living. All of the furniture here is from before the accident and is brought in part from Pripyat.
In the hallway there is a fire extinguisher and a must-have gadget to measure radiation. Here it’s an old thing that can measure your boots for radiation, though people rarely use it.
And that’s it.