Last year, in April, two friends and I went to Kiev, Ukraine, I had never been before and the flight price was decent, 600 for a flight to Kiev. I had layovers in Brussels for 6 hours and Vienna for 30, so I was able to plod about in both.
We had no specific plans while in Ukraine, it was just a country I had never been to and wanted to see. I thought I would spend most of the time exploring Kiev, possibly taking the train out to Kharkov or Odessa; my friend mentioned we should see Chernobyl. I was unaware that we would be able to do that, but upon some high quality googling, I saw that it is open to tours , so we decided to go.
We chose SoloEast, who I thoroughly enjoyed, and would suggest; there are other companies, but they had the best price and I felt like they offered the most. They picked us up at our hotel, which was a bit silly because the meeting point for the rest of the group was literally across the street.
They picked us up in a mini-bus and we went across the street, picked up 5 more people, and we were off! We had one guide, Helen. She told us a little about our day's activities, then put on a documentary about Chernobyl, which you can view online but I cannot find now, I will update when I find it.
The ride was uneventful and took about 1 1/2 hours. We arrived at the gates of the exclusion zone, at which point we all had to get out of the van, they checked our paperwork, and we took some photos. Chernobyl has what is called the "exclusion zone" which is a 30km zone outside the plant.
After entering the exclusion zone, we traveled for about 25 minutes through back roads, where houses were over-run and being reclaimed by nature, albeit a radioactive nature. Our first stop was at a schoolhouse.
The schoolhouse was set back from the road, in the woods, and the small trail leading up to it has a vibrant and bold, yellow and red radioactive sign. We got to wander around the small schoolhouse, which gave us our first taste of the eerie situation. Books were strewn about, homework unfinished sat on the floor; it was clear and apparent that people had been told to leave and they did. Everything looked as though people just left for the day and were coming back tomorrow but just forgot to return.
We got back in the old van an off to some radio tower that was absolutely massive, and was featured in the Divergent movies. Apparently some Russian thing for intercepting missile transmissions or something. We were able to climb up a few feet, just to the second story, but Helen would not let us go any further. A walk back to the car, and we were headed to the reactor.
You can only get so close to the reactor, about 200 yards or more, I would guess. There is a bus-stop for the workers and an entrance. From here, you can see the building that housed the reactor and the sarcophagus, which was made to cover the reactor and stop radiation from escaping; they are building a much larger one to cover everything, to be completed next year.
We then were headed to Pripyat, the town that housed the workers for Chernobyl; abandoned since 2 days after the complete failure, the town is being reclaimed by nature. We were not able to go into any apartments, but we saw the iconic square and gym/swimming pool as well as the room where the floor is overrun with doll-heads and one with gas masks, as well as the playground. The playground was never even used, it was built immediately before the reactor failure and never opened.
We left Pripyat and went to get food, traditional Ukrainian food, which was not my style. The food was not bad, it just was not something I was too into. We hung out here for a bit, then headed out.
At the exit you have to go through radiation machines to see if you're bringing any radiation out, basically. We were told that the only thing that ever happens, usually, is that people's shoes will have to stay in the zone because they are in contact most with radiation. We also saw wild horses on the way out; wildlife has flourished because of the lack of people in the area.
The drive back was uneventful, mostly because we all fell asleep.
Overall, I have no complaints about any aspect of the ride with the exception of one, I wish I had done the longer tour. I did feel like we had ample time to see everything, and we were given a good amount of time at each location, but more time would not have hurt, either. SoloEast does offer longer tours as well as private tours, and I cannot suggest them enough.