Hinweis: Wegen höherer Reichweite und dem internationalen Charakter der Reisegruppe, veröffentliche ich diese Chernobyl-Reiseberichte in Englisch.
One of the trips planned for 2020, was targeted towards Chernobyl. Originally we were a group of 5 people who wanted to spend a week in the Ukraine and book a 2-day tour to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. But when COVID-19 disease hit Europe hard, causing lock-down and travel restrictions, it became clear, that this won’t be happening anytime soon.
The radiation-tagger software I developed for this cause began collecting dust in the git repository and we started waiting for things to happen.
Nobody was really thinking about traveling since the post-summer COVID case numbers were starting to rise again. But on Koko’s birthday party – at the end of October – something strange happened. She told me that she saw a post on an image board, that someone is looking for people to join him on an illegal hike through the Chernobyl exclusion zone. And that this tour might be the last reasonable chance to do it without facing harsh fines and possibly risking jail time.
In fact I had thought about it, to do the illegal hike through the zone before. Primarily, because I saw awesome videos of people doing the trip. But I came to the conclusion that it is more safe to first see it the tourist way, and maybe later …
But now there I stood, faced with the question:
“How spontaneous are you? Would you accompany me on this trip?”Koko, 10/17/2020
Questions rushed through my head. Too many to find answers or even estimates for them and I ordered them for priority. But honestly, I was already in mode: “Fuck this shit, I’m in!”
So Koko went ahead and wrote the guy a message, that we were interested.
Checking potential show stoppers
Being faced with all the odds of pulling this off, we had to check, that some key problems won’t hit us unprepared.
What happens in the likely case we get caught?
In the worst case the police catches you, the fine is around 20-30€ and you have to leave the country within 5 days. Getting caught “too early” during that week means we might need an alternate flight back. Sucks, but manageable within 5 days. Workers might be possible to bribe, but No. 1 priority should be: “Don’t get caught!”
Is traveling in Corona times even possible?
Yeah, it kinda is – or was, but with a bunch pitfalls. Flights were actually dead cheap. Crossing the borders are the more delicate parts. At the time of planning Germany was listed as a “green zone country” for the Ukrainian authorities, which means: no problems getting into the country.
But that list was updated every few days and looking it up every day became a stressful daily routine for 2,5 weeks. If it changed to red, it would have required us getting a negative PCR test. Either from the source country (max 48h old) or made at the airport in Kyiv. For both variants, timing would be very critical, because it would delay the tour – if that was even possible.
The tour back was also critical. Because the RKI listed nearly every foreign country as a risk zone, we would most likely have to get in quarantine for 14 days – at that time, or requiring a PCR to test us “free”. That’s why I used a couple of additional days of vacation.
If we get stuck in the country because the Ukraine goes into lockdown, the ADAC travel insurance got you covered. It is also required by Ukrainian authorities to be able to enter the country, so a travel insurance is must-have. In fact, I really was not even thinking about catching the corona virus. It was crystal clear that we will only have very sparse contact to strangers – only 5 people for one week. I guess the 2 airports were the variables with the biggest uncertainty in this equation.
Who are the other guys?
We met with “Felix” on a TeamSpeak room to ask him questions, to talk about equipment required and other prerequisites. But first of all, we wanted to hear this guy’s voice to check what kind of guy he is, whether he is sympathic and reliable. Nobody wanted to get stranded deep in the Ukrainian nowhere or worse.
We were pleased to quickly realize that he was not only bragging about it, but already prepared a fair amount of information. So we could synchronize what we thought to be necessary with his list. Of course there were a few things we missed.
He also told us, we will be lead by an experienced Stalker who will also organize MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) with ~4000kcal for a few bucks and shop water and snacks for the tour with us in Kyiv. And that he did this tour numerous times and never got caught. The 4th guy is a guy from Denmark (Bjarke) we met in a WhatsApp group for this cause. And yes, I literally installed WhatsApp again after ~10 years of absence – just for this one cause.
What equipment do I need?
This is what the next article in the series will be about. Join us how we plan, get and test the stuff required for the spontaneous adventure to the Chernobyl exclusion zone.