The excellent HBO miniseries has me thinking about the day trip I took to Chernobyl. Yes, you can visit Chernobyl. Reportedly the radiation I was exposed that day was less than that on a transatlantic flight. A new confinement shelter covers the original sarcophagus around the reactor. With this new building, and the clean up focused on the area around nuclear reactor 4, the reactor actually has some of the lowest radiation readings in the area. You can now visit close to the reactor that exploded.
You can rent a geiger counter from the tour company if you want to check your radiation exposure. The Geiger counter did alarm in certain places. Usually some random spot on the ground where cover debris had blown off. It could also indicate something was buried. Some areas of high radiation were marked, some not.
How to Visit Chernobyl
You must hire a tour company. You cannot go on your own. You can pay for a private tour but you cannot just rent a car and head to Chernobyl. The companies that go are liscenced and limited. A permit in your name is required and must be issued in advance. There are many stops and checks where you present your passport and permits. Certain areas are still very radioactive so you need someone to lead you. There is no reason to try and get around this. Tours start around $100 for an 8 hour plus day with lunch, lots of explanation and an English speaking guide.
Details for Chernobyl Tour
Book Early: Since permits must be issued to you it is more expensive to book last minute.
You are required to wear long sleeves, long pants, and closed toed shoes. I visited in July but it was not so hot that this was a problem.
Wildlife is thriving. Lots of animals and birds have returned to the area. It is an interesting study as a reserve of sorts. It is still not safe to hunt animals from this region.
All food and water is brought in. Lunch is served in an inhabited town on the edge of the exclusion zone. It is still not considered safe to farm. I met Europeans whose doctors advised not to eat mushrooms in Belarus or Ukraine as they considered the non farmed ground where mushrooms could be foraged too radioactive, even today.
You walk through a decontamination area radiation test when leaving.
You can spend the night. There are two day one night tours where you stay in the exclusion zone.
Links and Recommendations
Tours leave from Kiev. Kiev is a great city with so much to do and worth several days visit. Surprise note: we had some of the best Vietnamese and Chinese food we have had anywhere in Kiev!
We chose https://www.tourkiev.com/ for our Chernobyl tour. They had good reviews, and they allowed payment by credit card. Some companies required a payment the day of in US dollars cash. I was traveling for months prior and did not have US dollars. I did not want to buy them with local currency. Everyone met for the tour at a central location, no driving around for an hour picking people up, which I prefer. We were happy with the company and have recommended them to people since.
Photos I took that day and thought of when watching the HBO Show
Bonus stop! Woodpecker Listening Station
The Russian listening station named Duga is also visited on a Chernobyl day tour. It was also named Woodpecker because of the noise it would make as it impacted short wave radio devices throughout the world in the 70s and 80s. Long rumored, or denied, it was built to to detect ballistic missiles. It is the subject of many conspiracies, and its effectiveness is debated.
Tunnel of Love
A train track that has grown over with trees. It is used rarely which allows it to maintain a tunnel appearance. I visited in Summer.
The Tunnel of Love is in Kevlan which is a small village. The closest town/city is called Rivne. I took an overnight train from Odessa to the town of Rivne and checked into the Mir hotel.
I walked over to the bus station and asked around for a bus to Klevan. There was one waiting at the station. After about a half an hour we were dropped a short walk to the tunnel of love. We had marked it and were following along on maps.me to be sure. We followed this procedure back to Rivne afterwards. It was pretty straightforward once arriving in Rivne.
The next day I took the train to Ternopil from Rivne. Staying in these smaller towns that are not popular with international tourists was interesting. It was nice to get outside of the better known places Odessa, Kiev, and Lviv. I have visited all these towns. They are great and worth seeing. A side trip to Rivne was just a different look at Ukraine.
Tips and links
The tunnel of love was not well known even in Rivne. The desk clerk had never been, an American whose family lives in the area and visits often did not realize it was close. Most visitors to the tunnel were on a bus tour or drove themselves and not staying in Rivne.
- This site is known locally as: Тунель кохання in Ukranian and Тоннель любви in Russian. This may help when asking at bus stops, hotels or taxis. Our bus driver spoke no English, but did speak German, and wanted to practice.
You will need mosquito repellent, lots of it! The bugs were swarming throughout, they are the type of mosquitoes that fly up your shirt. There are some women with tables at the entrance who will let you use their spray for a fee if you forget yours.
In the summertime I do not recommend booking first class on the sleeper train. If you want a private compartment you should buy all 4 berths in a second class compartment which will cost the same as the 2 berths in the first class compartment. Why? Because first class is “air conditioned” and the windows will not open. I realized when traveling across Russia for a few months in 2014 that Russians do not like a breeze. They do not like air from a window, or an air conditioner, even in extremely hot weather. I now know this applies to Ukrainians too. The air conditioning on the train is turned off at stations, it gets extremely hot in the car, I was drenched in sweat in just a couple of minutes. They do not start it up until the train has been moving for about 10-15 minutes. They also turn off the air for the entire night so people don’t catch a chill. Since the windows won’t open this means no fresh air! Buying the entire compartment in second class for your party is a good idea. in Russia compartment mates refused to leave the windows cracked during the night even though it was 100F/38C.
I actually have a dining recommendation for Rivne. This place was fun with good beer. There was no English, we got by with a Russian Menu and photos. Pan Khalyavskiy