After I finished my first season of Far From Home, telling the story of an 11,000 mi. road trip I took from the UK to Mongolia, lots of friends and family members asked me the inevitable question: “How are you ever going to top that?”
Partially to come up with a good answer, but more to satisfy my own sense of adventure and desire to keep going, I decided not only to drive another 7,000 mi. all the way back to Europe, but also to take a detour along the way to one of the eeriest and most unusual places I could image, someplace I had always been curious to visit…
Like most people, I had originally assumed that this surely couldn’t be a safe place to go, and it probably wasn’t even possible for outsiders like myself to get anywhere near it, but then I did some more research and learned that not only is it possible, but there are in fact a number of companies that take people visiting Kyiv, Ukraine on day trips to the site. Their brochures claimed that as long as you followed the tour guide’s instructions and don’t wander anywhere you’re not supposed to go, the dose of radiation you’d get from spending an afternoon in the area around Chernobyl was just a fraction of what you’d get from a long airplane flight. So early one Saturday morning, my friend Donna and I decided to sign up for a tour.
It’s been more than three decades since the disaster, but as we drove through the Exclusion Zone — a Rhode Island-sized ring around the reactor site that remains mostly evacuated — we could see that the artifacts of the tragedy continue to haunt the countryside.
The ghost city of Pripyat, built just two miles from the power plant, was once home to 50,000 people. It had most of the amenities you might expect: hundreds of prefab apartment blocks, 5 schools, a hospital, playgrounds, and stores. Now it was scarily quiet.
We visited several gymnasiums with torn-up basketball courts, a high school where we saw the music classroom and school cafeteria, and even a giant, crumbling indoor swimming pool. But the most incredible sight was an abandoned amusement park that had just been built prior to the disaster. It wasn’t actually supposed to open until May 1st, 1986, but after the explosion on the 26th of April, its owners decided to open it a few days early to distract the town’s residents and keep them from worrying.
Check out this video of what it was like to walk through one of the abandoned buildings in Pripyat:
Then check out the episode to hear more about our visit and learn about the history of what happened at Chernobyl and what the area around the reactor is like today.
Thanks for listening!