After Lviv, my plan was to drive straight to Kiev so I could spend a couple of days there as I wanted to do a day trip to also visit Chernobyl. After the terrible roads I had gone through from the Ukraine border up to Lviv, I was really dreading this road. But in the end it actually turned out the roads were better and a big part of the way was almost a highway.
One place I wanted to stop in was the small town of Zhytomyr where an interesting museum dedicated to the glory days of the former USSR’s space ambitions. The museum is called the Korolyov Cosmonaut Museum after Sergei Korolyov who was the lead Soviet rocket engineer during those the 50’s and 60’s. I found the museum fairly quickly (thank you GPS!) and it was pretty much everything I expected it to be. It’s an interesting piece of history (particularly for someone who is interested in space), but unfortunately there’s hardly any information in English so you have to just enjoy looking at rockets and probes, without knowing much about them.
After this stop, I continued to Kiev and reached the city that afternoon. I had a bit of trouble reaching the hotel as the main boulevard in the centre of the city was closed off to traffic because of the weekend so I had to take a few detours. The hotel – Natsionalny Hotel – was an interesting mix of old Soviet decorations with some modern upgrades. Because of its proximity to the Ukrainian parliament, it has an air politicians about it (if that makes any sense).
That evening I only took a short walk around the main square which is a reminder of the war that’s happening in the East of Ukraine. It’s full of photographs of the soldiers who have died so far and some of the dates were as recent as two weeks before.
The next day, I wanted to try a new guiding app I had on my phone so I planned on doing 2 walking tours where the app will guide me through the city while telling me in the headphones what I was seeing around me. The app’s name is Pocket Guide and it worked really well. The best part about it was that if you are online (which I was since I had purchased a Ukrainian SIM card) the tours are free. I came away knowing a lot more about the city and it’s landmarks and also very tired. I walked 25km! A lot of the buildings in the city centre are beautiful and since it was also a really gorgeous day I was able to take my time and photograph quite a few of them.
The next day, I had booked my Chernobyl day tour and before you start telling me that I will be glowing green, I just wanted to mention that in many parts around the 30km exclusion zone, the radiation was lower than in the centre of Kiev (we had a Geiger counter)! Apparently, buildings made out of granite and marble actually give off quite a bit more radiation than what is normally found in open fields.
Chernobyl was a strange experience. I still remember when I was an 8 year old kid in 1986 when the accident happened that everybody in Romania was talking about this. Everybody was worried about the vegetables they were eating that ear, the milk they were drinking and so on. But none of this comes close to what the people living in the shadow of the nuclear powerplant went through in those first days after the accident.
In the town of Pripyat, founded only in 1970 and already having a population of about 50,000 people, the people went on about their daily lives for 36 hours after the accident took place as nobody told them there was a problem. When they finally evacuated, they were told they would return in a few days, so everything was left as it was. Of course, nobody returned and now the town is being taken back by nature, with the once imposing boulevards turning into forests.
Although the place feels a bit staged in some parts (for example, dolls are arranged on nursery beds for maximum effect), it’s a fascinating look into a place that stopped in time almost 30 years ago.