“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves” – Euripides
Ukraine is definitely a hot spot right now. I’m sure before reading this you’ve heard of their current, unfortunate events at least once or twice in the evening news.
I was lucky enough to be there and get a feel of this great country myself before things went too heated.
Spent a New Year’s Eve in the Independence Square. Surrounded by a sea of hopeful people was definitely an experience to remember.
A couple of days later, I was on a bus, on my way to visit the exclusion zone of Chernobyl. The nuclear plant where one of the most terrible accidents of our times took place.
The tour to Chernobyl was great. We were lucky enough to have enthusiastic and welcoming guides on board. They shared a lot of interesting information with us.
Interesting, funny and quirky facts about Chernobyl.
1. The government kept Chernobyl nuclear accident of ‘86 as a secret at first.
The Ukrainian authorities thought it would be a good idea to keep the biggest nuclear accident of all times a secret. Just for two days after it took place on the night of 26th of April 1986. You know, lets see maybe it is not that bad as it seems. Lets give it time.
It is only nuclear accident in the whole history of Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. Smile and act like it hadn’t even happened. That is a way to go.
Even Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was part at the time, had no idea what was boiling in the corner of their ‘Empire’.
2. The Swedes were the ones who alerted Europe about the accident.
It was the Swedes who came to the rescue, they are too honest to lie. Super honest guys from Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant pushed an Ukrainian deputies to admit the truth. The huge radioactive cloud above Ukraine is not an Impressionist painting! What a surprise?! It was a result of a huge and terrible accident in power plant in Chernobyl rather than magic of Monet’s brush.
3. Evacuating the area two days too late.
In effort of make things finally right, the Chernobyl area got evacuated, oh well, just 2 days of super heavy radiation.
People were only allowed to carry out cash and documents. They had no clue that they were never to return to their homes. Completely unaware that they were leaving their whole lives behind forever.
It was the radioactive rain that made people realized what have happened! A change in the air was a sign.
4. The true victims – the people inside the exclusion zone.
The first tragic victims of the accident were the firemen who were on duty to set the initial fire down. Uninformed of the nature of the explosion, they didn’t take any special precautions. They were all reported dead after few days from the accident day.
Nowadays, a monument stands erected in their honour in front of the fire station of Chernobyl! Not enough in my opinion.
5. The authorities’ response? A quick fix, of course.
The only logical way to go about this was changing legal radiation levels! Exceeding them just 5 times!
What?! Yes, lets change the numbers so it doesn’t look so bad on the papers! That way when people went in for a check they could walk away “healthy”.
This is a fact still not recognized to this day. People who were inside the exclusion zone are still fighting for their rights! Denied any compensation for the damage caused. Shocking!
6. The Chernobyl exclusion zone is turning into a wildlife park and sanctuary.
An area of approximately 2600 square km is now an exclusion zone. Several villages are still buried under ground because their level of radiation was too high.
The government brought new, clean soil to the area for this purpose. Planted forest all around. To speed up a complete cleaning process of the area.
The whole exclusion zone nowadays is going wild. It’s home to many wild species, including wild dogs, foxes, cats, fish etc.
There are stories about a “mutant catfish” going around. The unusual dimensions those species has reached are rather caused by the lack of predators than any mutations. But now it is for the researchers to check if those animals are still prone to radiation of the region.
7. Some people, unimpressed by the devastating effects of the accident, re-settled to the area.
What? Are you crazy?!
There are around 500 re-settlers who went back to re-occupy the area. The re-settlers could pick any house they wanted to inhabit. No wonders there was no pressure about basic rule of market and demand.
Going through the Chernobyl villages you’ll see every once in a while a renovated house with an inscription on it. The inscriptions hold the names of the new owners of the property. Serves the purpose of announcing that this house is already taken. So please go and find yourself another property.
The re-settlers are the only people allowed to be here on a permanent basis. Other people working inside the exclusion zone are only permitted to stay inside the area max 14 days. They are all obligated to spend the rest of the month outside the zone.
8. The accident had the biggest impact on Belarus.
Not only Belarus in worser stage than Ukraine! The radioactive cloud made it all the way to Corsica Island! The radiation levels are nowadays higher than inside the exclusion zone in Ukraine.
As Chernobyl is right on the border between Ukraine and Belarus, a good part of Belarus was also affected by the accident! But was never declared an exclusion zone and no measurements for cleaning the area were ever taken. Instead of the radioactive wasteland turned into an exclusion zone, Belarus got “wilderness area”. Unmonitored and ungoverned.
The radioactive cloud from the Ukrainian caused a lot of damage in many western Europeans countries.
Many governments still keep this fact a secret, to keep the peace and not spend millions on a clean-up effort.
They do this disregarding the effects it might have on the local population. Few took measurements to clean effected areas! There are parts of Europe where the radiation levels are higher than the exclusion zone in Ukraine.
9. Pripyat, once the jewel of the Chernobyl area, now a ghost city.
Prpyat was the main city of the area. Built for the reactor’s workers and their families, was one of the best places to live inside the Soviet Union.
People who worked at the reactors had many advantages compared to other areas in the Soviet Union.
Salaries were 3 times higher than anywhere else. Shops were better stocked, they had good quality apartment buildings and institutions. There was no problems with food stamps like everywhere else.
There was even an amusement park built in Pripyat. Unfortunately, it was never put in use. The whole city was preparing for the celebrations that were to happen on Labor’s day (1st of May).
Soviet propaganda posters they had prepared for the occasion are still seen around town.
Inside the main school, there are hundreds of gas masks. Stocked here in case “the Americans” attacked. Yet, a nuclear disaster did not seem like an appropriate occasion to use them.
10. 200 tones of radioactive material is still inside the reactor and the whole world is trying to find out the solution what to do with it.
After the fire stopped, the authorities built sarcophagus around Reactor no 4. To protect the area from further spreading radiation. This was only meant to last for 20 years. A second sarcophagus is still under construction almost 30 years later. This is to be set over the old one.
Reactor no 3 was also affected by the accident and a second explosion. This one would have been much bigger! It would blow most of Europe off the map! Avoided only thanks to the volunteers offering to help out and make the area safe once again. Despite this, the Reactor no 3 kept functioning until recently. The only reason the Ukrainian authorities ceased to use this reactor was the pressure the European Union.
The area is safe to visit nowadays! So many tourists can feed their curiosity and see what’s hidden inside the exclusion area. Although you can only go inside with a guide. When exiting, everybody has to run a scan determining whether their radiation level is within legal levels. But which legal levels, those exceeded 5 times?
Iulia Luga from The Pink Moustache Travel. A perpetual expat and wanderer. Iulia is now back in Romania, her home country. Where she is spending her last months on the old continent. While preparing for her biggest adventure to date: backpacking all the way to China, where she is to spend the next couple of years.
Photo Credit: Adventurous Travels Blog Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored!