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How To Visit Chernobyl Safely | 2022

Chernobyl is an isolated disaster zone in northern Ukraine, put on the map due to the nuclear accident at the town’s power plant in 1986. The significant event was deemed the worst nuclear disaster in history in terms of cost and casualties.

As a result, Chernobyl is no longer habitable and not expected to be so again for around 20,000 years.

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So while Chernobyl is not somewhere many travelers have at the top of their bucket lists, the site is deemed safe enough to visit and has been open to the public since 2011.

So for those who are attracted to eerie places and like to see the most unusual parts of the world, a trip to Chernobyl is an appealing option.

In this guide, we’ll discuss your options to visit Chernobyl safely and give you some travel tips.

Chernobyl

Why Visit Chernobyl?

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened overnight in April 1986, when an explosion sent radioactive material into the air.

It occurred when technicians at the reactor attempted a poorly designed experiment, resulting in the deaths of around 50 people, evacuation of 350,000 inhabitants, and a 1,004-square-mile deserted region.

Whether you are interested in abandoned towns, historical events, or radioactivity, visiting Chernobyl will prove to be one of the most intriguing trips you’ve ever taken. 

Dark Tourism

A Chernobyl tour is an example of “dark tourism,” the term used for people who travel to sites of death, tragedy, and suffering. However, you don’t have to be a morbid person to find this abandoned town interesting. 

For example, when I visited Auschwitz in Poland, I learned more about the tragic historical events, but I do think it’s important to remember the mistakes that have been made in the past to avoid repeating them again in the future.

Wildlife And Plantlife In Chernobyl

One of the fascinating things about Chernobyl is the resilience of mother nature here. While the area is harmful to humans to live or stay for prolonged periods, wildlife seems unaffected by the radioactivity and has even managed to thrive in the absence of humans.

Animals like bears, wolves, and lynx have pretty much now taken over the affected region. What’s more, plants, vines, and trees are growing around and over the abandoned buildings.

Abandoned Towns

Chernobyl is also fascinating as the town ​​looks like a decaying time capsule. It’s incredibly interesting to walk around and see deserted yet fully furnished homes with tables set for dinner and children’s toys lying around.

It gives you a clear image of how the residents rushed to evacuate, leaving their entire lives behind. Along with family homes, other popular Chernobyl sites include an amusement park, a hospital, and the reactor hall. 

Famous Historic Event

Even if you were not alive in 1986, you might have heard of the nuclear disaster thanks to the popular HBO TV series Chernobyl. While based on the actual event, the show dramatizes the explosion over five hour-long episodes.

So knowing that you can visit the real-life disaster zone is very enticing if you’ve watched the series. 

So while there are some excellent reasons to take a tour of this eerie ghost town, you’ll need to know how to visit Chernobyl safely, which we discuss below. 

How To Get To Chernobyl

Before we discuss how safe the exclusion zone is, let’s explore how to travel to Chernobyl. Most visitors to Chernobyl fly into Kiev (Kyiv), the capital city of Ukraine, and then drive the two hours to the exclusion zone.

The closest international airport is Boryspil International Airport (KBP), located in Boryspil, just outside Kyiv and an 83 km drive to Chernobyl. Most airlines fly to KBP from practically all major international cities.

Chernobyl is also very close to the border of Belarus, just 10km. As a smaller country, there is far more territory classed as dead zones in Belarus than Ukraine.

Chernobyl has two exclusion zones, a 10km inner zone, and a 30km outer zone. The inner site is completely inhabitable, but there are a few hotels in the outer exclusion zone where you can stay. Moreover, around 200 people live within the outer area. 

Chernobyl

How To Visit Chernobyl

Although open to the public, you can not just rock up to Chernobyl on your own and expect to be able to wander around at your leisure.

The area is under special control, so there are only two ways you can access the “cultural venue.” The first is with a licensed tour guide.

The second is by making a personal application with the zone administration department. As the latter is not a viable option for tourists and can be dangerous, we recommend visiting with a tour.

While you will find many tour guides in Kyiv, be sure to choose an official tour company that has safety measures in place, like Chernobyl Story Tours. This tour operator has offices in Kyiv and the UK and offers a wide range of tours in English.

Chernobyl Story Tours offers unique all-inclusive trips ranging from 1 to 6 days. All include transfer to and from the airport in Kyiv, hotel accommodation, permits and transfer around the exclusion zone, and informative guides.

What’s more, you’ll have dosimetry control sessions twice a day to ensure you remain healthy throughout the trip.

The tour company also offers private tours for those who want a more personalized experience. On a personal trip, you can choose the places you visit and how long you spend at each one.

A one-on-one trip also gives you the chance to meet the resettlers, the people who continue living in the zone, an experience not offered on group tours.

Also, note that only people over 18 can enter Chernobyl, so this is certainly not a family holiday destination!

What To Expect From A Visit To Chernobyl

On your Chernobyl tour, you’ll be picked up from Kyiv airport and driven to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone with your tour guide. You’ll need to show your passport or ID card at various checkpoints, and you’ll have to be wearing appropriate clothing; long-sleeved clothes, and closed boots.

One of the safety measures is to keep bare skin to a minimum, so any open shoes such as flip flops are not permitted, nor are short sleeves. 

To help you stay safe in Chernobyl, you’ll receive a personal dosimeter (a device that measures radiation) and a respirator upon entrance. However, you will not need to wear a gas mask or full protective gear.

Some of the sights you will see on a Chernobyl tour include:

  • The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, covered by safe confinement 
  • Pripyat town, including the hospital, school, and nursery 
  • Chernobyl town
  • Abandoned Zalissya village
  • The under the ground village of Kopach

While many parts of Chernobyl are open to visitors, some areas, such as the “machine cemetery” in Rossokha village, remain restricted due to high radioactive levels.

Chernobyl is like an open-air museum with a “look but don’t touch” policy. While you can take photos in most locations, you cannot bring anything into the exclusion zone and most definitely cannot take anything out.

As you explore the area, the knowledgeable local guides will explain what happened during that fateful night and the long-lasting impact it has had.

Chernobyl tours run all year round, but each season offers a unique experience. Spring is a beautiful time as you’ll see the plants blooming and a clear view of the city landscape. In summer, everything is green, and the town looks like a jungle.

Alternatively, Fall and Winter offer a more eerie atmosphere as it’s dark and dull. 

If you are doing a tour that lasts longer than one day, you’ll have the chance to stay at one of the “Soviet” style hotels in the outer exclusion zone.

The simple hotels are only for visitors of Chernobyl, and the staff work on a strict rotation of 15 days on and 15 days off, to keep radiation levels to a minimum.

The facilities are basic, so some visitors choose to stay in more modern and comfortable hotels in Kyiv and make the 2-hour journey each morning and evening.

Upon leaving the exclusion zone, you’ll have your radiation levels checked. If in the rare case, your reading is higher than it should be, you’ll have to leave behind an item of clothing to avoid spreading the radiation outside the zone.

Chernobyl

Is It Safe To Visit Chernobyl?

The most common question from travelers considering booking a tour here is ‘is it safe to visit Chernobyl?’ While it’s an understandable concern, 30 years after the innocent, there is not much risk to your health, provided you follow the rules and stay with your tour group.

Right after the explosion in 1986, the radiation level at the nuclear plant and the closest towns reached up to an astonishing 300 sieverts per hour, which is almost a billion times higher than the usual level. 

However, nowadays, the levels of exposure in the zone range from 130 to 2,610 MICRO sieverts per hour, which is 0.00261 of one sievert. Exposure to three to five sieverts an hour is classed as a lethal dose, so there is no harm in the radiation levels here. 

To put it into perspective, the radiation levels at Chernobyl are lower than those on a long-haul flight. But, of course, the amount of exposure will also depend on how long you stay in the exclusion zone.

For example, if you visit for one day, the radiation levels will be similar to a one-hour flight. Moreover, they are 300 times lower than having a full-body X-ray, thus, totally harmless.

Despite the low risk, the exclusion zone still has various safety measures, giving guidance on how to visit Chernobyl safely. Your tour guide will also measure the radiation with professional monitoring equipment in all the areas you visit.

This is why coming without a guide is forbidden. Without proper monitoring equipment, you cannot gauge the radiation exposure. 

While you can walk around wearing your own clothes, they recommend either wearing disposable coveralls over them or throwing away your clothing after you leave the site to prevent carrying particles of contaminated material with you.

For this reason, you should thoroughly clean your shoes upon leaving, too. 

What About The Conflict Between Russia And Ukraine? 

Another reason people question the safety of visiting Chernobyl, or Ukraine in general, is the current tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

The conflict between the two countries has been ongoing since 2014, but this doesn’t mean that Ukraine is not a safe place to visit. 

Only certain parts of the country are affected by the war with Russia. They are located in the southeast, far from Kyiv and Chernobyl. In general, the country’s north is a calm and enjoyable place to visit.

The only knowledge you would have that there is a war going on is if you happened to see a demonstration or protest in Kyiv while there. So, there is no reason why the ongoing conflict should affect your trip to Chernobyl.

Final Thoughts On Visiting Chernobyl

If you’ve been wondering how to visit Chernobyl safely, hopefully, this article has given you a much better understanding. In 2022, Chernobyl is now a safe area to visit.

In fact, you’ll likely have exposure to higher radiation levels on your flight to Ukraine than in the exclusion zone.

What’s more, by traveling with an official tour company and following the rules and guidelines, there is no reason to be concerned about your safety when visiting Chernobyl.

While it may not be a dream travel destination for everyone, taking a tour around Chernobyl is undoubtedly a memorable and eye-opening experience.

Plus, you can’t get much more off-the-beaten-track than an abandoned nuclear disaster zone, and nowhere else in the world feels like stepping into an apocalypse as Chernobyl does!

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