Chernobyl: inside the exclusion zone
April 26 marks the anniversary of the world's most notorious nuclear disaster. 30 years later Chernobyl remains a desolate, yet offbeat tourist destination.
A new hostel has opened in the heart of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, one of the most radioactive places on the planet.
The Ukrainian government is behind the accommodation, set in a former Soviet dormitory just nine miles from the site of the nuclear disaster that decimated the area in 1986.
State administrator Svetlana Grishchenko said that the hostel currently has 50 beds but there are plans to expand it to accommodate 102 people. The first guests this week included tourists from the US, New Zealand and Denmark.
Vistors are allowed into the exclusion zone that covers around 1,000 square miles in the north of the country, but only with permission and only for short periods.
The area, of which the abandoned city of Pripyat is perhaps best known, is still deemed highly contaminated with radioactive material, but increasingly popular with tourists, who can take tours from Kiev.
"Visitors are screened before they enter the Exclusion Zone – the restricted space, 19 miles in radius, which surrounds the blast area," said Chris Leadbeater, who too the tour in 2016.
"They are told not to sit down, or touch items within this cordon – and are checked for radioactive particles when they leave again.
"Simply, Chernobyl is 1986, in all its suspicion, frisson and atomic fear. Wander the dead streets of Pripyat and you are entering the realm which caused Bonn, Washington DC and London to gnaw their fingernails – still in thrall to Lenin and the ghosts of 1917. It is all still there in its rusted swimming pools and dusty gymnasium; in the giant ferris wheel which has become a symbol of the disaster – a motionless circle which was never permitted to turn. The amusement park of which it is the most visible ride was due to open four days after the explosion. It has never welcomed a paying guest."
Chernobyl's reactor remains under a concrete and steel sarcophagus, in which 16 tons of uranium and plutonium and 30 tons of highly contaminated dust are trapped.
The new hostel is not the only accommodation available in the Chernobyl zone, with a number of old buildings redeveloped to the point of offering acceptable rooms for a few nights, though all in the zone need to be travelling with an organised tour.
One such is Hotel Pripyat, of which tour operator Chornobyl Tour says: "All the rooms are simple, in the Soviet Style. All the visitors are provided with the ironed, starched linen stamped by Chernobyl special industrial complex, some soap and a towel."
It adds that there is a radio that "seems to broadcast from the past about achievements of regional farms in the Ivankov district."
The Telegraph, London
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