38. UrbanX 30th Birthday

Ok, before we start I’ll let you know that there are no shots inside the buildings in Pripyat in this report. Going into the buildings is now forbidden, and this is enforced. If I went in buildings in this trip or not, will remain off of the public realm. Please don’t ask on this public thread, I will not answer.


2009: “There’s no way you’re going to Chernobyl. Why would anyone go there?” – Mrs UrbanX
2009: ” You’ve been now, theres no need for you to go back” - Mrs UrbanX
2010: “OK you can go to Chernobyl, but just this once” – Mrs UrbanX
2010: ”Why do you need to go again?” - Mrs UrbanX
2011: “OK you can go again, but this is the last time” – Mrs UrbanX
Spring 2012: “I give up, you’re going again aren’t you?” – Mrs UrbanX

Summer 2012: “If you’re going again, take me I need to see why you’re obsessed with the place” – Mrs UrbanX

“I’m not obsessed with it!”
“Open your passport at a random page then”




So, the sharp eyed among you will have noticed that the age in my Avatar may now start with a 3.
Turning 30 is a big deal, and I decided I should have a party to celebrate.

Where do I throw it?... Silly question, there’s only one place on earth I’d want to spend my 30th.


Mrs UrbanX & UrbanX (note the birthday badge!)

I contacted my Ukrainian government agent and told him my idea. “We knew your birthday was coming up, we’ve been waiting for your call. We won’t take any bookings for that day, you’ll have the city to yourself”



Well, you cant turn that down can you. The group I explore Chernobyl with has slowly got smaller over the years. This year we decided to book all 16 places, but only 8 of us go. Sure we paid extra, but we saw over twice as much. But this time it would just be me and my wife.



It was a totally different experience, yet again. Normally you go round in a mini bus. But having my guide rock up on his own in his own small car was wicked. With our consent we also picked up someone who was training to be a guide. It was her first day of training and she’d never even been into the zone before.



Arriving at the office to pick up the contract, a guide that I met a couple of month ago came out. Kissing me on both cheeks “Hi Lee, back so soon? Good to see you”. Then I heard a shout from inside “Lee’s here?!” Another worker bowled out “Happy Birthday Lee! We must have a drink and catch up later” My wife just stood there open mouthed.

“The contract” always has the exact number of boxes to sign as places booked for the day :)


Palace of culture:


Anyone who thinks I make up or exaggerate that they run security checks on you prior to being allowed to visit 190 tonnes of nuclear material is ignorant. Although I was shocked when out of the blue one of the workers asked how my cat (by name) got on at the vets last week. You may remember from my previous reports that when my guide was distracted I ran to the roofs? Yeah, they’d been looking at that online too, and gave me a royal bollocking over it.

City Admin:


It was due to be a scorcher of a day, in the high 30’s, so we decided to do all of the exploring first while it was still cool. We pulled up the little car into the middle of the main city square, and all got out. “So where would you like to go this time?” asked my guide.
“I’d love to go back to the stadium”
“Go on then, you know the way!”


And with that he let us just walk off into Pripyat towards the stadium. Walking the tree lined avenues with my wife I was pointing out landmark buildings.



I’d never appreciated the initial attempt of decontaminating Pripyat. They knew the soil was bad, and that it had absorbed a lot of the radiation. So they decided to just remove it all. Liquidators were employed to dig up every verge, garden, and flowerbed, by hand, to a depth of 6” They worked tirelessly, often topless (Pripyat is hot by May) digging, and piling the poisonous soil into wheel barrows and then into trucks, for it to be taken into the red forest. After they had done this throughout the city the remaining ground was tested. It was still highly radioactive. So those that survived were told to repeat the task and dig another 6 inches down. If you walk down any street in Pripyat it’s worth looking at the verges, and noting how much lower than the road they are.



Street in summer!






At the stadium I decided to test this theory. Instinct, and everything I’ve learnt has told me to avoid the organic matter in Pripyat, stick to the concrete. But at the stadium, the concrete is heavily contaminated, it was used for landing the helicopters that were trying to extinguish the fire. Flying directly over the open reactor, they became charged, and landing here they have charged the concrete. I took a reading off my Geiger counter: 4.60 mSv. Pretty high. (Normal is 0.10, most of Pripyat is around 1.00). I walked onto the grass in the middle of the stadium, and to my surprise it dropped to 0.50mSV!

The video has lost a lot a lot being compressed onto YouTube, but you get the idea

http://youtu.be/RX85kh6r1ZQ



We spent the next five hours just exploring at our own pace. The feel was totally different, the last trips, although smaller groups, have still been with eight guys. So just walking a whole abandoned city, holding hands with my wife was just magical. Just walking around in general was fantastic, (groups almost always drive around). I can now say I’ve walked every single street in Pripyat, something which I’ve not even done in my home town. We done all the tourist bits, the fairground, kindergartens, swimming pool etc. As well as some new places.

Tourist:





I never get bored of Pripyat because it changes so much throughout the year. These two photos of school #5 were taken just two months apart this year, look how much it’s grown! I’m holding out for a few more month until my next visit as I want to see it under snow!

April 2012:


July 2012:


April 2012:


July 2012:


We went to some new places too, and I finally saw School #1, which was has suffered a spontaneous collapse a few years ago. I can guarantee that was one building I didn’t go in!


By two o clock, we’d been exploring for 5 hours, and were starving. My guide asked me where I wanted to go for my birthday lunch. “Reactor 4 canteen?” I asked, half joking. Ten minutes later I’m holding onto an ancient soviet tray, queuing in a line of uniformed workers, all with guns waiting for my birthday borsh.



Full body radiation scan at the Reactor 4 workers canteen:


After lunch I went to visit Julia at the visitor centre, who gave Mrs UrbanX the same presentation she had given me a couple of months ago. I went outside to see how works were progressing on the new sarcophagus. They’re going to build a massive arch a couple of hundred meters from the reactor, where radiation is lower, and then slide the whole thing over the existing shell. It’ll be an amazing feat. When I visited a couple of months ago they were piling the foundations for the rails – Piling is way safer than digging the highly contaminated soil close to the reactor. But I’m pleased to announce that the first sections of arch were arriving from Italy, and were being assembled. In the next couple of years the iconic reactor 4 will be unrecognisable.

New Sarcophagus arch piece







We done a few bits that I wanted to revisit, the church in Chernobyl, the workers shop, and back to the Reactor 4 robots because I didn’t take any readings off them last time. They’ve been decontaminated to a degree. Standing a few meters away the reading is similar to the UK, 0.16mSv. This rises 150 times to around 15.0mSv if you get within a meter. And I’m told this will shoot up to 1,000 is you started dismantling it! :p



We relaxed and went to feed the giant catfish in the cooling channel. We’d bought an uncut loaf that weighed as much as a bowling ball, and were taking bets on if one of the catfishes could swallow it whole. He could.

http://youtu.be/mMJ34mf91Ok



“So what are you doing after this?” asked my guide. I explained that we were going on a full on Ukrainian tour, taking in nine cities, three overnight trains, and five flights! “So you have swimming trunks in the car?” he asked.
“err, yes, why?”
“Excellent. I’m wearing pants. So we will go swimming”

Not what you want to hear whilst stood at the edge of the most radioactive water in the world!

Four hours later and the three of us were 100Km away sat on a beach on the outskirts of Kiev eating ice cream.

My guide was totally relaxed, and reminiscing about his childhood. “This is where I came as a child, to this beach” “This is the same icecream from the same kiosk too” He explained that he bought me here because it was how Pripyat would have been in its heyday. The river and lake was a big part of what Pripyatians done for leisure. We sat and watched the kids playing, and singing nursery rhymes in Russian, and it reminded me of an old photo I’d seen of people playing on the banks of the water in Pripyat.

Pripyat Yacht Club:


Yachting in Pripyat:


Pripyat “Rocket” boat, offering a high speed ferry service to Kiev:

(Retro photos courtesy of Pripyat.com)

I asked him if we could get a lift off him to the station to go to our next city. “Of course not.” He replied. “My wife has been cooking your birthday meal all day, now you will come back and dine with my family.”

Awesome end to an awesome birthday.

My apologies again that there are no internal shots. I hope you understand why none have been posted.

Accompanying video - Dereliction Addiction 30:

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