Thursday, November 12, 2015

By: Ric GazarianRic Gazarian got rare access and spent the night at
Chernobyl.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)As I stepped into the dark room, the
damp wood floor creaked under my feet.
Chills shot down my back.
My eyes
adjusted, I scanned the room — had I walked into the Overlook Hotel
from The Shining? Peeled paint, shattered windows, rusted beds strewn with old
clothes and toys, we had stumbled into a nursery school.
Once alive with the
laughter of kids playing, it had been abandoned — left untouched,
stark, creepy — 29 years ago after panicked residents fled the greatest
nuclear catastrophe in world history.
I was standing in the heart of the
Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.What was I doing here? Vacation, of course.
Well,
something like that.
For two full days, I was playing tourist inside this
1,000-square-mile forbidden zone that remains cordoned off by military
checkpoints.
Definitely not your typical holiday.
Although around 12,000
tourists visit Chernobyl a year (by comparison, Disney World sees 12,000
visitors in just two days!), 75 percent opt for the day trip (less exposure to
radiation, right?).
I wanted more time to explore this seemingly haunted
world.Related:"WATCH: 30 Years Later, The Ruins of ChernobylReactor
Four.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)
1986
What began as an early morning
test of Reactor Four on April 26, 1986 at the Soviet Union"s Chernobyl nuclear
plant resulted in an atomic fiasco, a Level 7 event (the maximum
classification) on the International Nuclear Events Scale.
Four hundred times
more radioactive material was released in the Chernobyl explosion than at
Hiroshima, and it took over 600,000 people (known as liquidators) to contain
the fire.
Thirty-one people died within the first three months.
Four thousand
would eventually perish.
It was a disaster of epic proportions."The tour guide
— note her T-shirt.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)The Tour: Day
One
Questioning my sanity for even signing up for this excursion, I stood
anxiously waiting for my guide in front of the Kiev Passenger Railway Train
Station.
It"s not often that your tour guide is armed with a dosimeter, a
device that measures radiation, but my fears allayed when she arrived; I
reasoned she was too cute to represent danger.The small group piled into a
minivan, and we watched a chilling 90-minute documentary,The Battle of
Chernobyl, that showed ill-prepared and ill-informed Soviet proletarians
battling the conflagration; some of whom were felled by Acute Radiation
Syndrome.
Yes… that"s where we were going.Warning! (Photo: Ric
Gazarian/Thrillist)After the two-hour drive from Kiev, a camouflaged solder
lifted the gate at the Dytakti 30 km Military Checkpoint and our group was
officially inside the Exclusion Zone.
We passed a makeshift shrine to the
victims, a chapel, deserted buildings.
I noticed the creeping wilderness, and
within moments I felt the remoteness and isolation of the area.
Time, for the
most part, has been frozen since 1986.A crumbling school.
(Photo: Ric
Gazarian/Thrillist)After parking the van, we explored.
The aforementioned
nursery school stood back from the street, hidden down a short dirt path
behind some overgrown trees.
A small plaque with the Soviet sickle and hammer
welcomed guests into the building.
Sunlight peered through the broken
windows.
As I wandered through the rooms, I imagined the school being
evacuated during the Chernobyl disaster.
Empty children"s beds filled one of
the rooms.
Shoes and dolls lay scattered in others.
Abandoned dolls.
(Photo:
Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)The New Safe Containment, which will protect
leaking"radiation.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)Reactor Four
From there I
stood in the shadow of Chernobyl.
Crazy, right? I mean, during the accident,
the radiation in the nearby control room was potent enough to kill someone
within TWO minutes.
It has to still be dangerous, I assumed.Turns out, Reactor
Four is actually covered in a cement sarcophagus constructed with over
14,000,000 million cubic feet of concrete.
It covers nearly 250 million tons
of radioactive materials and has a lifespan of only 20-30 years.
Which is why
in 1998, authorities began construction of the New Safe Containment (pictured
above).
Today, this 360-foot tall, silver monstrosity is still unfinished, but
upon completion, its frame will be slid over the reactor on a set of rails to
prevent further radiation from leaking.Pripyat, a ghost town."(Photo: Ric
Gazarian/Thrillist)Pripyat
The city of Pripyat was built to house the people
who manned Chernobyl"s reactors, and 50,000 people once called it home.
Today,
it"s a ghost town.
Reactor Four exploded at 1:23 a.m.
when the majority of
residents were asleep, but citizens were kept in the dark with regard to the
severity of the calamity.
It wasn"t until two days later that 1,000 buses were
commandeered from Kiev to evacuate Pripyat"s residents.Throughout my
exploration of the Zone, it was amazing to witness nature"s victory over
man.
Over a 30-year period, overgrown trees and shrubs simply swallowed the
homes and buildings.
We traversed through a large square in the heart of the
city, but the surrounding buildings were concealed by mother nature.The Palace
of Culture.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)Upon entering into the Palace of
Culture, I was greeted by an expansive but fading mural depicting the glories
of the Soviet Union.
A carpet of thick, broken glass crunched under our steps
— I was glad I wore heavy boots.
We investigated a theater and a
gym.
Either could have been used as a set for The Walking Dead.
I was hoping
no communist zombies would encircle my group.
The Pripyat Amusement
Park.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)The Pripyat Amusement Park was scheduled
to open on May 1, 1986 in celebration of the May Day holiday.
The park was
prematurely opened after the explosion for several hours to entertain
residents as the Soviets debated their fate.
I navigated through the traffic
jam of bumper cars.
The nearby Ferris Wheel dotted with banana-yellow cabins
rose over the deserted park.
Related:"10 Hauntingly Beautiful Abandoned
Amusement ParksStands overlooking a soccer field.
(Photo: Ric
Gazarian/Thrillist)I marched through the woods and arrived at a soccer field
that was completely covered by trees.
The wooden stands sat decomposing."
No
one is swimming here today.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)After investigating
the stadium, I arrived at the athletic center and this swimming pool."
A view
of Pripyat.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)At the end of the day, our group
proceeded (no elevators, of course!) up 17 floors to the roof of an apartment
building, where we were treated to an eagle-eye view of desolate Pripyat.
In
the distance, you could see Reactor Four and the adjacent New Safe
Containment.
The panorama from the roof provided yet another example of
nature"s tenacity, trees hiding the town"s buildings.
"We toured several
apartments to glimpse the lives of the former residents.Radioactive testing at
the hostel.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)Before arriving at the hostel, the
group was required to pass a radioactive test.
Obviously, nobody was glowing,
but were we contaminated? Individually, we each entered the odd, antiquated
contraption that measured radioactivity levels.
And look at that, we all
passed with flying colors.
What was I worried about?
A restaurant in the
Exclusion Zone.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)The Exclusion Zone"s small
restaurant also included a bar, and the Russian/Ukrainian stereotype proved
true — a bottle of vodka was quickly produced.
I felt a warm buzz after
a flurry of vodka toasts.
The adjacent table populated with locals (yes,
people do still live here!) adorned in camouflage and overalls broke out into
song.
While I imagined I"d see many incredible things on my trip, I did not
anticipate a festive night of swilling vodka and singing Ukrainian folk
songs.
Related:"Abandoned and Mysterious Hotels with a Bizarre HistoryDuga-3,
a nearby Soviet radar station.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)Day Two
After
shaking off the previous night"s revelry, the first stop was Duga-3, an
over-the-horizon Soviet radar station.
During the Cold War, this giant
installation had been blamed for disrupting aviation, amateur radio, utility,
and TV transmissions, and Duga-3"s powerful signals started worldwide rumors
of Soviet weather- and mind-control experiments.
In fact, official
confirmation that the structure even existed wasn"t confirmed until the Soviet
Union"s fall.
As we passed these green-colored gates adorned with Soviet
stars, we caught our first glimpse.Another view of Duga-3.
(Photo: Ric
Gazarian/Thrillist)But it wasn"t until we arrived at the base that I could
fully comprehend its colossal size.
The monstrosity stretches nearly 500 feet
tall and extends 2,500 feet long (over eight football fields)—- it
lords over the neighboring forest.
A ghostly humming sound still emanates from
Duga-3, despite the fact that it stopped operating in 1989.
The old control
facility.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)Adjacent to the tower was the control
facility, a radar station manned by 1,000 people (!!), 24-hours-a-day during
the height of Cold War.
The dilapidated building was still dotted with
Soviet-era propaganda.
I envisaged young soldiers standing watch in
anticipation of a U.S.
ballistic missile attack.
A house in the Exclusion
Zone."(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)Settlers
Some concepts defy logic, and
this is one of them.
Approximately 200 people still live in the Exclusion
Zone.
Let me repeat that: 200 settlers have continued to live in Chernobyl"s
realm.
By choice.
Prior to the disaster, over 120,000 people lived within the
Zone in two cities and 187 villages.
Today, these 200 people are known as
Samosely, and are an elderly lot averaging 63 years of age.Related:"16
Spooky-as-Hell Photos From Inside ChernobylMembers of the Samosely, who still
live in Chernobyl"s Exclusion Zone.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)And we were
able to meet some of them, like octogenarian couple Ivan and Maria
Ivankovich.
They are the only residents of their village, Parishiv, which once
numbered 900.
Despite the isolation and threats to their health, they"ve
insisted on living out their lives in the Zone.
And difficult lives they"ve
had, surviving the Stalin-fabricated famines of the 1930s, the Nazi invasion
of the U.S.S.R, and the calamity at Chernobyl.
"Ivan said he wasn"t fearful of
living in the Zone and that "hard working people will always have a good
healthy life and a happy marriage." "They"ve been married for nearly 60 years
and are still farming the land today.
Ivan also recalled that after the
explosion at Chernobyl, incredulously, a government truck patrolled the
streets providing free vodka as a health elixir to the residents.
Cats and
roosters prowled his yard as the animated Ivan shared his stories.
He enjoyed
the attention.
A sedate Maria looked on.
A car graveyard."(Photo: Ric
Gazarian/Thrillist)Car Graveyard
Our last visit in the Chernobyl Exclusion
Zone was a car graveyard.
Hundreds of vehicles were used to battle the
Chernobyl explosion/fire, and many of them ended up too radioactive to be
driven again.
Rusted skeletons lay piled upon each other.
Thick tires randomly
rested on the ground.
A vivid green circle of trees surrounded the
graveyard.We had one final checkpoint to cross before we could depart to
Kiev.
I wiggled my body into the last radiation detector.
I held my breath for
a moment until the machine gave me the all clear signal.
I smiled slyly.
I was
safely leaving the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, free of radiation and with one
more check mark on my bucket list.More from Thrillist:The 12 Best-Kept Secrets
in European Travel
15 American Bridges You Must Drive Over Before You
Die
The Least-Visited States in America, and Why You Should Go to
Each
WATCH:"Inside the Cage of Death: Face to Face with Australia"s Monster
CrocsLet World traveling club Travel inspire you every day.
Hang out with us
on"Facebook,"Twitter, Instagram, and"Pinterest."Check out our original
adventure travel series A Broad Abroad." By: Ric Gazarian Ric Gazarian got
rare access and spent the night at Chernobyl.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)
As I stepped into the dark room, the damp wood floor creaked under my
feet.
Chills shot down my back.
My eyes adjusted, I scanned the room — had I
walked into the Overlook Hotel from The Shining?.Pripyat, a ghost
town."(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)Pripyat
The city of Pripyat was built to
house the people who manned Chernobyl"s reactors, and 50,000 people once
called it home.
Today, it"s a ghost town.
Reactor Four exploded at 1:23
a.m.
when the majority of residents were asleep, but citizens were kept in the
dark with regard to the severity of the calamity.
It wasn"t until two days
later that 1,000 buses were commandeered from Kiev to evacuate Pripyat"s
residents.Throughout my exploration of the Zone, it was amazing to witness
nature"s victory over man.
Over a 30-year period, overgrown trees and shrubs
simply swallowed the homes and buildings.
We traversed through a large square
in the heart of the city, but the surrounding buildings were concealed by
mother nature.The Palace of Culture.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)Upon
entering into the Palace of Culture, I was greeted by an expansive but fading
mural depicting the glories of the Soviet Union.
A carpet of thick, broken
glass crunched under our steps — I was glad I wore heavy boots.
We
investigated a theater and a gym.
Either could have been used as a set for The
Walking Dead.
I was hoping no communist zombies would encircle my group.
The
Pripyat Amusement Park.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)The Pripyat Amusement
Park was scheduled to open on May 1, 1986 in celebration of the May Day
holiday.
The park was prematurely opened after the explosion for several hours
to entertain residents as the Soviets debated their fate.
I navigated through
the traffic jam of bumper cars.
The nearby Ferris Wheel dotted with
banana-yellow cabins rose over the deserted park.
Related:"10 Hauntingly
Beautiful Abandoned Amusement ParksStands overlooking a soccer field.
(Photo:
Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)I marched through the woods and arrived at a soccer
field that was completely covered by trees.
The wooden stands sat
decomposing."
No one is swimming here today.
(Photo: Ric
Gazarian/Thrillist)After investigating the stadium, I arrived at the athletic
center and this swimming pool."
A view of Pripyat.
(Photo: Ric
Gazarian/Thrillist)At the end of the day, our group proceeded (no elevators,
of course!) up 17 floors to the roof of an apartment building, where we were
treated to an eagle-eye view of desolate Pripyat.
In the distance, you could
see Reactor Four and the adjacent New Safe Containment.
The panorama from the
roof provided yet another example of nature"s tenacity, trees hiding the
town"s buildings.
"We toured several apartments to glimpse the lives of the
former residents.Radioactive testing at the hostel.
(Photo: Ric
Gazarian/Thrillist)Before arriving at the hostel, the group was required to
pass a radioactive test.
Obviously, nobody was glowing, but were we
contaminated? Individually, we each entered the odd, antiquated contraption
that measured radioactivity levels.
And look at that, we all passed with
flying colors.
What was I worried about?
A restaurant in the Exclusion
Zone.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)The Exclusion Zone"s small restaurant
also included a bar, and the Russian/Ukrainian stereotype proved true —
a bottle of vodka was quickly produced.
I felt a warm buzz after a flurry of
vodka toasts.
The adjacent table populated with locals (yes, people do still
live here!) adorned in camouflage and overalls broke out into song.
While I
imagined I"d see many incredible things on my trip, I did not anticipate a
festive night of swilling vodka and singing Ukrainian folk
songs.
Related:"Abandoned and Mysterious Hotels with a Bizarre HistoryDuga-3,
a nearby Soviet radar station.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)Day Two
After
shaking off the previous night"s revelry, the first stop was Duga-3, an
over-the-horizon Soviet radar station.
During the Cold War, this giant
installation had been blamed for disrupting aviation, amateur radio, utility,
and TV transmissions, and Duga-3"s powerful signals started worldwide rumors
of Soviet weather- and mind-control experiments.
In fact, official
confirmation that the structure even existed wasn"t confirmed until the Soviet
Union"s fall.
As we passed these green-colored gates adorned with Soviet
stars, we caught our first glimpse.Another view of Duga-3.
(Photo: Ric
Gazarian/Thrillist)But it wasn"t until we arrived at the base that I could
fully comprehend its colossal size.
The monstrosity stretches nearly 500 feet
tall and extends 2,500 feet long (over eight football fields)—- it
lords over the neighboring forest.
A ghostly humming sound still emanates from
Duga-3, despite the fact that it stopped operating in 1989.
The old control
facility.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)Adjacent to the tower was the control
facility, a radar station manned by 1,000 people (!!), 24-hours-a-day during
the height of Cold War.
The dilapidated building was still dotted with
Soviet-era propaganda.
I envisaged young soldiers standing watch in
anticipation of a U.S.
ballistic missile attack.
A house in the Exclusion
Zone."(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)Settlers
Some concepts defy logic, and
this is one of them.
Approximately 200 people still live in the Exclusion
Zone.
Let me repeat that: 200 settlers have continued to live in Chernobyl"s
realm.
By choice.
Prior to the disaster, over 120,000 people lived within the
Zone in two cities and 187 villages.
Today, these 200 people are known as
Samosely, and are an elderly lot averaging 63 years of age.Related:"16
Spooky-as-Hell Photos From Inside ChernobylMembers of the Samosely, who still
live in Chernobyl"s Exclusion Zone.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist)And we were
able to meet some of them, like octogenarian couple Ivan and Maria
Ivankovich.
They are the only residents of their village, Parishiv, which once
numbered 900.
Despite the isolation and threats to their health, they"ve
insisted on living out their lives in the Zone.
And difficult lives they"ve
had, surviving the Stalin-fabricated famines of the 1930s, the Nazi invasion
of the U.S.S.R, and the calamity at Chernobyl.
"Ivan said he wasn"t fearful of
living in the Zone and that "hard working people will always have a good
healthy life and a happy marriage." "They"ve been married for nearly 60 years
and are still farming the land today.
Ivan also recalled that after the
explosion at Chernobyl, incredulously, a government truck patrolled the
streets providing free vodka as a health elixir to the residents.
Cats and
roosters prowled his yard as the animated Ivan shared his stories.
He enjoyed
the attention.
A sedate Maria looked on.
A car graveyard."(Photo: Ric
Gazarian/Thrillist)Car Graveyard
Our last visit in the Chernobyl Exclusion
Zone was a car graveyard.
Hundreds of vehicles were used to battle the
Chernobyl explosion/fire, and many of them ended up too radioactive to be
driven again.
Rusted skeletons lay piled upon each other.
Thick tires randomly
rested on the ground.
A vivid green circle of trees surrounded the
graveyard.We had one final checkpoint to cross before we could depart to
Kiev.
I wiggled my body into the last radiation detector.
I held my breath for
a moment until the machine gave me the all clear signal.
I smiled slyly.
I was
safely leaving the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, free of radiation and with one
more check mark on my bucket list.More from Thrillist:The 12 Best-Kept Secrets
in European Travel
15 American Bridges You Must Drive Over Before You
Die
The Least-Visited States in America, and Why You Should Go to
Each
WATCH:"Inside the Cage of Death: Face to Face with Australia"s Monster
CrocsLet World traveling club Travel inspire you every day.
Hang out with us
on"Facebook,"Twitter, Instagram, and"Pinterest."Check out our original
adventure travel series A Broad Abroad."By: Ric Gazarian Ric Gazarian got rare
access and spent the night at Chernobyl.
(Photo: Ric Gazarian/Thrillist) As I
stepped into the dark room, the damp wood floor creaked under my feet.
Chills
shot down my back.
My eyes adjusted, I scanned the room — had I walked into
the Overlook Hotel from The Shining?

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