April 25-26 1986 saw the worst nuclear disaster to date: the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine. For nearly 3 days, the USSR managed to keep the disaster a secret from the world. During that period, the people living in the immediate vicinity continued their lives, unaware of the danger and radiation they were being exposed to. Eventually, sensors picked up unusual dust activity over Sweden, and word got out. The world began to panic. The USSR was eventually forced to acknowledge the disaster and cooperate because they needed help.

Teams of pilots were assembled to drop relief efforts of sand, boric acid, and lead over the site; these were often suicide missions due to the required proximity to the radioactive components. A second explosion was narrowly averted by using lead to squash the building pressure in the reactor. Liquidators were told they’d receive free vodka for assisting in the efforts. Eventually, miners helped dig tunnels to remove all the materials and saving the day.

Unbelievably, the plant still continued operations for 14 years after the explosion!

There were several small villages in the nearby area, including the famous town Priapat. All of these had homes, hospitals, schools, and more.

This book held records of patients and their medications:

A child’s toy….

Ready for your appointment?

A kindergarten:

Sign welcoming you to Priapat:

Old Soviet vending machines:

Priapat was once a charming holiday destination. This was a restaurant and boathouse on the shores of a river.

It was also home to some cutting-edge artwork on the town cinema:

And some street art, too (probably put there at a much later date):

And government buildings:

And of course the famous amusement park:

And an homage to some of the victims who gave their lives to save others:

The reactor itself, with the protective shell:

Before departing the area, we had to get tested for radiation:

And a statue commemorating the miners who were the real heroes in the end:

Overall, visiting Chernobyl is powerful and sobering, with a haunting melancholia pervading every inch of the place. Despite what you’d think, it’s also very safe (unless you decide to roll around in the dirt at a radioactive hot spot, like the one our amazing guide Sasha is testing here:)…

What was also cool was seeing the awesome and totally useless missile detectors that the USSR had developed!

Fun fact: the “radioactivity” sign above was actually planted by people called “stalkers” who are kind of like fanboys/girls of Chernobyl, and just enter the area illegally to hang out there for fun.

If you’re interested in so-called “dark tourism,” Chernobyl is DEFINITELY worth a visit. I went with Chernobyl Tour company, and while it was expensive, it was very worth every penny.

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