The shadow tour to Chernobyl
Much thanks to Stepanets Kirill for such a kick-ass journey and awesome stories. Give him a shout out!
I came across Kirill at his house. That’s where I met his buddy who is a stalker and he is the one usually driving Kirill to the border of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (or just Zone). He is a chemist and got his body injured a bit, so he doesn’t go directly into the Zone any more.
It was quite dark by the time we said goodbye to our driver and walked across the border.
The first quest on our way was to cross the Uzh river. Kirill told me that it was like 3 meters deep just a month ago, so they had to put their stuff into plastic bags, tape them and swim across. We got lucky. This time it was only a meter deep, so we just got almost naked and crossed Uzh like that.
The next thing that came into our view was the ground road, hiding and appearing from time to time. The usual route takes to the Chernobyl-2 and a well-known RLS (Duga), but because of the lack of time, we decided to head off straight to Pripyat. But first, we had to get to our shelter for the night in the abandoned village…
The abandoned village:
Once we entered the “hata” (the Ukrainian word for a small building), we’ve discovered that all the furniture and all the walls were covered with graffiti made by other stalkers. It was a while since Kirill was there last time.
And now it was looking like at least 15 different stalkers marked their presence there. And we can’t even guess how many of them were in that shelter unnoticed. There are quite a lot of buildings in that village, but stalkers prefer staying in those, that are clean and better furnished for sleep and fixing some meals.
I found that really helpful once I discovered that I totally forgot to take a spoon with me, so when Kirill told me to search for one, I was lucky.
That’s how I got my first “habar” (meaning stalker’s findings). Just in case we’ve checked the radiation level and got 15 microroentgen on the screen. We finished our meal and went to sleep.
With the first rays of the sun, we hit the road.
The main difference between an official tour into the Zone, and a backstreet tour – you can get caught. So we felt ourselves just like in spy movies – hiding in the bushes and crossing the roads only after we were sure that nobody will see us.
We were heading to the Chernobyl vehicle graveyard. This is the place, where all the vehicles with radiation were brought to and fenced with barbed wire.
If you are interested in what is the level of radiation right in the middle of that graveyard – it is fucking huge. 50 000 microroentgen per hour while a valid value is 20 microroentgen per hour. Just a reminder: while having MRI our bodies consume around 1 million microroentgen, which equals to 20 hours of staying at that graveyard. You can also find some vehicles outside the fence, and the good thing is that they got a lower level of radiation. Btw, here you can also find a Joker (a robot, which starred in the Chernobyl series by HBO).
The graveyard itself is not that big. A while ago there was another huge graveyard called “Rassokha”, but all the vehicles were removed from there. There is a theory, that it was relocated to Eastern Ukraine where the war conflict with Russia is currently taking place. But, of course, there is no official confirmation.
We sneaked near the graveyard, hid our backpacks and started moving right in the heart of the sacred shrine of radioactive machines. Kirill knew where Joker was so we decided to move right towards it trying to avoid the most radioactive areas and out of sight. We found a secret and masked break in the fence. That was our way in. While moving forward, we found another masked break in another place. Good thing we decided to open one up (just in case). Once we got to the Joker and made some shots, suddenly, something big hit the ground making a lot of noise. It was scary as fuck. So we found our exit, took our backpacks and decided to take a quick bite.
It was a bit of a surprise to meet a dog there. Kirill said that dogs don’t usually walk around by themselves in the Zone, cuz they are easy targets for wolves (btw, there are a lot of wolves in there). That’s why once we heard the wolves howling afar, we turned our “Flash” on and started running. But do not worry my friends, I did not shit my pants. Though it was not that far from the graveyard when we stopped. And the sound of wolves howling turned into metal scratching and clanking, engines were working. Somebody was doing shit with those vehicles. Maybe, they were cutting machines for scrap. This is another way how the radiation spread all over Ukraine and who knows where else this metal could have ended up. But we had our journey ahead of us.
I asked Kirill if anyone still lives in the Zone. “There are some military guys, who control the Zone, they live in Chernobyl. And there were some illegal scrap metal collectors, who lived in Pripyat quasi-legally. They bribed someone to get a pass into the Zone to plunder and scrap metal without any fear. Now they are all gone.
By nightfall, we came to the Red Forest border and giant power lines that were making really loud noises. I made a joke, that it’s probably safer in the forest full of radiation, rather than under these power lines. But this joke turned out to be totally serious shit. It is really dangerous to be under power lines for a long period of time. Kirill even mentioned that if you stand here with a daylight lamp, then it will work. I.e. there is enough electricity for that.
Right after the explosion, the huge amount of radiation came out, and the wind carried it to that forest turning it from green to red. When walking on the road through the forest, the level of radiation, in general, is around 50 microroentgen per hour. There are some areas, where the number can be around 500 up to 1000 microroentgen per hour. But do not go deep in the forest. The level of radiation there is significantly higher.
Compared to the way we already made, our passing through the Red Forest was super fast and we made it to the suburbs of Pripyat in no time. We went off the road to walk on the grass, so we would leave no traces to our shelter for this night. It was a 5-floor abandoned building. Our “hata” was on the 5th floor. It was definitely a lived-in place with glazed windows, beds, some food and water leftovers, and clean.
There is no water source in the Zone, so you need to bring your own supplies, or to have connections with the security guards, so they would hide water in special places.
Pripyat itself turned out to be looted city. What could be taken away, was taken away. The city began to turn into a forest. As if the forest that surrounds it began to absorb Pripyat. There is a rule for official tours in the Zone – not to enter premises. The dope thing about the non-official tour – you can not only enter any premises you want, but you can also spend a night there. The first thing I asked my guide, is where the radiation level is the highest? And he told me that it would be the hospital basement, where they kept all the explosion victims’ clothes. But he strongly insisted not to go there, because it is probably the most dangerous place in the Zone. So after some stories about Chernobyl and improvised dinner, we went to sleep.
The next morning we started our tour across Pripyat. The first place we decided to check was the infant school. It was really creepy to see all the kids’ stuff covered in dust and dirt, vanished by time. Just like in horror movies. It makes a really deep impression. The next stop was other stalkers’ “hata”. Several years ago they throw a New Year party there and put their names and wishes on the walls. And by a complete accident, Kirill came across that party and met those guys.
Actually, despite a large number of houses in the Zone, stalkers often meet each other, although, at the same time, local security catches them extremely rare. And now everyone got so bold that some stalkers, so as not to go back on foot, surrender to the police, pay a fine and return by public transport. But it works only for the locals.
Foreigners may be interrogated, so it is better not to show yourself to the police, especially the Russians since they are forbidden to enter the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone territory.
As we decided not to take a risk with the main hospital (the most dangerous place in the Zone, remember?) we headed off to the children’s hospital. Just like an infant school – it is one of the creepiest places there. Looked like looters took everything they could from there, leaving only a couple of things, including the gynecologist’s chair.
After the hospital, we went to one of the highest buildings in the city. Oh my, what a view. And I also was shocked to see trees growing right on the roof. I mean, how is that even possible there is no soil there whatsoever. Mystery.
Next stop – the famous swimming pool. It is a huge and impressive place. You should definitely check it out if you will to Chernobyl
Our last place to visit was the roof of the “white house”, the building right next to the main square, where all the important NPP employers and all the officials lived. From there you can see a beautiful sunset, as well as probably the best view of the “Dome” (the one that covers the reactor), brightly glowing in the dark (due to the fact that it is lit by lamps, not because of radiation, don’t worry 😉 ). While we waited for nightfall, we saw other stalkers who were leaving Pripyat, this was obviously due to the direction they were heading with their backpacks.
Shortly we heard the voices for the second time. We came to the edge of the roof to check what was going on. Some people with dogs were searching for something near the entrance to the building we were in. We didn’t know for sure whether they were the National Guard or the Police, but we felt like we exposed ourselves.
We immediately disappeared from the roof and hid between the roof and the top floor on the attic covered with fiberglass.
It’s hard to say if we were hallucinating, or we really heard several times how people walked inside the building and on the roof, but we stayed in our hideout for at least 45 minutes. When we got out – nobody was there already. That’s why we finally had a chance to start our quest of searching Kirill’s bag with food that he left there last time. We carefully searched all the floors, all the rooms, but no luck. He said that a few weeks ago, he received a picture of the door of his “hata” from one stalker, which meant that they found his safehouse, although it was in the suburbs. And it seemed like those stalkers stole a huge bag of food. We had our own food, but it was a shame to lose so much food. Although we had our own supplies, it was a shame to lose this bag.
So we went to our shelter to spend the final night in Pripyat.
The way home:
In the morning we left Pripyat. Right outside the city, we discovered our car and the same driver that brought us here. He drove us right to the river we were crossing at the beginning of our journey. Got almost naked once again, crossed Uzh and found another car waiting for us.
While we were packing all our stuff into the car, Kirill told me an interesting story when once he saw a Jeep when he was crossing the river. Thought that those were some military or police. He ran into the forest so he could not get arrested. Suddenly he saw a horseman. A horseman of the Apocalypse? Is that for real? Because there were no horsemen in the Zone at that time. He got scared as fuck and started running as fast as he could when one man in the camouflage from that Jeep chased him and stopped. It was one of the foresters and he just wanted to warn Kirill that there is a big moose walking around in that forest. So the horseman turned out to be a moose. Fear has big eyes. He-he
Tired but satisfied with our journey we drove away from the ZOne. And our driver turned out to be a very interesting guy so he was supplying us with really interesting stories about the Zone.
If you like the story, be sure to check our photo report from the Zone.
And, of course, be patient and wait for the upcoming video to see and hear all the cool stories.