Good afternoon. After my last challenge, Iraq, recovery took much longer time due to physical exhaustion. It was still difficult to ride a bike, and for several weeks I felt very weak, so I decided to do something other than cycling for my next challenge. It was necessary to come up with something that would be no less exciting and dangerous than Iraq, (challenge complexity had to increase constantly), there is no turning back :D.
So, I suppose each of you has heard of Chernobyl tragedy. Some of you probably watched documentaries about the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, while others even read books about Pripyat’ and/or played the trilogy of games “S.T.A.L.K.E.R”.
By July 20th, I decided to go to Chernobyl, get to the city of Pripyat’ and see absolutely everything that was mentioned in books, films and games with my own eyes.
I was eager to see the city, which was the favorite home for tens of thousands of people, and which they were forced to leave after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
The sequence of actions:
- Decided to go;
- Contacted a Stalker friend in Ukraine (his name is Igor, nickname is Tendal);
- Told Armen (the same Armen who was traveling with me in the Iraqi challenge);
- Bought airplane tickets for us to Kyiv
- Collected the necessary equipment
- Agreed on the arrival date with Tendal
…And we dived into the unknown, full of closed borders, barbed wire, missile bases, secret over-the-horizon radar stations, a secret factory working for the defense industry, police, prison, running, enormous radiation, ragged lives and much much more!..But first things first.
We flew to Kiev on June 30th. Below I post my “diary” which I kept from July 1st until the day we left the Zone. I made the most minimal adjustments, trying to leave everything as it was, since the text was saturated with feelings and thoughts at that time, and I did not want to overshadow it by censoring.
07/01/2017 — Beginning
Fell asleep at 2:00AM
Woke up at 4:40 AM— a meeting with Tendal is scheduled for 5:30 at the Kiev railway station.
At 7:15AM already, together with Tendal, we reached the parking lot, from where buses to Ivankovo (~ 30 km from the Zone) go. While waiting for the bus, we bought food (mainly canned food and instant noodles and puree, several condensed milk cans, halva, alcohol powder, matches, etc.)
At 9:40AM, we take a taxi and drive as close to the Zone as possible. Tendal and the driver are discussing whether me and Armen should bend down in the car so that residents of local villages do not see foreigners.
At 10:45AM we got out of a taxi and went deep into the forest — to change into army camouflage and distribute food supplies on backpacks.
11:00AM — Started moving towards the border of the Zone. The road leading there is littered with trees, covered with barbed wire. It is systematically patrolled by the police and border guards. The first 800 meters are actually the most dangerous, because you are in direct visibility from the central road on which police cars regularly pass, so we walked here for more than twenty minutes, literally stopping at every step and listening if there were anyone around.
We walked very slowly, listening to every rustle, walked through the barbed wire and with a slow step went towards the forest that could be seen at the end of this road. Looking around, we fixed the most acceptable escape routes in case if someone will spot us. If the military appeared in front or behind, we should have run deep into the forest, hide there, and later regroup using cellular communications in another part of the forest and wait for the night for the second attempt.
By 11:20AM, Tendal went ahead 50 steps to check if the path was clear. After a couple of minutes, he gave the command with his hand and we bent down and ran towards him, simultaneously trying to be as silent as possible. Here we go over the road on which the patrol goes and run to the forest, from where we are no longer visible.
Ahead we have several kilometers along the power lines, it began to rain, which on this day was almost uninterrupted.
By 12:30PM we turned off the intersected road onto the asphalt road— this is the current road that the police drive on, so we walked clinging to the left edge lining up in one lane, periodically looking back and still listening to the sounds.
At 1:40PM on the horizon the headlights of an approaching car flashed, we quickly got off the road, walked 30 meters inland and hid behind the trees. A minute later, a tinted minivan drove through, we waited another minute and returned to the road. Further to the very “Rudny-Veresnya” village there were no more cars.
At 2:15PM we went into the village. The whole abandoned village overgrown with tall grass and trees that tumbled down the roofs of some houses looked very interesting. We went 500 meters deeper into the village until Tendal stopped next to one of the houses and we went inside. We could settle in any house, but Tendal advised this one because it had a very comfortable attic with non-leaking roof and dry straw where we spent the night.
There were many Soviet newspapers in the house, as well as a stack of letters “From Alyosha” to “lovely Lyudmila”, where Alyosha who was so in love with Lyudmila was constantly writing to her. Alyosha served in the Strategic Missile Forces in Yar, and for several years wrote the adored Lyudmila from the 77th to the 80th (in any case, I couldn’t find any other letters with later date). Lyudmila lived at one time in Kiev and apparently she used this cottage coming here on summer or she moved here, taking with her all the letters that she treasured, given how neatly they lay and how the envelopes were opened.
07/02/2017 —next checkpoint : Machine and Tractor Station (MTS)
9:30AM got up, breakfast.
11:10AM moved out.
In the morning the weather was fine. Our shoes were still wet. We went along the river Uzh, until we reached the place where the river narrows. Tendal said that here we will cross the river ford. We undressed and in two walks we dragged bags and then clothes to the other shore. The river was waist-high.
From the same river, we collected drinking water, which we drove through a special filter and used for teas and food. Crossing the river and getting dressed, we went further — leaving marks on the way in the form of broken branches and everything that comes to hand.
The next 18 kilometers we walked under power lines, around which a pine forest stretched very evenly on both sides. these power lines led directly to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and at some point we slightly changed the road and walked under the others — they had to bring us to the Machine and Tractor Station (MTS).
At 12:40PM we reached one more asphalt road which we quickly crossed. Another road was run at 3:00PM. After about 100 meters, we saw a barbed wire lying on the ground. It was a fence “ten-kilometer” zone. In 1986, the USSR government outlined with a barbed wire the zone around the reactor at 10/20 / 30km circles (according to the degree of radiation pollution).
The wire in front of us meant that from here to the reactor is 10km straight. The dosimeter shows radiation 2 times higher than normal (0048, whereas normal 0021)
Away to our left was the Duga radar — a top-secret strategic special-purpose object of the Soviet era. On the maps of that time, it was designated as “Unfinished Pioneer Camp”, several hectares of trees were planted around it, and the position itself was such that no one from the nearby residential areas could understand what was there. Westerners called this radar “Russian woodpecker”, because when it was working at a special frequency, you could hear a continuous knock sound comparable to the woodpecker knock on a tree.
Before reaching the intersection where the road to Duga begins, we made a caches (cache with supplies, so we lighten our backpacks and save food for the return trip and cases of various emergency situations), dined and went on.
At 6:00PM we got to the trolleybus at MTS. (19km)
For stalkers, this place is legendary, there is even a notebook and pen in which visitors are recorded and leave their wishes. Inside of the bus there is a special place where the guys leave each other basic necessities, food, water. We got sneakers and granola. We signed in a notebook, probably we were the first Armenians who were here.
We ate, filtered the water collected from the Uzh River.
These are our last 3 liters.
We walked around the neighborhood — forgotten combines, ruined houses. Some rooms made it easy to understand what kind of work was done here.
We returned to the bus at 9:35 p.m. I couldn’t sleep. We’ll leave in an hour.
Ahead — long awaited Pripyat’.
Night 02.07–03.07 — Pripyat’
The guys woke up, we packed up and went out. Outside nothing was visible. Before us was an 800 meter road to “Tsentralka” — that’s the name of the main (central) road leading to Pripyat’. During the day, police and cars with official tourists constantly drive here (Stalkers call them “legals”). At these 800 meters while we were walking, we saw the burning red lights of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. To our right was a booth that we quickly passed — Tendal explained that this is an autonomous radiation data collection station. This station is unattended but it is fenced and an alarm is working inside.
We’ve reached the main road— the perfect asphalt was until Pripyat. The road was repaired recently — due to President Poroshenko visit. He spoke here about the successes of his team in collecting funding for the Arch (NSC) or “New Shelter”. The NSC is a structure erected over the Sarcophagus, which covered the damaged 4th power unit of atomic plant.
We walked in pitch darkness in the center of the road, periodically looking around, so as not to run into a patrol or a car that takes local workers (atomic plant and other gov.) to their homes. We avoided the roadside because during the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant the USSR government sent special washing cars to wash the asphalt from radiation, and all the radioactive dust and particles were washed to the sidelines. The radiation rate at the edges of the road was exceeded 10 times.
In the darkness we saw the sign of the village “Kopachi”, which was completely buried after the accident at 86th.
Around midnight, we went to the infamous kindergarten — a place where all the children from nearby villages (“Dytyatok”, “Kopachi” and others) were brought. Back in 1986, the government decided to bury all these villages under a large layer of sand. At the place where once there were houses now there are warning signs of high radiation. There are a lot of toys and scattered papers in the kindergarten. In the central hall there is a large wreath. Another large wreath stands at the entrance — people still bring flowers here.
We got out of there and went to the intersection, where the road leads to the right to the Gradirnya and Chernobyl NPP, and to the left — Pripyat.
We go left.
By this time, visibility is almost zero. We go without flashlights, because there is a police checkpoint ahead.
To our right is the Iron Forest — the place was so named because of the abundance of iron pipes, power transmission poles and other iron structures providing different communications a long time ago.
To our left is the Red Forest. It was so named because it was reddish by the morning when the accident on the atomic plant occurred (at 01:20AM). The government buried the entire forest and a new one grew in its place — still partially red.
Through the trees I can see the light of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which is about 600 meters from us. Even closer to us is the object of the “KHAYAT-2” (Nuclear Waste Storage), which was built in addition to the first one, after the accident.
A kilometer from Pripyat, on the road, we saw the outline of some impending object. The closer the silhouette was, the calmer it became. It was not a car, but also not a pedestrian, because moved many times faster.
After about 20 seconds, it became even with us. It was a tall, thin man on a bicycle. He was wearing a hood and looked very much like the bandits from the“Stalker” game :).
We talked with him, he warned us that in Pripyat’ a full car of policemen had called in the afternoon. Then he asked for seeds and left. I was attracted by the saw that hung in front of his rusty bike. Tendal said that this is a metalworker (in Russian — “metalist”) — that’s the name of the looters who have been plundering Pripyat’ for decades, sawing off any metal being cut. During the day they quietly saw and at night they take the loot out. Stalkers do not like them as they want to save the city with all its property as it is, without disfiguring the appearance, and metalworkers do not like stalkers because of them the police organize raids in Pripyat’, and often metalworkers come to hand together with stalkers as well.
After about 15 minutes, we reached the Death Bridge. On the day of the accident, all the people living in the city and all the children from the city gathered on this bridge to watch the nuclear power plant burn, not even suspecting that the radioactive dust was flying right at them in incredible doses.
There was 250 meters to the checkpoint. We lined up and walked 150 meters at a very fast pace, where we turned onto concrete blocks — they blocked the bypass road to Pripyat’.
It was 00:58AM on the clock when we reached the Pripyat’. Ahead, everything was very overgrown and visibility was generally 0. Some sections of the road I passed beyond Tendal, simply believing that there is a road. Armen also followed me in the same manner.
We pass the building, along the contours in the darkness resembling a garage — this is the Fire Station. Almost all employees of this station died due to radiation sickness during the first couple of months after the accident. The radiation doses they took were so high that their jackets glowed for a long time in the darkness of the basements of the local hospital # 126 (we will go there too).
White lights are visible a little further — This is the famous railway station Yanov. It works to this day. In theory, you can come to Pripyat by train through this railway station, but at best, you will be deployed and sent back due to the lack of a special pass. Some stalkers use the train to approach Pripyat and jump out of it before reaching the station.
1:10AM. Armen has severely sore legs. Tendal says that we are almost there. Another 10 minutes and we go into the apartment building. We rise to the second floor. In the center of the room are three mattresses — there are Tendal’s friends here, also stalkers. Igor said that we will not drink and eat. because in such darkness, if we light any kind of light, it will be too easy to spot us from the outside. We wrapped in sleeping bags and fell asleep. We got here at 01:26AM, having walked this day 20km (2nd) and 13km from MTS to the apartment in Pripyat (night 03.07).
Tomorrow it will be our first day when we’ll explore the Pripyat’ — the mysterious place full of drama and outstanding beauty of pure, untouched nature.
The continuation(Part 2) is here: https://medium.com/@alexanyanwolf/wild-trip-to-chernobyl-pripyat-part-2-bf4d1c3bad91