The only problem with a short arse tour is that the first night always goes the same way, celebrating a new place, and far too much drink. After 24 hours awake, and sampling the pretty damn good Ukrainian beer I ended up falling asleep in the living room of my hostel and then getting carried to my dorm, and then keeping up half the room with my snoring, it was safe to say that the group knew the guide pretty well by morning.
Day 2, Saturday was essentially the day that people were coming for, this was Chernobyl, Pripyat, and the site of what is up until now essentially the worst nuclear disaster the world has ever seen, depending on what your views vis a vi all nuclear things related to Japan.
The exclusion zone as they put it is the area that has been deemed either totally unlivable, or at least under restricted livability, with everyone working/living there doing so in relation to the fucked up situation that is keeping this man made volcano from erupting again.
To get there from Kiev is a 2 hour drive, which in a strange way kind of adds to the whole excitement of things, particularly the closer you get, and the more derelict things start to look.
Chernobyl town itself is a bit non-de-script and largely related to the upkeep of the plant, the highlight, and first point of call is Pripyat, the ghost town of the area. Now to cut a long story short, and not go into things that people probably already know anyway, Pripyat is the abandoned ghost town whose people were given less than an hour to evacuate their town of 30,000 people 36 hours after the disaster happened.
Now what to say about this place? Well firstly, despite it not being totally off the tourist trail (people do visit) it is not exactly somewhere that the Ukrainians are exactly happy about people visiting, and now only scientific, educational, or research trips are allowed “in country”, so that was what we were. Exaggeration aside on our motives, the sheer magnitude of what greets even the darkest of tourists does leave a lasting educational impact on you.
So Pripyat! Now I have been to a lot of places, in a lot of countries. Now whilst many have been spectacular, many more still have been for want of a better word, quite a let down (the Terra-cotta Warriors initially springs to mind here). The principal reason being that they are sanitized snapshots of history. Pripyat was not this in any way shape or form. It was and is a living snapshot to a nuclear disaster. The towns shops are still there, the swimming pool is smashed up, but it exists. The school has books on the floor, open at where they were last read, there is even a classroom thats floor is completely filled with unused gas masks, undoubtedly provided to give residents some form of placebo against an unstoppable nuclear devil.
Yet what go me more than any of this was the residential part of the town. Thousands of flats, all open for you to explore as much as you wanted, and all sharing one crazy thing in common, all had been evacuated, quickly and unknowingly, all shared the very same feeling of loss and surprise. This was more than just a ghost town devoid of people, it felt like you were truly in a town of ghosts, it smelt, and felt like death had not only happened, but had never left this tragic town. Much like Auschwitz did to me many years ago, Pripyat left me punch drunk and deep in thought. This is a place I would not visit at night no matter how much money any person paid me.
Following the deserted town, we went to what you can either call the epicenter, or more accurately the place in the world where one can receive some of the most radiation on earth! And hence a place you only spend the 10 minutes at, the site of the reactor, and the esophagus used to keep said reactor in check. This was erie, interesting, and a great site for a company picture, but after Pripyat and everything else we had seen it almost seemed insignificant in comparison, despite it clearly having both a past and present impact on everything that is Ukraine.
We finished with lunch in the “zone” of chicken,chips, and soup, with probably 7/10 people asking the guide if the ingredients were got locally. Fair play to the guy he managed to keep a smile throughout, but you have to wonder how many people have asked him this.
After 2 hours getting back to Kiev the plan was to spend the evening on a pub crawl of Kiev, hopefully finishing a a titty bar, alas a job I had to sub-contract to the second guide whilst I went to buy train tickets for the group. Now as much as China can do my head in at times, compared to Eastern-Europe the place is at times light years ahead. All I had to do was buy 18 train tickets, simple enough, except that in the Ukraine to get somebody to do their job, not extra work, just their job, a bribe needs to be paid. In the end it was not actually that hard work, I did get what I wanted, and I know how bribes work, but at least in China you pay a bribe and you get basically something extra. Not here, no here you pay people to actually do their job. Shit service, without a smile, that requires a bribe! Welcome to the Ukraine……
Finally made it to my bar crawl, too late on alcohol to catch up with my group, but happy to see that everyone was having a good time, managed to make my bed by 3.30 am, a relative early night, particularly compared to the 6 am that the rest of the group got in…….