When backpacking in Ukraine, I organised a day tour of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone covers an area of 1,000 square miles and straddles the official land borders of Belarus and Ukraine. When I backpacked to the city of Bobruisck in Belarus in 2007, I remember reading about how close I was to the Belarussian side of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and when you look at the map, I was pretty close to Rahachow in Belarus which is in the CEZ. So, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a special region that requires a permit to enter. This image shows a rough idea of the borders around the CEZ.
You have a choice of a day tour, or even overnight stay (yes you can stay overnight in Chernobyl). However, I decided on just the day tour. The tour does mean you are in the exclusion zone for most of the day and have a slight risk of being affected by the radiation, yes even 29 years after the disaster. So for me, in and out in a day was what I wanted.
Most hostels and hotels in the city can help you organise the tour to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. To get into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone you need to have a permit. It’s a security monitored area you are going to, so you can’t just rock up and enter. If you hired a car and drove to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone region, you’d be turned away at the border between real life Ukraine and the excluded zone. It’s a very very sensitive area given the significance of the Chernobyl disaster. Only 13,000 tourists visit the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone each year. This averages out at only 35 people per day. There are only around 20 guides that have a licence to take tourists into this highly sensitive area and all are fully trained and knowledge in fields of science as well as being able to work as a tour guide.
In terms of booking, I used Solo East (https://www.tourkiev.com/). There are around 10 different websites or companies organising tours to Chernobyl. I chose Solo East as they were helpful in organising it and are also the first and original Chernobyl tour operators. The tours date back to 1999. Prices vary from $110 – $200 US for a day trip. The price includes everything for the day – access to the sensitive zones. You must make sure you book the Chernobyl tour well in advance and all visitors must submit their passport details to the tour companies at least one day before the tour. This is important. You won’t have any reference on your passport that you visited the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ). The checks are just made for security reasons and you must have your passport on you during your visit to the CEZ.
All tours are not exactly the same – some of the places you see may vary, weather can also play a factor in it – the route of your tour will just depend on what happens that day. Believe it or not, the tour bore some similarity with how my DMZ tour was organised in South and North Korea – oddly almost 4 years to the day. I toured the DMZ on 24th December 2011, I toured the CEZ on 23rd December 2015. I met up with my tour guide at 8.15 am outside the Kozatskiy hotel in Maidan Square, Kiev. I was staying at the Tiu Kreschatyk Hostel round the corner also a good spot for doing a Kiev Night Tour. The tour was organised by Igor, our driver and tour guide for the day was Misha. You can do tours in a mini bus or in a car. I was able to get a tour in a car with just two other guys – Martin (Germany) and Brett (USA).
Here is the exact brief I was given by Solo East the day before the tour:
We’ll depart from Kozatskiy hotel, which is on the main square – Independence (Maidan) – the hotel is the second building on the right from McDonalds. We meet outside, in front of the hotel.
Meeting time – 08:15 a.m.
Departure time – 08:30 a.m.
Arrival back to Kiev – around 6:30 p.m.
BRING YOUR PASSPORT!!!
Dress code: long sleeves, long pants, close type shoes.
We suggest to take some bottled water with you. The lunch will be served either around noon or around 3 p.m. (depending on the canteen’s availability).
Taking pictures and video: Allowed almost everywhere (except check points, security devices and certain areas specified by your guide).
When I meet Igor and Misha, they check my passport details match the form, we all sign the declaration and payments are checked. You can pay in cash (USD or Ukrainian Hryvnia), by PayPal or by online transfer. We are given three things each:
– A wristband which proves we have permission to enter the CEZ
– An information sheet about Chernobyl and Radiation
– A postcard from Chernobyl
We are also given a Geiger Counter to share for the day, where we can check radiation levels at various points.
So without further ado, we got in the car and we swerved our way chicane style out of Kiev, heading for the CEZ, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, starting off with the Dityatki Checkpoint, Chernobyl Town and the Duga Radar System. Here are some videos from the drive up to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone: