Welcome to RadicalTrips! We fucked up, again we are in Belarus and behind us is Ukraine with no border control! How is that possible? It took us three hours to get into Belarus and it took us one second to get out of Belarus but then, there was a military blockade “We would like to go into Ukraine” and the guy said “It’s Chernobyl! Go back.” But to be clear, Google sent us through I even checked on Wikipedia for which border crossings were legit but apparently you can interpret this one also for another one which is a few kilometers away but tomorrow we will actually go back to Chernobyl this time, with a guide So, stay tuned! « RadicalTrips » What a trip this was And while we were incredibly tired the whole day -more on that later!- Witnessing Chernobyl was incredible The scale the compassion but also the serenity And while we will get back to our story let’s take a step back first and consider what Chernobyl is, exactly? Is it a place of horror and death? Is it a time capsule? Is it a refuge for nature? Or, perhaps, even, a tourist attraction? Karel and I found out that it is all of these things And nowadays, over 10,000 international tourists visits the disaster site every year Overtaken by greenery and wildlife it documents the catastrophic blunder that helped bring down the Soviet empire And its last leader Mikhail Gorbachev, has said as much “The meltdown was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later.” The explosion released over 400 times as much radioactive material as the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and while, in Chernobyl, at first only 31 people died if we count radiation-related illnesses the total number of deaths reaches up to 4,000 And even in 2019 Chernobyl continues to raise headlines now, with the new miniseries released by HBO Seen from the eyes of the first responders and powerful leaders in government it shows how not only the dark truth and responsibilities were covered up but it also shows how it all could have been prevented in the first place Rens and I are on top of the building in a desolated town near the Chernobyl reactor Nobody lives here, because it’s too dangerous I asked the tour guide “why are you here every day?” and you get the sad answer “Ukraine is a poor country and money is more important than safety.” Rens and I are not afraid because radiation is normal for modern human life because, if you take an airplane from Amsterdam to New York you get a lot of radiation it’s not a problem because you don’t do it every day and we don’t do this every day But, it’s It’s sad that we are here in a town where really nobody lives look at all those empty buildings All of this area has been contaminated for 50,000 up to 100,000 years So, on a human scale that’s unimaginable

Sector three will be inhabitable after fifty years if I remember correctly something like that and the buffer zone, luckily has been changing in boundaries for some time now every now and then if new measurements get published and slowly, actually people get to go back to their hometowns after the disaster, 32 years ago and I know it’s 32 years ago, easy because I was born only three months after the disaster took place So, all of this misery and this disastrous impact on the whole world Europe specifically has been around for as long as I have been So, what’s also What also blows the mind is that a lot of particularly old people chose to head back into their own houses already right after the incident happened due to sentimental reasons just refusing to give up their home where they have been all their lives but also due to bad risk assessment, I would say due to very poorly given information from the, then, government USSR they weren’t properly educated about the real threats that are related with radiation infection so, these people also were naive, in many ways for decades, scattered across the area they remained within the Chernobyl zone Many things can be said of Soviet rule and the USSR but, in all respects as we can now also witness being in this swimming pool with the gymnasium next door this was a real town, you know 50,000 people had remarkably good lives, actually because they were employed with the chemical plant they had rather high salaries being engineers and supporting staff so, especially for Soviet rule back in the days of communism particularly Pryp’yat’ and Chernobyl were thriving places And the amusement park where we will go next was set to open in five days after the disaster took place If this isn’t disaster tourism then nothing is And in some ways, it reminds me of being in Auschwitz, in Poland the world’s most famous concentration camp where it made me feel rather disturbed but also fascinated about what disasters humankind can cause amongst each other So, it’s rather weird to hopefully, respectfully witness this place and try to ask good questions and take it all in and we’re here for tourism for amusement, maybe? How do you feel about this place having turned from a disaster area into a tourism area? So, basically we do the sightseeing tours where you can see the true picture of what’s going to happen to the planet after humans just disappear this is the best spot especially here in Pryp’yat’ town you can clearly see how nature started to take everything over and that’s what, basically people are interested in To see what’s gonna happen after humans disappear City council, music school cinema, river Pryp’yat’ Pryp’yat’ town was named after the river Pryp’yat’ Well, Karel, up to you to find the ten differences Number one? Trees! – Trees! Number two? street lights, people, broken windows I think we are at ten, already How do you feel

and also for your guides, perhaps to work in this zone even though you go here, maybe, every day? Well, honestly saying though once a year we pass medical examination in the exclusion zone and we have personal radiation recorders, all of us plus we keep all those Geiger counters and the thing is, the risk, these days basically, is represented by soil so, during the clean up all the radioactivity and the radioactive dust that landed on the walls on the roofs, on the asphalt they were washed on the soil, yeah? And then, Soviet authorities tried to remove the soil like, to some extent especially in the most important parts of this area which they plan to use for the future works they removed the soil, they buried it and these days, yeah there are many still radioactive particles there as long as you don’t touch the soil as long as you don’t eat those vegetables the fruits that grow here everything’s gonna be fine So yeah, there is no risk of like the risk of inhaling something here is very very negligible This town was also remarkable due to the very low average age of people living here it was only 27 years old and especially those days maybe still in Ukraine young people tend to have a lot of young children of the fifty thousand inhabitants almost 17,000 of those people were small children so there were just daycare centers and schools all around This place makes for some awesome photography the disturbing nature of the scene with all these laid down objects of the children that were in the daycare it’s far from authentic And that kind of bugs me, because with all that happened here it’s rather odd, to me that now also photographers have created their own little reality they know how to properly call on emotions of empathy, and distress, and loss but that makes it more into a theme park than into an actual historical preserved location and, for me, that goes a little bit too far we don’t touch anything especially while we’re urban exploring we do believe in the credo “leave nothing, but your footsteps” so, setting up these scenes by selectively placing or, even bringing, children’s toys in order to create a morbid picture that’s not our style Have you encountered that members of your tour group misbehaved, maybe in disrespectful ways? These days, no In the past yeah, there were some cases when people tried like, for example, to get on the ferris wheel or on those swingers or inside the bumper cars but people just need to understand and, like, when they come here they need to respect the place the place where thousands of people used to live and stuff like that Some of them, they tried to break the windows because they wanted to do that for fun but what’s the purpose, you know? You just need to come and respect the place and the land where people used to live Yeah, I was born in 1989 I was born after the disaster but, my family used to live in a tiny village that was located some 80 kilometers from this place and when the Soviet Union collapsed and when the Ukrainian authorities started to change the border lines of the exclusion zone they detected that there was some increased radioactivity in the settlement where my family used to live I was, back then, five years old yeah, it was 1994 when we were relocated from that settlement due to increased radioactivity and we were just provided another accommodation And, my grandfather, he was one of those “liquidators” who participated during the liquidation during the cleanup of the exclusion zone

after the disaster Yeah, he died pretty early at the age of 39 but it happened to many of those liquidators who were here, especially in the first few weeks after the disaster During the year, there are some days they are called memorial days in the exclusion zone where former inhabitants of this territory are allowed to come and visit the graves of their family members the friends who were buried here so, basically, on those days my family, like my parents and my grandmom they go to visit the grave of my grandfather and that’s the only day when they just, basically, go there In the first three hours after the explosion 28 firefighters went to the reactor and tried to save it from another explosion If the second reactor exploded then, half of Europe wouldn’t be here So, it was a remarkable job and those firefighters saved the lives of almost every European being You might remember the video of Tropical Islands in Germany this place is huge it’s really humongous the Eiffel Tower can lie on its back the Statue of Liberty can fit straight in Well, this one has dubious record of being even bigger, while being movable because, over there, which I cannot show But I can’t film that part, right? No you cannot, for physical protection security area Oh, I see, yeah There’s rail tracks and on these rail tracks they could move the whole sarcophagus in 14 days’ time fom where they could safely construct it for over five years with the help of 3,000 construction workers It cost a total of 2.5 billion euros built by a French company and it should last for over 100 years This should keep us safe while robots have 40 meters to spare with the 70 meters of the actual power plant and within these 40 meters the robots will help us to clean up the mess that humans created Hopefully, in a century from now the sarcophagus can also be removed, again and we will be safe from radiation We have one story left to tell you guys This very night at the border crossing from Belarus into Ukraine not the first one, the wrong one at the Chernobyl area the other one, the proper one got us into a lot of trouble It was already midnight and at the Ukrainian side of the border we saw 15 cars waiting It was going to be a long night Once it was our turn and we were able to talk to a border officer we knew we were in trouble It had nothing to do with our equipment but, with the car The thing is, this isn’t my car It’s from my father and Rens and I used it for years for many of the RadicalTrips road trips And, of course, I have the official car papers but they wanted to have a written statement with a stamp on it, and a signature that I am allowed to drive in his car Of course, I don’t have it It was never a problem, before but, they have found something to bug us with It became evident to me when she said to us Guys, you have very expensive equipment why do you come to my country without papers? You give me a lot of trouble I don’t earn much it will take a lot of time for me to fix this Rens was waiting in the car and I was traveling from one office to another office to one guy with a star to someone higher up with two stars and a big hat And we were in trouble because we couldn’t travel to the Ukraine but our visa expired at midnight so we couldn’t go back to Belarus, as well! We were stuck in limbo With every time the same question

Why don’t you have the right papers? Why don’t you have the right papers? Why do you come to my country without the right papers? You bring me in trouble! I apologized I never should have come to her country without the right kind of papers And then it came to me It was just blackmail! So, I asked her if I could compensate her for her time by giving her fifty euros You should understand where I come from, we don’t do bribes maybe, in some places, it is normal but not for me So, I was scared The only English sign on the wall said “If you bribe you go to jail.” I thought situation was solved but then, the door opened the guy with the big hat and the two stars came into the room she was definitely shocked! and my heart rate went through the roof she took the money put it in the passports and I was so afraid What will happen now? Will the senior guy take my passport see the bribe Will they put us in jail? And, luckily, after 30 seconds the guy left the room She took the money out of the passports hid it under the computer she took our border papers gave them a stamp and said “go now, fast!” Adrenaline was racing through my body it was four o’clock in the morning We had a drive of two hours left to Kiev We would be arriving there at 6:00 our tour guide would pick us up at 7:00 I didn’t had time to sleep It was a long day awake for more than 40 hours terribly tired had a fantastic day bribed my first officer I hope it will be my last And Chernobyl was amazing I’m so happy I’ve done it all! Let’s go back to the hotel Quick update we’re now in a burger bar the only thing I want to say I knew a lot about Chernobyl but the stories today amazed me even more because of there were firefighters and with their lives they prevented an even bigger catastrophe for the whole continent because if another reactor exploded maybe half of Europe wasn’t livable anymore Very important Thank you! – You’re welcome Thank you! But, even today and, luckily, the end is near with the robots kicking in from next year onwards very brave and strong people are still working to help us to be safe So, I’m very glad that the Ukrainian government has taken the steps in the past few years to allow visitors to share in the story and to learn from the mistakes from the past so we won’t make them again This was RadicalTrips and I hope to see you next time! The only thing better than a burger is a double burger