Chernobyl & Transnistria New Year’s Ultra Budget Tour
Join YPT for our New Year’s tour in a land that we know and love, the nuclear wasteland of Chernobyl and unrecognised country of Transnistria, reminders of what the Soviet Union was and both complemented by the atmospheric Eastern European winter.
Beginning in the vibrant Ukrainian capital of Kiev, we will venture into the nuclear exclusion zone of Chernobyl, featuring the ghost city of Pripyat. Led by our guide who was born inside the exclusion zone, we can guarantee access to places that most visitors never see.
From Kiev, we head south to Odessa. Infamously known as the maternal city of the Russian Mafia. This is our crossing point into the unrecognized country of Transnistria, trapped in the style of the Soviet Union since a brutal civil war with Moldova during the collapse of the USSR. We will spend two days here and our years of experience and vast array of contacts in Transnistria mean we can show you the far flung corners of this fascinating rebel republic.
We then hit up the least visited and poorest country in Europe: Moldova! Here we will tour the capital of Chisinau and xplore the abandoned National Hotel, visit monasteries spared destruction under Communism, explore the infamous city prison, wander through flea markets and visit the military museum.
As we bid farewell to Moldova, we will then board a DDR era night train to Romania. It remains a 1970’s time warp and often still has the ‘made in the DDR’ plaques attached to the walls. The train is lifted in the air at the border to change the wheels. This is a Stalin era technique deployed at the borders of the Soviet Union in order to deter Western invasion.
Once arriving in Bucharest, the capital of Romania where the tour will conclude but we do offer tour extensions for anyone keen to explore and learn more about the godfather of communism: Nicolae Ceaușescu.
Arrival in Kiev at your own leisure and transfer to our centrally located hotel
An optional trip to a shooting range where we are able to experience firing some high calibre Soviet-era guns this can also be combined with tank driving, where you will get behind the wheel of an original, Soviet era tank! (extra charge).
We meet up at 6:00pm in the evening and go out for dinner and drinks at Palata No 6, one of our favourite places and recently featured in the list of “10 places to drink in before you die”. Be sure to try the shot requiring you to wear a straitjacket and be set on fire.
Overnight in Kiev
Thursday 29th December – Kiev – Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
Wake up nice and early and board our comfortable AC minibus to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. On the way we will stop for breakfast at a well stocked gas station as well as watch a documentary of the Chernobyl disaster. The journey to the first checkpoint will take around two hours.
On arrival, we go through the entry procedure and processing of our permits. This can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to one hour.
Visit the village Zalissya, the main square of the town of Chernobyl, “Fukushima” memorial, Statue to Lenin, the abandoned Synagogue and the only active church in the zone.
Lunch at the Workers Café (no produce is grown on site).
Visit the Dock, local shops, Monument to the Firefighters, exposition of the remotely operated machines, hills of the buried village Kopachi, rustic kindergarten, panoramic angle of NPPA and existing sarcophagus, the construction site of the new sarcophagus, the Stone Road sign of Pripyat, Bridge of Death, Lenin Street, the main square of Pripyat, supermarket, Amusement Park, School #3 (with gas masks), and the Olympic swimming pool.
Visit Duga 3, nicknamed the “Russian Woodpecker,” a Soviet “over-the-horizon” radar at its base “Chernobyl 2.”
We will also try our best to visit some sights we cannot mention online.
After a long day of exploring we board our bus for the drive back to Kiev.
Arrive in the capital between 6:00pm – 7:00pm and we’ll have dinner in town and then head to the railway station for the overnight train to Odessa.
Group Amembers– continue by overnight sleeper train to Odessa.
Group B members – tour concludes
Friday 30th December – Kiev – Odessa – Tiraspol
Early arrival in Odessa – securely store our bags at the train station.
Breakfast at a local restaurant nearby
Group C members – meet YPT tour guide and group at restaurant
Meet our local Odessan guide who will take us away from the charming side of the city and show us the dark side of this city.
This is the ‘Odessa Depression’ tour, prepare for abandoned Stalin era factories, abandoned Soviet brothels and nightclubs and the killing ground of hundreds of victims of the Odessa mafia.
After seeing the dark underbelly of Odessa, we will give you the chance to explore this famous Black Sea city at your own pace. Downtown offers a range of attractions ranging from the famous Potemkin Steps that were a prominent feature in the famous Sergei Eisenstein silent film Battleship Potemkin. You may wander the lively and charming pedestrian street called Deribavoskaya which is a great place to find great street food, souvenirs, and see local street artists. There is also a quirky smuggling museum that focuses on crime and smuggling in this port city through the centuries up to the current day.
We’ll then meet back at the baggage storage in the afternoon and link up with our fixers who will transfer us to Tiraspol, Capital of the breakaway republic of Transnistria.
On arrival at the border we will cross the no man’s land between Ukraine and Transnistria which is an infamous smuggling route and we register with immigration and KGB/MGB before transferring to the local version of the Soviet Intourist Hotel. This is the quintessential Soviet experience in the region’s original tourist hotel.
We go for dinner at a local institution and then head into the cellar of a club called ‘Mafia’ to try out some Russian style karaoke!
Overnight in Tiraspol.
Saturday 31st December – New Year’s Eve – Tiraspol
For breakfast we’ll head to a great, Ukrainian restaurant in Tiraspol. Be prepared to wash away your hangover as they’re well known for handing out complimentary shots of pepper Vodka, whether it’s 9:00am or not!
We’ll stop at the flea market in Tiraspol, here it’s possible to buy all kinds of Soviet antiques for rock bottom prices. You never know what you will find!
We’ll then walk down the main street called October 25th street which has a billboard of former President Smirnoff: The warlord who turned president for almost twenty years. We’ll see the embassies of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the foreboding HQ of the infamous Sheriff organization and stop at a bookshop to pick up some Russian and Transnistrian nationalist paraphernalia, a mug with Putin or a fridge magnet of ICBMs firing across the atmosphere, why not?
We’ll then stop at the impressive House of the Soviets, built in Stalinist style with a large bust of Lenin outside.
We’ll mix with students at the Dolce Vita cafe, an inexpensive place with great buffet style food and the eatery of choice for students at nearby Tiraspol university.
We’ll then transfer to the other end of October 25th street to see the North Korean style statue of Russian General Suvorov. Surrounding it are the flags of Russia, Transnistria and the breakaway brotherhood states of Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia.
Have your picture taken in front of a giant crest of Transnistria featuring the hammer and sickle!
Visit Parliament, housing one of the biggest statues of Lenin outside Russia.
Visit the Eternal Flame Memorial complex dedicated to the Soviet-Afghan war, WW2 and the Transnistrian civil war. Check out the battle damaged T-34 monument to WW2, it’s permitted to climb on it and get an awesome photo.
We’ll then switch it up and board an old Soviet ferry without an engine and cross the Dniester river to see how the village people live across from Tiraspol. This is an area truly lost in the USSR!
Visit a still functioning palace of culture with an enormous head of Lenin outside, pockmarked with Kalashnikov bullet holes after Moldovan troops symbolically executed him during the civil war.
You’ll then visit a stunning and completely self sufficient monastery complex that has to be seen to be believed. We know many of the priests there and sometimes they allow us to sample their incredible homemade wine, however, this is subject to whether the one priest with the key is available on the day.
Pay a visit to a local store which hasn’t changed since the USSR and still uses an abacus to calculate the total. Here we’ll stock up on $3 Kvint Cognac (One of the best Cognacs in the Soviet era), $1 Vodka and local smoked cheese.
We then head to a stunning viewpoint and Soviet obelisk that was one of the most brutal battlefields during WW2. In the Russian speaking world, it’s respect to the dead to raise a shot of Cognac or Vodka in their honour and we’ll do just that!
Return to Tiraspol and head for dinner at 7Fridays, a Tiraspol institution!
Return to our Soviet Hotel, we’ll have some time to freshen up before heading out for the New Year celebrations. Russians take New Year’s seriously and the party is incredible! Hit up a few of the nightclubs and try our hand at Russian karaoke!
Overnight in Tiraspol
Sunday 1st January – New Year’s Day – Tiraspol – Chisinau
After breakfast we transfer to Bender, one of Transnistria’s biggest cities and a site of fierce fighting during the civil war. We enter one of the largest outdoor markets in all of Transnistria. Guests will be able to shop and buy anything they want at very, very low prices. Also, many opportunities for old world type photos. This is a true old school, Russian market. Expect pigs heads, spices and everything imaginable for sale.
We leave the market and continue walking down the main street until we reach the main church in the center, well renovated and a favorite place for couples to get married. Here you can buy inexpensive Russian Orthodox jewellery and icons.
Check out the city hall which has been left exactly as it was during the civil war and is still filled with bullet holes.
Continue walking down the main street until we arrive at Lenin Park. We view the main fountain, the bust of Lenin before going into the local cinema which is largely unchanged since Soviet times except Mission Impossible is playing instead of Soviet propaganda.
We continue to walk down the main street until we reach the train station, renovated and well maintained. It seems like a ghost town because only a few trains stop here, and there are almost no passengers. Besides the train station is an old Soviet train from WWII with the hammer and sickle on the front.
We’ll have lunch in the town at a local café called CCCP. This is designed to create a sense of nostalgia for locals and is packed with original Soviet memorabilia and great food.
We head to the river to check out ‘The Great October’ theme park. There are old amusement rides including bumper cars and mini Ferris wheels here. A scene right out of the 1950’s, it may look abandoned but the rides are still operating and are very cheap.
After Bender, we’ll board our bus for the short two hour journey to Chisinau, the capital of Europe’s least visited country: Moldova!
Check into the local Soviet era hotel and head out for dinner and drinks at an incredible steakhouse.
Overnight in Chisinau.
Monday 2nd January – Chisinau – Bucharest
After breakfast we’ll start our city walking tour of Chisinau. We’ll visit the abandoned National Hotel, see one of the most stunning monasteries in the city which was thankfully spared destruction under Communism, see the infamous city prison which has been declared a breach of human rights amongst other things.
We’ll see the enormous World War II Memorial and climb some tanks and surface to air missiles at the Military Museum!
Visit the local flea market, great for antiques and Soviet kitsch!
After lunch, we’ll give you the chance to explore the capital city of Europe’s least visited country at your own pace. This is a great chance to visit the national museum of Moldova, walk out of town and see the brutalist architecture masterpiece that is the partially abandoned Chisinau city circus (also the first circus in the entire USSR) or see the impressive Komsomol monument from the Soviet-era.
We’ll meet up in the afternoon to grab our bags and head to the station for the 4:55 pm train to Bucharest. This is an old school Communist era 4-berth sleeper and still has the made in DDR plates on some of the walls!
During the night, we’ll pass border control and the train will be lifted off the tracks to change the wheel gauge. This is an old defence trick from back in the Stalin era, it’s never been updated.
Dinner and overnight on the train
Tuesday 3rd January – Bucharest
Arrival in Bucharest at 6:00am
Tour concludes – own transport to be arranged from Bucharest. YPT can assist with onward travel and tour extensions in Bucharest.
• Letter of Invitation and visa support
• All transport (except transport to Kiev before tour, onward travel from Kiev after group 1 and onward travel from Bucharest after the tour finishes)
• Lunch within Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
• Entrance fees
• English Speaking local guides and YPT tour leader