Foreign tourists from two different countries with different backgrounds took a tour to Chernobyl exclusion zone in Belarus. What struck them the most, how to prepare for the trip and what to expect from the deadlands – read in our text.
“I was born in 1989, so the catastrophe happened before I was born,” says Arla Aspholm from Finland, who visited both Chernobyl exclusion zone in Belarus and Pripyat in Ukraine.
History and abandoned places were always of particular interest to me, I’ve already been to Chernobyl and Pripyat three years ago and wanted to visit the Belarusian side.
After looking for agencies arranging tours to the zone I contacted Walk to Folk. Turned out that they arrange Chernobyl tours only once a month, so I felt super lucky our schedules matched up.
It was a nice full-day trip from 6 am to 8 pm including the travel time from Rechitsa city in the Gomel Region to the spot.
At 6 am on Sunday, we met our guide at Gomel railway station, got into a minibus and headed to Rechitsa and into the wild. We made it to the zone at around 10 am.
There, we had our documents checked and agreed to the safety rules with signing. Before the tour, all I needed to do is to send a photo of my passport to the agency.
When in Minsk, I accompanied by a tour agency employee applied to the border committee for a permit to enter the border zone. Also, I carried a passport with me to the tour.
No special health insurance (apart from mandatory health insurance for foreigners in Belarus – BelarusFeed note) or other medical certificates were required.
You should always follow the guide and his instructions and don’t go wandering on your own. We were, however, could explore the places quite freely with common sense and care.
Besides, one shouldn’t go anywhere without checking the place with a Geiger counter first, but don’t worry, your guide will take care of that. Obviously, you shouldn’t pick anything – berries or mushrooms – from the ground.
In Ukraine, there were also body scanners for radiation which we had to use before and after the visit. There weren’t these in Belarus, probably because we weren’t on the premises of the nuclear power plant.
There was no particular dress code. We were told to dress comfortably and for the weather. It was recommended to have an extra set of clothing and shoes just in case.
I didn’t have any special clothing, just a pair of trainers, leggings, a hoodie and a raincoat which turned out to be quite useful because it was raining from time to time.
Mind that sometimes you’ll have to go through bushes and narrow places, so it’s good to wear something thick that will protect you from scratches and bruises.
Good shoes with thick outsoles are a must to avoid getting cut by nails and broken glass.
I would also recommend bringing some mosquito repellent, I’ve never seen as much insects and mosquitos as in the zone!
Chernobyl tour highlights
After checking our documents we took another minibus and the long-awaited tour finally started. The first place we stopped by was a museum about the wildlife in the zone.
Things got really exciting when we visited our first site – an abandoned school. It is a very strange and a bit eerie feeling to be in the middle of nowhere when you know there aren’t any other people nearby.
I tried to imagine what the places looked like before the evacuation. How it was when the schools were full of pupils, how a place used to look like when there was a road, what kind of people lived there.
I felt sad and sorry for the people who had to leave their homes and belongings and never had a chance to return. Everyday things struck me the most – letters that were never sent and kids’ school bags.
On the other hand, I felt joyful to see how nature is coping, how it’s taking over the things a man has once built and then ruined. There was something weirdly beautiful in a plant growing on a rotten floor of a building.
Dinner and thoughts
In between our trip to villages, former collective farms, factories, dilapidated buildings for public events, an animal hospital, rusty boats and houses, we had a picnic lunch by the Pripyat River.
We ate bread, cheese, vegetables and fruits that our guide had brought from Gomel. There was a gazebo that I heard was originally built for Alexander Lukashenko when he visited the zone.
We ended the tour around 5 o’clock and went to have dinner in Khoyniki where we had lovely traditional potato pancakes with sour cream. We arrived back to Gomel at about 8 pm.
I think most people know the basics of the Chernobyl catastrophe. They know the time and the place where it happened and that some particles of the radiation ended up in Finland too.
Explore the topic:
I’m quite sure that older people can still remember the exact place where they were when they first heard about the catastrophe. Chernobyl is almost always associated only with Ukraine.
I don’t think many people know that Belarus was the one that suffered the most losing so much land to radiation, let alone the sad outcome for its population and economy.
Volunteer and explore
Ho Fung Lam from Hong Kong, China, is an international sports volunteer, who traveled to Minsk for the second European Games from 21 June to 30 June this year.
I learned about the Chernobyl disaster during my history studies and wanted to visit the place one day. Since I’ve been to Belarus, it was a great chance to make my dream come true.
After searching for information about a day tour to Chernobyl, I contacted the guide and we agreed on visiting the Palieski state radioecological reserve (the Belarusian section of the zone).
The tour took us about 11 hours, from 7 am to 6 pm by car. Petr Filon, our guide, picked me up in Gomel and we drove about 1 hour 15 minutes to the reserve, there, we changed the car.
I was wearing shorts, so Petr had to lend me trousers so they could let me in.
So keep in mind, bare legs are not welcome in the exclusion zone. As to other safety rules, don’t take away anything out of the zone, wash hands after the tour and beware of the holes inside the abandoned buildings.
Our first stop was a museum and several abandoned buildings. Recharged by sandwiches near the Pripyat River, we headed to several schools, a culture center and took lots of photos near boats.
Leaving the Palieski State Radioecological Reserve at about 5 pm we brought with us a feeling of sadness and a sense that the Soviet Union never collapsed here.