What It’s Like To Visit The Ruins Of Chernobyl In Ukraine

While many men from the west spend their days in Kiev daygaming on Khreshchatyk Street and Shevchenko Park, or popping bottles in some of the city’s highest end clubs—there is a whole separate part of the city that many foreigners never see. And if you venture even further out of the actual city itself, there’s even more eye-opening and unique things to experience.

One of those things is Chernobyl.

Now, many are familiar with Chernobyl from the absolutely epic Call of Duty: Modern Warfare levels. Many who play the game probably aren’t even aware that it’s a real city, with a real dire story to tell. Throughout all my travels, Chernobyl still stands out as one of the most eye-opening and surreal experiences.

With that being said, I’d highly recommend going if you are in Ukraine and have the chance. Here are some random tips, experiences, and thoughts from when I visited Chernobyl (May of 2016).

It’s The September 11th Equivalent, But…

Abandoned amusement park.

There is a very large difference between the two events. You see, September 11th was horrible, but eventually the country “moved on”, in a way. While certainly the family and friends of those who passed will never have that leave them, on a physical and surface level, things have changed.

The 9/11 Memorial in New York City stands on the former ruins of the two towers. It’s stunning (I’d highly recommend visiting it if you have the chance). Obviously, the new One World Trade Center has been built, and is also stunning.

The point is, the former ruins that devastated America have now been rebuilt into memorials. There at least has been some closure on the tragedy, and they’ve been honored appropriately. However, that’s not the case with Chernobyl.

Chernobyl’s devastation is shoved right in your face. You simply cannot look away. And you know that it will never be improved. There will be no clearing of the debris and construction of a beautiful monument. There will not be a phoenix that rises from the ashes.

It is what it is, and likely will be for a very long time to come.

Ukrainians As Children And Chernobyl

The sign welcoming you to Pripyat, a town which is close to the reactor itself.

I actually took my Ukrainian girl with me to Chernobyl (you can listen to her on my podcast here). To say she was nervous, shocked, and terrified out of her mind would be an understatement.

To compare to 9/11 again, do you remember exactly where you were when you first heard the news? I do. I was in a fifth grade classroom. The teacher sat the whole class down, explained that something very bad had happened in New York, and that parents would be coming to pick us up very soon.

I didn’t understand the magnitude of it at the time, but that memory of sitting down in that classroom is permanently burned into my brain.

While my girlfriend was born years after the events of Chernobyl, the Ukrainian culture burns it into their brain at a young age—Chernobyl is bad, scary, and to be avoided at all costs. Her friends jaws dropped to the floor in shock when she told them. She still won’t tell her parents (though it’s probably only a matter of time before I spill the beans).

I have no doubts that her parents know exactly where they were that day that it happened. That memory is probably burned into their head, as well. And it’s passed on to the younger generations, who all think it is insane that people actually go to Chernobyl as a form of tourism.

The Long-Term Effects

The Chernobyl radar on part of the tour.

I’d need far more than this article to sum up the economic and political impacts that Chernobyl had on Ukraine and Belarus. The Soviet Union basically had to go bankrupt in an attempt to contain and decontaminate the area. Of course, it disbanded just five years later in 1991.

The spending on the issue continues to today. A new sarcophagus was just installed that should prevent any radioactive leaking for a hundred years. It’s absolutely massive, and crazy to witness in-person.

The reactor and old sarcophagus.

Of course, Ukraine is a bit of an economic disaster right now. If you have access to any currency but the local one, your money will go very far.

While, in my humble opinion, it would be wise to place the blame on the current crisis on Chernobyl, undoubtedly there are still some effects. It seems to be a place that just can’t seem to quite break out of the economic slump and truly prosper.

Closing Thoughts And Advice

If you’re in Kiev, it’s definitely worth going to Chernobyl. It’s a long day, a bit depressing, and eye-opening. Here are a few tips I’d recommend.

Book a shorter tour.

The company I booked with was an all-day event. We left the Kiev bus station at 7:15am and didn’t arrive back until nearly 9:00pm. It takes nearly two hours each way via bus. On top of it, this tour stopped every ten minutes in the outskirt towns. We’d walk around and see the ghost towns. There were just too many of them. After the first two they all began to look the same.

We didn’t arrive at the reactor and Pripyat until well into the afternoon. Given the benefit of hindsight, I would have preferred to take one of the shorter tours that promised to have us home at 6:00pm. They likely would have done less of the outskirt tours and had a more straightforward path to the bigger items.

The language situation, pricing, etc.

The tour guides all seem to speak excellent English. If money matters and you speak Russian, you can take a tour for 30-40% of the cost they charge for the English tour. If you bring a local or student along, there’s further discounts.

For the record, my cost was $119 as a non-student, non-citizen, English speaker.

Come prepared.

Make sure you’re well stocked with water and snacks. Our bus stopped at a convenience store on the way, but no guarantees they all do. The meal they serve in the Chernobyl cafeteria is pretty lackluster, so come prepared.

Oh, and don’t forget your passport—the security and process at Chernobyl is far more extreme than any airport.

To learn how to built a profitable business that allows you to see the world, check out Troublesome Solutions. For more information about Ukraine, visit my blog at Ukraine Living.

Read More: 6 Things You Should Know If You Want To Visit Ukraine

71 thoughts on “What It’s Like To Visit The Ruins Of Chernobyl In Ukraine”

  1. Fascinating write-up! One thing you mentioned when correlating 9/11 in New York versus the devastation of Chernobyl; I don’t want to dispute you, but one of my cousins in North Jersey was one of the first firefighters on the scene digging through the rubble of the Trade Center. He and several of his buddies have mysterious and severe ailments that started after they were in the toxic site where the Twin Towers fell. I wonder how much toxicity remains from the site (obviously not on the same level as a nuclear meltdown, but…) and how many thousands of people have been (and will be in the years to come) horribly effected by the fallout.

      1. Trump had initially said that the world trade center builders weren’t remarkable but later changed his mind to conform to what I thought at the time:
        They should have been rebuilt.
        The lesson should be that terrorism won’t reshape the skyline. Life will go on. Instead, the USA has lived in terror (ironically) since then with a standard skyscraper put in it’s place and a permanent security hysteria at airports with airlines that treat passengers like cattle. 1.3 MILLION people worldwide die a year in car crashes (I googled it) 32,000 in the USA alone. Yet life goes on. If only this level of carnage inspired the citizens to address white flight and suburban sprawl and build rail and trolley access.

        1. Why rebuild the original Twin Towers? They were ugly, less than functional, and too expensive to maintain.
          In my state, private businesses offload their “white elephant” buildings onto the state, with the taxpayers footing the endless maintenance. But in NYC, the gov’t fobbed its white elephant off on private business? Weird.

        2. Could you please elaborate on the maintenance costs of the twin towers? I did some googling but found the top references to the new Freedom Tower but I did read the wiki on the twin towers and it’s fertile ground for conspiracy theories.
          Silverstein Properties bought a 99 year LEASE for 3.2 billion (with a b) dollars. Doing the math, that comes out to 33 million a year for rent. I don’t know if that lease includes maintenance costs. So it therefore comes out to about $330K per year in rent per floor (and I think this includes the other 5 buildings in the complex helping to drive down lease costs per square foot even further.)
          Silverstein closed on their lease in February of 2001 and held it for a mere 9 months until the complex’s destruction and since they had insured their investment, they got a handsome payout. That’s where a lot of the conspiracies kick in.

  2. Thank you for this fine article, Kyle. My understanding is that the wildlife is slowly returning within a 20 mile radius of the disaster. The animals that suffered contamination had serious adverse effects passed on to their offspring.

    1. This film was very touching albiet mixed with a bit of animal fiction; http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1832311/
      The animals aren’t doing too bad, actually. They have short lifetimes so they don’t live long enough to develop cancer. And get this, there are fish living in the most contaminated reactor core pool! Youtube search for it.
      The lesson is that humans, as top level organisms, tend to be more sensitive to these disturbances than the rest of the animal kingdom.

      1. Thanks for the link, I’m off to watch it now. Those fish are doing well? I flashed back on an old Simpsons episode where Homer caught a 3-headed fish, a mutation from the waters near his boss’s plant. In the end his boss refused to eat the fish on a dare to prove he wasn’t lying about the water being contaminated LOL

    2. Best I can find is still about 15,000 livestock a year. It’s very slow with the half-life of those materials being in the thousands of years. It’ll be hundreds or thousands of years before all the animals will be safe to eat.
      Just look at Oak Ridge, TN (where they made all our fissionable material), 75 years later and hundreds of animals a year are not fit for consumption. And it’s not near as polluted as Chernobyl.

    3. Thanks for the kind words.
      I didn’t note any wildlife, but the tour guides said similar things as you are pointing out.

  3. We actually don’t know what the long term fallout effect is on human/animal life. We can speculate on it but have never experienced it for “thousands of years” like scientists like to tell us it will last. If anything, the effect seems to be maybe decades. Nuclear waste is decaying at far faster rates then what was predicted. The whole idea that atomic waste might last a million years could have even been cold war propaganda.

    1. I wonder if the decay rates have anything to do with controlled environment estimates versus decay after an explosion and meltdown. It seems plausible that some of the affected material’s composition could have been slightly altered.
      Just a weak hypothesis, as I am not qualified in this field.

      1. I think it is a case of “we do not know” because it is an issue of first impression. We don’t know because it has never happened in recorded history. Like to think “science” is infallible but from what we know it is not. I would call “science” our “best guess” given the time in which a hypothesis or theory is born. And I am not referring to how PC has hijacked the actual scientific method over the years. Merely suggesting we really just don’t know.

  4. “…Chernobyl in Ukraine”
    As opposed to the Chernobyl, where else? Just busting your balls.
    I was a kid when that happened, and I remember it airing on the news. It was a major deal with massive global impact, and obviously quite scary. Most Ukrainians that I talk to won’t go near that tour. I can’t blame them-they’ve been lied to about it from the beginning of the disaster.

  5. I really am leery about visiting a literal radioactive wasteland.
    Sure, it may very well be safe by now, and won’t “stealth kill” visitors like the nuked Nevada desert did to John Wayne . But, in the spirit of Billy Dee Williams, “Why take that chance?”

    1. All tours will have a Geiger counter for you if you are worried. the whole experience there is less radiation than you were exposed to on your last flight.

      1. By flight radiation, are you referring to what comes from the appropriately-named “rapiscan” body scanners?
        I ask because I didn’t have to go through them on my last flight.
        As for in-flight radiation exposure, I’d find it hard to believe that I’d acquire less radiation spending days living in a place that had been nuked than I’d rack up on a several-hour plane ride.
        Maybe it’s so, but the cynic in me says that if it weren’t, the tourism industry wouldn’t tell.

  6. Very interesting article! I really wonder how they constructed that sarcophagus. Even now, there are some places near the reactor that still have lethal levels of radiation.
    By the way Kyle, did you encounter any of these creatures on your trip?

    1. They are rather similar to the Western, rainbow hair colored, pin cushion face, inked up bitches here in the US.

      1. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a trilogy of games inspired by the book and a movie Stalker. A mysterious Zone appears around Chernobyl. Mutants and mysterious anomalies are a common thing. Also the anomalies create minerals called artifacts, which do many things like healing, giving power and etc.
        Long story short, it’s one of the best postapocalyptic stories ever created, but many people on the West don’t know it. ( It was made by Ukrainian studio.)
        The series gathered a huge cult following and is given as a example, how to make a postapocalyptic story properly.
        Postapocalyptic genre in general is largely popular in slavic countries. Metro 2033, Stalker, Drsný Spasitel (a czech movie currently in the works) and etc.

  7. Good article Kyle.
    The only point untouched is the unmentioned heroes who tried to contain the contamination as best they could with the tools available at the time. Pilots, soldiers, firefighters ..with most succumbing to cancer a few years later. Some didn’t know the risks, some did and did it anyway.

    1. The guys that flew helicopters over the reactor core to bury it knew it was a suicide mission, replete with an awful death. They were heroes.

  8. Thanks Kyle, for your glowing review of Chernobyl. It inspires me to grab a bowl of Ready Brek for breakfast.

  9. very cool travel article Kyle. Thanks for the insight into this. Really, really interesting!

    1. The saddest thing about this incident is the perception that it created about nuclear energy. The media panic that it created has set us back decades in energy production. We could of been far more advanced in every walk of life had the stigma not been inserted.

      1. The negative stigma should have been squarely place on shitty management rather than the technology itself. There are plenty of reactors out there that aren’t blowing up.

        1. Three mile island is a shining example. A person would receive more radiation at a day on the beach than any worker did there.

        2. My FIL was one of the engineers called in to fix that when it blew up. He’s 86 now and his wife has lung cancer from the un-remidiated radon in their own house….
          Not the best example I’m sure, and I harbor a little leeriness about Things Nuclear and other cancer triggers anyway.

        3. I did a big research paper in college about it, and since has been an interest of mine. One of my brothers worked as a Navy nuke technician and later at a commercial plant. The more I learn about it, the more I see it as an energy source that has been purposely suppressed by power hungry liberals and globalists.

        4. nuclear energy in general, different types of plants, the dangers, and comparisons to other types of energy.

  10. From Wiki:
    Radiation deaths at Chernobyl were also statistically undetectable.
    Only 0.1% of the 110,645 Ukraninian cleanup workers, included in a 20-year study out of over 500,000 former Soviet clean up workers, had as of 2012 developed leukemia, although not all cases resulted from the accident.[240][241]
    Data from Chernobyl showed that there was a steady then sharp
    increase in thyroid cancer rates following the disaster in 1986, but
    whether this data can be directly compared to Fukushima is yet to be
    Chernobyl thyroid cancer incidence rates did not begin to increase
    above the prior baseline value of about 0.7 cases per 100,000 people per year until 1989 to 1991, 3–5 years after the incident in both adolescent and child age groups.[41][42]
    The rate reached its highest point so far, of about 11 cases per
    100,000 in the decade of the 2000s, approximately 14 years after the accident.[41]
    From 1989 to 2005, an excess of 4,000 children and adolescent cases of thyroid cancer were observed. Nine of these had died as of 2005, a 99% survival rate.[242]………..
    Effects on evacuees
    We know from Chernobyl that the psychological consequences are enormous. Life expectancy of the evacuees dropped from 65 to 58 years – not because of cancer, but because of depression, alcoholism and suicide. Relocation is not easy, the stress
    is very big. We must not only track those problems, but also treat
    them. Otherwise people will feel they are just guinea pigs in our
    A survey computed that of some 300,000 evacuees, approximately 1,600 deaths related to the evacuation conditions.
    So, a person was about 10 times more likely to die from the response than from the incident itself. Nuclear continues to be one of the safest sources of energy available.
    Energy Source Mortality Rate (deaths/trillionkWhr)
    Coal – global average 100,000 (41% global electricity)
    Coal – China 170,000 (75% China’s electricity)
    Coal – U.S. 10,000 (32% U.S. electricity)
    Oil 36,000 (33% of energy, 8% of electricity)
    Natural Gas 4,000 (22% global electricity)
    Biofuel/Biomass 24,000 (21% global energy)
    Solar (rooftop) 440 (< 1% global electricity)
    Wind 150 (2% global electricity)
    Hydro – global average 1,400 (16% global electricity)
    Hydro – U.S. 5 (6% U.S. electricity)
    Nuclear – global average 90 (11% global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)
    Nuclear – U.S. 0.1 (19% U.S. electricity)

      1. really, i think it says more about the media than anything. The perception is purposely skewed. My used to work in the nuclear industry. He talked about the absolute mess of paperwork it was to get anything done. He got sick of it and eventually got out.

    1. The caveat is that nuclear power is a hazard in an environment of corruption and graft. It takes competent, straight-shooting people who take their jobs with the utmost seriousness.

      1. True, not everyone should be able to get a nuclear reactor at the Home Depot to heat their home.

        1. Honesty, I would trust a competent redneck with a nuclear reactor before I’d trust a bored burrocrat regulator looking for a handout, or some nepotistic hire in the reactor control room. This is a job for masters of the atom– not the staff of the local Pizza Hut.

    2. Could not agree more. I am heavily pro nuclear energy and it is an undeniable fact it is the cleanest and cheapest and most reliable energy source available. Globalhomos should be rounded and fed through meat grinders-or if not, then their enablers; it’d be a hell of a spectacle and would be cathartic.

    1. Ever wondered why Nikola Tesla is hardly mentioned either by the media or in the text books? Our entire world runs on his inventions. He intended to use the Earth’s magnetic field to create a never-ending source of energy. The elite did not like that idea at all.

    2. Interesting graph.It would be good to have some background on this graph.
      Is this the percent source of radiation the average person encounters in their life, the percent source of radiation available on this planet, or something else?

      1. it is in percentages the average person receives in their lifetime. Certainly, this would look different for someone going through radiation tratment for cancer, or a uranium mine worker.

    3. Awesome chart, I love data. You just gave me the thing I will be thinking about all day.

    4. 50% come from medical-related things?

      1. Well, if it is dying of cancer or dealing with radiation sickness for months, it is a choice we have to make. X rays are getting better.

  11. Nova on PBS just did a special on the new tomb that placed over the site last month The thing is HUGE to say the least and will last about 200 years. With that time they hope to remove all the radioactive material and have it decontaminated.

  12. I remember watching this documentary, and it said something about had they not gotten the water out of the reactor the steam explosion would’ve been catastrophic.

  13. Hmm…did the USSR collapse because Ron and Marg pummeled them into submission or was it the cost of Chernobyl? A combination? Must research this more.

  14. Thanks for sharing. I’d like to visit this someday, and I appreciate knowing what to expect.

  15. I toured Chernobyl and pripyat and the duga radar in December 2015. I hired a dude named igor and we went in a private car, which was better than a bus tour. Plus nobody was around us so we could touch stuff and play with the contaminated dolls and stuff. I agree with the writer of the article that it’s well worth a visit.
    There is also a Chernobyl museum in Kiev that is a decent complement to the experience.

  16. Fascinating. Something I’d like to check out as I have this certain morbidity about my persona where death and desolation have this sort of majesty and intrigue to them-it’s hard to explain but maybe Poe and Lovecraft have been haunting me.

  17. Chicks are always trying to get me to go on this tour… I never was interested. Good article though. You do learn a lot on the tour.
    Side note: Don’t game on Krysatyk street. Seriously.
    Up & down that f’n street is nothing but short, dark, greasy haired dudes with terrible game giving guys like me (a Yankee) a bad image. It’s pathetic
    It’s gotten to the point where normal girls & club chicks avoid this street because it’s known now as an “annoying harassment nightmare”. Approach, but do it smoothly guys.
    Just this month (May 2017) I followed my ladyfriend down that street quite a ways, walking behind her. She wanted to prove a point to me. She was walking about 30 yards ahead of me & I watched her basically get mauled by Turks, Yankees, an Aussie & some dude from Kuwait with a Zubaz hat. It opened my eyes. I was shocked & I had to buy her Sushiya as I lost a bet. (I bet her she couldn’t get 5 or more men to ask her for her number in a 10 block radius…she had 7 men approach her. F’n 7! She told me she gave the fake number for 5 men & she gave my number out to 2 guys as a prank. The time of day was 6:45 pm. That whole process took exactly 27 minutes for her to walk 10 blocks)
    Stay away from Kryshatyk street. It’s so typical & full of 3rd tier Ukrainian girls mostly. & if you do so easily pickup a girls’ number. Just remember, she just gave out her number to Mohammed, Ishmir, Abraham & Scotty about 5-10 minutes before you, so you’re doing it wrong

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