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Personal: Going to the Chernobyl reactor

Apr 2, 2021

This post has loads of videos and photos!

It is also very personal to me but I still want to share it with you.

I usually just write marketing automation technical and theory articles but I thought I would share a little more about myself as a person in this post. I haven’t had the easiest life in the world but not having an easy life gives you strength.

After watching the HBO series Chernobyl I was intrigued to go there. As a boy I remember when the Chernobyl disaster happened. Not very well, I was living in Germany at the time and my memory of it was not being allowed to play outside whilst dark clouds rolled past overhead.

I also witnessed the fall of the Berlin wall whilst I was out there but that’s another story for a different day.

london-heathrow
exclusion-zone

I got it into my head that I wanted to go to the Chernobyl reactor and so I put out a request on crackbook (that’s what I call facebook because it is addictive like crack)  Someone I knew, but not that well said he would come with me. Middle, middle, middle and we ended up meeting up at Heathrow airport next stop Kiev.

Sadly my phone got stolen in London that has all the best photos but some of my friends sent me a few photos and the videos I took whilst I was there. I will give you a brief narrative along my journey, sadly I don’t have all the videos or photos but I would like to share with you my experience.

I know this has absolutely nothing to do with Eloqua but hopefully you will find this interesting.

Welcome to hell Corporal Staunton…

We woke up really early, put on our winter cold clothes because it was minus temperatures and took a taxi to the meeting point.  When we got there it looked like there were three tour buses there, each carrying about 8 people that were going to go into the exclusion zone.

The exclusion zone is the area set up around the disaster area because basically, you die if you spend too long in it.  As you drive closer you start to see less and less houses.  The closer you get to Chernobyl the further back in time you find yourself.

We arrived at the gates, got given our dosimeters and told under no circumstances touch anything, breath in the dust and certainly never take anything away from it because you will end up with cancer.

After that stark warning, we went through the military controlled check point.  This is when shit got real, really real.

chernobyl entrance
Chernobyl Gas Mask
Chernobyl Radio

The route in….

We passed the checkpoint and headed in, the exclusion zone is massive which I suppose is testament to how catastrophic this disaster was.  I mean, what is more serious than a nuclear power station blowing up?  Our first port of call (see above) was an old secret Soviet radio base.  We got told it was one that could detect if the US had fired nuclear weapons at the USSR so they would fire back.  The second port of call was an old school.  It was a harrowing experience because you can see the beds, desks, chairs, even shoes of the children that were once there.  There are some creepy things that people have put in there for sensational photo like dolls without heads and stupid stuff like that.  What I am showing you is the real stuff which is truly more haunting.  Who leaves their shoes behind unless it is a serious hurry?  It is the small things like this that stand out and help you get into the mindset of how frightened these people must have been.  Imagine the staff, scared out of their wits having to stay strong in front of children that had no idea what was going on and wouldn’t understand why they couldn’t even go back and pick up their toy whilst soldiers forced them onto evacuation buses as quickly as possible.

Chernobyl School
Chernobyl School
Chernobyl School
Chernobyl School
Chernobyl Reactor

The main event

We were not allowed to take any other photos of the surrounding area for security purposes which is fully understandable given the world we live in and the morons that seek to destroy it.  We stood outside the reactor and whilst excited at actually being there, seeing it, you still think about just how hard this must have been for all involved in containing the disaster.

There was no script for this, no text book.  This was totally unprecedented.  Every man and woman that served here played their role from the top scientist to the lowest cook that made food for the soldiers.  They all needed each other and did their duty.

Lunch in a reactor

Wow is all I can say, after visiting the blown up reactor we went for lunch in the reactor next door.  You may ask “why do they have the same nuclear reactors working next door still?”  I did, I got a shifty answer but apparently it takes electricity to somehow contain the blown up reactor which is why the workers are there.  We went through de-contamination before going into the canteen and the lunch was…..  Interesting…..  Note the color of the water…..  I will come back to that…..

Post lunch reflection

Now I never ever thought I would ever eat a Soviet style lunch in a nuclear reactor next to one that had been blown up.  The thought had never crossed my mind.  It was an interesting experience and the food was not quite to our western tastes but then again we are spoiled rotten, people have life so good in the west they have allergies for things that I have never heard about and Bin Chicken, vegetarians, pescawhatevers, organic, non-organic, choice.  Here it is eat this or go hungry – Respect!

Death highway I

So I thought the worst part for contamination outside of the reactor would be outside the reactor – No it wasn’t. we proceeded towards Pripyat down “death highway”.  I have travelled down many “death highways” in my life, in Iraq and Afghanistan we used to have terrorists blowing us up with bombs or ambushing us.  The thing is with that, you are either hit or not hit.  This was different, you could feel the unease as all our geiger counters start squealing and you realize, “shit, radiation is entering my body”.

Going into Pripyat

With death highway out of the way we proceeded to Pripyat.  They put on a video that was made to display this modern day city that was the pinnacle of Soviet life. From the video you could see that there was a lot of pride in Chernobyl and Pripyat.  A model for the rest of the Soviet union.  They did have a hell of a lot to be proud of.  A lot of people including myself will never understand that world and only see world though our own prebuilt conceptions.  As oppressive as the music was on the video it had a message of pride and hope.

Death highway II

Having been told about lethal doses of radiation on death highway and how we should not stop here some wild horses came out of nowhere, naturally the bus stopped for photos of them.  They didn’t seem at all worried about our presence and it was a very tranquil scene.  Then you remember the squealing gieger counters and you are brought back to reality.  I looked down, ping, the number on my dosimeter goes up.  I was starting to feel a bit sick.  Either it was lunch or radiation either way I didn’t care and couldn’t wait to get into Pripyat.

Poking a wasp nest

Once we got into Pripyat a dark feeling descended on the group, this was real.  We were witnessing the aftermath of the countless lives, homes and a countries dream destroyed.  We visited the police station were Shcherbina & Prof. Legasov stood on the roof directing helicopters dumping Boron on the burning reactor.  We visited the hospital where the fireman’s clothes are in the basement.  In the buildings there were clothes, sheets, furniture, etc.  People literally left.  The feeling of absolute sadness following a catastrophe was all around.

Pripyat fair ground
Chernobyl Park
Pripyat hospital
Pripyat Hospital
The iconic wheel
Chernobyl Wheel
The secondary school
Pripyat school
Bumper cars
Pripyat Bumper Cars
Pripyat street
The police station
Pripyat Police Station
Conference building
Pripyat conference building

Life in Pripyat

Although partially reclaimed by nature and crumbling year by year, you can still make out that this was a cosmopolitan, thriving city.  Whilst we were not allowed to go into the buildings because you will get a massive radiation dose and they might fall down on you, some of us more adventurous ones did.  We went into a gym, past the entrance lobby, upstairs, into the changing rooms, had to skirt our way around a basketball court because the flow was falling through the middle and the wood was all rotten out into a large swimming pool complete with diving boards.

Afterthoughts in Kiev

This experience was quite unique.  I went there thinking this would be cool and something to show off about but very quickly whilst I was there my usual jovial mood stopped.  What happened in Chernobyl was a colossal disaster and as always it was the people, workers and soldiers that paid the price.  As you enter the exclusion zone things change and stuff gets real fast.  I paid a small price for my time there and I was a bit ill.  Declan was a bit ill the next day.  As we drive back to Kiev no-one spoke.

Chernobyl-detector
Chernobyl Greg

So there you have it folks, We flew back to London via Germany both wearing our jackets from Chernobyl and both got unexplained hits on the metal detector scanner, it pinged but couldn’t show anywhere there was metal.

A guy in Hamburg that was sitting at the same bar as us overheard us talking to an Irish couple, telling them that we had been to Chernobyl.  He joined in the conversation and produced a circuit board he had picked up.  Me and Declan just looked at each other and said you need to get rid of that right now.  He said “no, it will be fine, I will keep it in a box in my room, it will be fine”.  WOW!

Some people think I am a weirdo for going to dark places like this and you might too.  To them and you I say this.  “If no one visits these places and no one tells the story, the story will be forgotten and then repeated, these people have a sad story to tell and here I am in a foreign language telling their extraordinary, sad story”.

I do hope that this story helps you to get to know me a little better as a person.

Oh yes, that person that came with me that I hardly knew is now a very close and dear friend of mine.  Also the water in the canteen had in fact come straight out of the reactor! lol

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