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Report - Landies Kiev, Chernobyl and Pripyat Blog, All Parts (Archive Note: This is a multi)

Discussion in 'European and International Sites' started by Landie_Man, Jul 12, 2013.

  1. Landie_Man

    Landie_Man "Landie" or Harry
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    To help keep this long report concise:

    Black= In the Zone

    Green= Out of the Zone/"The Social Moments"
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Part 1


    At 1:33 am on the April 26th 1986, a routine emergency drill conducted under unsafe circumstances, possibly due to strict management and cost cutting, Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant overheated and went into meltdown.

    Fire-fighters were fast to act, but were not aware of the severity of the situation and treated it as if it was a normal fire. 31 workers and fire-fighters died in the weeks after the incident. The final death toll is in its thousands as many cancer deaths are believed to be linked.

    3 of the plant workers displayed bravery on unimaginable levels. This blog is dedicated to those people, not just to the liquidators and fire fighters whom I will explain later, but to Engineers Alexi Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov and Boris Baranov.

    The 1200 Celsius Corium was burning through the floors at such a rate that if it hit the cooling reservoir, it would cause a steam explosion so severe it could have made Europe uninhabitable and killed millions. The only way to drain this was manually, so Ananenko and Bezpalov; kitted with just diving suits dived into the highly contaminated water, taking in radiation at extremely high doses, to open the sluice gates and prevent the explosion, with Baranov holding a faulty torch.

    As the torch flickered the two engineers successfully drained the reservoir, but the damage was already done. They sacrificed their lives for you and me several days later.

    The next day the entire population of Pripyat was evacuated; residents believed that they would return in 3 days. That was in 1986 and they will never return to their homes.

    The government put in a 30km exclusion zone which makes up for 1,100 square miles; an estimated 200,000 people made homeless. Many people forced their way back to their former abodes against government order, and still live there today.

    Some 600,000 “Liquidators” were called upon, or volunteered to try and reduce the level of radiation on the grounds of the exclusion zone between 86 and 92.

    The Plant continued operating till 2000, despite radiation, with some amenities in Pripyat such as the pool staying open till as late as 1996.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    We arrived on the evening of my 23rd Birthday at Kiev Airport to a nice hot and sunny evening, after a fairly uneventful flight of three hours on an extreme budget, no frills airline. We were excited about our adventure in part of the ex-Soviet Union.

    After being collected from the airport, we walked what seemed like a fair way to our driver’s car. He didn’t speak any English, and we didn’t speak any Ukrainian. On the short journey to our hostel in the centre of Kiev we got to see many Soviet cars, to mine and Scott’s delight, and also some pretty defensive driving!

    So the driver dropped us off outside an old apartment building, and helped us with our bags. He put us into a rickety old lift, clad with Formica which couldn’t have been more than 5 foot by 6 foot, and claimed to take 6 people. He pressed one of the huge buttons on the aluminium plated control bar with the number “6” written next to it in permanent marker.

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    We went up in two groups as there were people already waiting to go up in the lift which bumped its way up the floors, which you could clearly see whizzing past between the middle of the two doors. It was excellent!

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    So, we finally find our way to our hostel. This apartment block was old, pre Soviet Union, and was made up of several hostels and apartment rooms. We knock on the door and the owner answers. He has no idea of our booking, and insists he has no rooms available. 3 hours and 1,500 miles from home, we are without a room! So we phone back our tour firm owner on his emergency number, and we relay messages; deciding we should go down two floors and try the hostel down there. We have already been paid the money for the hostel at this point, so we do have the available funds

    We are approached by about three people, none of whom speak English. By this point I wish I had bought a phrase book with me! We kick about outside the hostel for a bit, throw some ideas about, and we decide that we should one at a time withdraw our Hirviniya; a currency unavailable outside the Ukraine.

    I was a little nervous after hearing the stories of ex Soviet countries, as an English boy with sterling in my pocket, and withdrawing money with my Barclays Bank Card. Finally with several hundred UAH; barely £50, I start walking back to the hostel and receive a phone call. The proprietor we have been waiting for has found us a room!

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    The girl is young, our age, and speaks perfect English. She supplies us with a map marked with the best Ukrainian restaurants and bars in the local area.

    After a bit of walking, we have our best meal on the whole trip in a Ukrainian eatery, and then decided to explore the streets. We grab 3 good quality lagers from a street vendor; £2.90 for the entire round, and walk down the pedestrian strip. We are surprised to see packets of cigarettes for about 75p a pack on similar street stalls to the one we bought the beer from.

    Kiev has lots of really pretty buildings, but the Soviet Union was still apparent in places, one minute a brand new G-Wagon would pass by, the next a beaten Lada, Moskvich, Volga, UAZ, VAZ or Zaporozhet would chug past, which wasn’t a bad thing for me and Scott, the two car buffs. Soviet concrete also reared its head between historic buildings.

    After Tom and Scott proceeded to stock up on booze (a bottle of vodka is normally no more than £3 for a litre), we decided to go back to our hotel rooms. By the time we got to sleep it was 2am, (midnight at home), setting our alarms for 6 as we want to get some daytime photos of Kiev.

    The sun and heat are pretty impressive compared to the cloudy, grey weather we left behind in the UK.


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    After this we eat a breakfast a buffet type café, which cost us tuppance, and walk back to the Hostel. After check out we wait in anticipation for our guide to arrive. I am looking forward to driving the old Lada from our holiday cottage to the zone, but when we are picked up in Kiev, the guide has no idea of this arrangement, and we would be using his car over the two days.

    During a phone call between our guide and someone in the office, I hear the words ”Pripyat” and Lada be thrown around several times, and eventually it is agreed I drive the Lada after we arrive at the cottage for a few hours as an experience of Ukrainian roads. I was happy with this arrangement as not only did I pay for an International Driving Permit; I also wanted to use the Lada as promised! This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I did not know the roads, and valuable touring time would have been lost in driving to the zone in a 32 year old VAZ-2101.


    On the way to the first checkpoint; our knowledgeable guide points out various things by the roadside, such as the largest battery chicken farm in Europe, and old Soviet Era vehicle inspection ramps dotted about…

    After the long drive from Kiev and checkpoints, we arrive in Chernobyl. There are a lot of survivors live here, and people who work at the plant today, as scientists, government agents etc. The plant isn’t actually located in Chernobyl and shares only the name.

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    There are memorials here, both for Fukishima and the Chernobyl disaster. In the memorial park are signs to remember villagers who have died, but not in the Chernobyl Disaster, they have died of old age. The average age of death here is high, around 96.

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    The Fukishima Memorial is made of two metal origami swans, remembering the 2011 meltdown.

    From here, we drove down to the area of abandoned boats. These boats, like everything else were abandoned here in 1986, but are not believed to be dangerously radioactive.

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    Kopachi was evacuated by the 3trd of May, all 1,114 inhabitants. It was the only part of the Chernobyl exclusion zone to have all of its buildings demolished and buried as part of an experiment of cleaning up radiation leaving only this nursery behind.

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    This nursery is one of the touristy hotspots. When we arrived, our guide showed us the two Geiger counters, one for Beta, one for Gamma. Beta was almost non existent, and Gamma was low, except in the soil round the nursery.


    Take some time to look at these pictures and realise what was left behind. Believe me, this is the tip of the iceberg…


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    We take the old road to the power plant, and stop of next to the cooling ponds to take in the scenery. From here we can see almost everything, the destroyed reactor, the three remaining reactors which operated till 2000, and reactor 5 and 6, due for completion in 1988.

    Chernobyl was intended to be the largest Nuclear Plant in the world with 12 reactors. It was in the top five largest in the 1986 disaster. Huge Catfish swim these ponds, but are only huge due to having no people to fish them. They are not mutated.

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    Unfinished Cooling Tower

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    Unfinished Reactor

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    Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

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    Reactor Cooling Ponds

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    Another View of the Unfinished Reactor

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    The Radiation Level Here is very Low

    Next we arrive at the plant, where the new “sarcophagus” lies and the fated Reactor 4. The Reactor was covered over by a massive concrete construction containing hundreds of tons of radioactive materials.

    Construction started as early as June 1986 and was completed by November. It was only given a life of 20-30 years, so construction of an enormous replacement cover, named “The New Safe Confinement” began. It is expected to be in place by 2015, replacing by then, the 29 year old Sarcophagus.

    The 2000 ton metal arch will cover Reactor 4 entirely, covering up the iconic chimney; the internationally recognised symbol of Chernobyl. It is expected to last 100 years; construction costing an estimated £700,000,000.

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    So before we look at the reactor, let’s please take a moment to remember the 30+ fire fighters, and plant workers; not forgetting many liquidators who lost their lives or changed them forever while trying to save Europe from becoming a wasteland.


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    #1 Landie_Man, Jul 12, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2013

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  2. Landie_Man

    Landie_Man "Landie" or Harry
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    Re: Landies Kiev, Chernobyl and Pripyat Blog, All Parts

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    Radiation levels here are reasonably high, but not as bad as in other places we visited, and for short periods of time, they work out at no higher than being on a transatlantic flight; and far less than say; a Chest CT Scan.

    It wasn’t good that I was allowing my poor knowledge of radiation, and nervous characteristics get in the way. All these numbers and figures were on my mind, but I know that we wouldn’t have ever been put in the face of danger.

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    Reading is 5.99µSV

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    Honoured to be here

    Pripyat was founded in 1970 as its sign suggests and was declared a city in 1979. The city was solely a home the workers from the power station. 49,360 were evacuated in the 1986 disaster.

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    At the time, part of the Soviet remit was to have lots of green space to enjoy, and a nice view from all buildings.

    Our first stop was a 16 storey apartment block. It was almost totally stripped after the military were sent in to sabotage belongings so people were not tempted to return. Also, all perishables were removed in 1987 to stop disease spread, and finally the government allowed metal to be reclaimed in 2002 when it was deemed safe to scrap.


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    This block was named “Fujiyama” as its design differed to the many other 16 storey blocks in the city. It’s said to be the best overall view of Pripyat and Chernobyl. You would have clearly been able to see the explosion from the higher floors.

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    The view from here takes your breath away.


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    Just look at how nature is taking back what’s hers

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    A lot of buildings here seemed to have communal areas with pianos, and Fujiyama was no exception.


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    Next, we carefully walked down a path to a neighbouring nursery, this was an inner city nursery and larger than the one in Kopachi; quite in tact in places considering its length of closure.

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    I Loved Photographing the Ukrainian Signs

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    Another Piano

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    From here we drove to “Stadium Avangard”, an outdoor stadium which was extremely decayed. Allegedly the track here was concreted over to lessen radiation absorption. This was on the edge of “City Park”.

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    The next stop was the Lazurny/Azúre Leisure Centre; made up of a Basketball court, and 2 pools, one which is not pictured. This remained open until 1996, serving plant workers, scientists and liquidators. It would have been quite a task not spreading contaminants back then.

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  3. Landie_Man

    Landie_Man "Landie" or Harry
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    Re: Landies Kiev, Chernobyl and Pripyat Blog, All Parts

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    And thus concludes Day 1, we suddenly heard the sound of angry beeping. We had outstayed our welcome and we needed to leave.

    If you’re not out of the zone by 5pm you can have your permit revoked! We still had to get through the 10km checkpoint, pass through the Beta scanner, get to Chernobyl town for our lunch, then drive to the 30km checkpoint for the Gamma scanner.

    We arrived at the Chernobyl Workers Refectory after passing Gamma Check, eating a traditional Ukrainian meal much to my delight, though it wasn’t completely to my tastes, lots of fruit and veg, boiled eggs, cold meats, brown breads and Ukrainian Borscht with tongue. It wasn’t too bad all in all mind.


    Please Follow Part 2 below.
     
  4. Landie_Man

    Landie_Man "Landie" or Harry
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    Re: Landies Kiev, Chernobyl and Pripyat Blog, All Parts

    Part 2

    Evening Accommodation

    Our cottage was in a lovely setting; newly refurbished and lots of rural charm. This was also the moment I was anticipating almost the greatest, second to seeing Pripyat. The Lada drive!

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    The plan was to drive from the cottage, round the exclusion zone and back, but this was mis-communicated between the offices at the tour firm. This actually worked out in our favour as it meant we wouldn’t loose time as I familiarised myself with the roads!

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    My Hair Looking a Mess and Tom Posing

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    After a short drive to the Ukraine/Belarus border; we drove to a little shop near our cottage and picked up a bottle of “Kvass” and other supplies for the evening.



    After a short mosquito bitten sleep; it was time for a last day in the zone. In 9 hours time we would be on a flight home! Madness…

    [size=14pt]The Final day in The Zone[/size]

    We soon passed all of the checkpoints and our guide decided to take us to a place not many people go; as you need to really have your wits about you, and be careful where you stand, also the instability of the half completed structure would put “most” tourists in danger who are not used to exploring questionable structures!

    I must say I felt really nervous in here, my lack of knowledge in radioactivity biting back again! Though, this vast expanse of concrete was a sight to behold. What we were standing in was the unfinished cooling tower of the two reactors which were to open in 1988.

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    A careful walk back to the car, we set off for our next location, passing Graphite Rod Containers. Rest assured, these did NOT contain any graphite rods, and were just steel containers.

    After the cooling tower, we take a detour to the decaying trains that TBM was hoping to see so badly. This place had a guard, and it was not on our itinerary, so we could not stay long.

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    We didn’t have much time today, so a flying visit to a school just to take a picture of the well known gas masks strewn over the floor. The masks were there for the children the Cold War was still in operation, and an attack from the U.S. was completely possible.

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    Sports Hall

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    Next we made a detour to an area of clearing. Here was an innocent looking scrap grabber. The background radiation was high here, but again, not hugely dangerous; but this claw sent the counter off the scale. Luckily we all stood back, and the counter was held at arms length. This was hundreds of Micro Sieverts in places, but only tens in others. That is some variation right there! We stayed here 1-2 mins max.

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    You can see an old Radioactive Logo in Front. This was used to Clear Debris in the Days After the Meltdown and put “hot” material back into the reactor.


    The next stop was the Pripyat Ferry Terminal and Riverside Café.

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    Old Drinks Machines in the Terminal

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    Next, we drove to the hospital, a goldmine of photogenic equipment. Now, this place was creepy. I don’t normally get scared easily, but at times I would be split up from the group, and like everyone else I had to avoid going into the basement by mistake.

    The basement here is seriously radioactive and we were under no circumstances to go in it. The fire-fighters uniforms were discarded down here and since 1986 have remained in a heap down there. The levels were normal on the three above ground floors of the building.

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    The Dentists Room

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    Babies Cots

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    #4 Landie_Man, Jul 12, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2013
  5. Landie_Man

    Landie_Man "Landie" or Harry
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    Re: Landies Kiev, Chernobyl and Pripyat Blog, All Parts

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    Next, we stopped off at one of the cities combined schools, who took children aged 4-17. This has suffered two collapses; the most recent was April 2013. We could not go in here.

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    Next, we visited Pripyat's “Main Square”. We passed the council building with the Radiation symbol on the front and the famous “Polesie” Hotel and to the Prometheus Cinema. This symbol was placed on the building at a later date.

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    Local City Admin Building. Radiation Logo Added Post 86’

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    There was once a statue of Prometheus outside the cinema, but it was moved to the Power Plant in 1987 to stop thieves stealing it. A cinema would have been considered a luxury in communist Ukraine.

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    Retail and Box Office

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    Now in the city centre; plaques adorning the portraits of Soviet Leaders could be seen through a hole in the wall of The Palace of Culture.

    May the 1st was a very important date; and in late April preparations for the parade through Pripyat Square would be well underway. People would march down the street holding up plaques.

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    Lenin

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    …This is where it gets rather interesting. The famous theme park, seen internet wide never actually opened. It was due to open for the parade. Brand new rides and a Ferris Wheel rust away, never used by any child before and never will be.

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    A very Small Me! Would Look better full sized!

    The tour at this point was very nearly at an end, we were now at the ultimate tourist shot in Pripyat,; but there was still more ground to cover!

    As we began walking to the Palace of Culture, we quickly stopped to photograph Pripyats shooting range.

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    Palaces of Culture were common in the Soviet Union, with 137,000 in operation by 1987. Each one had its own name; Pripyat’s was named "Energetik" as a play on words between Power Plant worker, and being healthy and Vigorous.

    Energetik had its own Cinema Screen, Swimming Pool, volleyball court, boxing ring, gym and fantastic views of Pripyat.

    27 years later, a birch tree grows through the middle of the volley ball court

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    Birch Tree Making Energetik its home
     
  6. Landie_Man

    Landie_Man "Landie" or Harry
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    On from here, we passed a cool sign reading “Restaurant”

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    We had a short stop at our last location. The supermarket; only shots from the exterior here though. The food would have been cleared in 1987 to stop the spread of infection.

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    We passed the checks, had an ok meal, and set off for the airport.
    Homewood Bound

    After a delay of 45 minutes due to a “V.I.P.” at the airport, and subsequently a huge thunderstorm, we arrived back at Luton Airport.

    57 hours, 2,900 miles, 700 photographs, a drive in a Lada and one hell of a time in one of the most historically significant places in the world. That is certainly an experience I won’t forget in a hurry.

    It’s a shame I let the photos take over, rather than sit back and take in the scenery, my signature paranoia also didn’t help matters, but on the other hand I do wish I could have had the time to take good quality shots, but the tour guide almost discouraged this, meaning we had more time to see as much as we could and get the best out of what we paid. He was a diamond, a fantastic tour guide, the best I have ever had.

    I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog, I hope you’ve laughed, pondered, looked in awe and above all, I hope you have sat back for a moment and thought of the many thousands of men, women and children who were made homeless, the thousands who have suffered from cancer as a result, and the hundreds of thousands of men and women who displayed courage on a level that you just can’t imagine.


    A big shout out to TBM and The Zotez for accompanying me, and TBM for organising the trip, I couldn’t have done it without you. I would also like to thank Lupine Travel for preparing the tour, and our tour guide for being an absolute star all week.

    I’d also like to thank all of the people who supplied information online.

    Thanks for reading, and an extra big thanks to those who read the blog in its entirety.


    I once again would like to dedicate this blog and all of my photos to the power plant workers, firemen and Liquidators whose sacrifice saved nations for many years to
    come.
     
    Nick0 likes this.
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