A few days in Kiev …

Its been a while since I last visited Kiev. Of course a city with many memories for me. Be it my time here with Yulia and her friends, my first business trip in 2008 after which i called for the coming economic crash or the 2012 boys trip to the European football championships where my friends Sean, Guelane and Hubert managed to destroy Arndt on the first night out (contrary to his reputation at the time). Its always been a welcoming city and this time was no different …

I arrived via Minsk on Monday and enjoyed an evening of catching up with Yulia and Inna. The last time we hung out together goes back a some way to NYE 2015 in Lviv – some great memories which we fondly discussed. There was also a new guest in the house – a young actress that doesn’t seem to digest samogon (local moonshine) too well as we saw on tuesday night when she arrived home on all fours after her premiere. Man was she drunk ;o)

Yanukovich residence: Tuesday the weather was on our side and we three made our way to a village 40mins by car north of Kiev (location). Idea was to visit the former residence of pre-Maidan revolution president Yanukovich. The estate is located right on the shore of the Dniepr river and its enormous! Electric vehicles for tourists and bike rentals at the entrance just prove the point. It boasts endless parks, main & guest residences, a zoo, a port, a collection of mainly soviet vintage cars, tennis, golf and football facilities and a lot more. We wandered around for 4 hours or so and even saw deers coming our way out of one of the many forests and no overly shy of people. Definitely worth a visit! Thanks ladies.

Swan lake (no 3 this year): I didn’t plan on seeing swan lake when i came here, but as fate had it was the only show on in the time i had. And i did want to see kiev’s beautiful opera house. So Tchaikovsky once more please (love it). Great evening!

St Sophia cathedral: On Wednesday weather didn’t treat us as well calling for some indoor activties. We decided to head to the center and visit the St Sophia cathedral. Quite impressive although i am not so keen on churches as much anymore after my pilgrimages in Spain & Italy and a visit to Jerusalem in 2015/16. Alongside old mosaics and frescos, some Ukrainian artist also created a portrait made of 1000’s of hand made Easter eggs – fascinating. Inna joined us again, as her interview scheduled for today had been moved. After the museum & church tour we headed for my favourite pub in Kiev – the metropole. Its a belgian styled pub and, naturally, serves belgian beer including leffe & chimay. Mmmhh … The evening we made a spanish one. No shortage of options in the local supermarket (different to russia due to sanctions). Jamon, manchego & rioja – ole! Не плоха!

Thursday was Chernobyl day. See Chernobyl: Trip back to 1986. Once back in town i headed for the supermarket where i met yulia in a pure coincidence. We figured to make this dinner italian themed – and I was to cook. It proved to be a nice atmosphere in the kitchen (e.g. alone) with some italian youtube classics running in the background while i got busy. Tasty!

My last day in Kiev started slow and quiet. Yulia was again flying somewhere around with Ukraine Airways. Inna made breakfast and eventually we headed for Arsenalno station with some spectacular gardens and panoramic views over the city in walking distance. We talked in russian throughout. It felt actually good and certainly wouldn’t have been possible last time we met. We rewarded our walking effort with a nice meal at a very traditional (be it touristic) Ukrainian restaurant nearby. Вкусна!

And then it was already time to go. I briefly saw yulia at the airport – she arrived, i left … ‘Thanks for flying with UIA‘ she said with a smile. Time to say goodbye and to get back to London after three month. Thanks Kiev!

Chernobyl: Trip back to 1986

Chernobyl: Trip back to 1986

Even though I was not even seven years old at the time, I remember the Chernobyl disaster well. I am actually not sure if i recall the disaster as it happened (information flow was far from twitter like at the time) or whether I remember it from the many Ukrainian children that were sent for holiday to East Germany. Be it as it may, its a tragic event i remember well and recent photojournalistic work by my dear friend Tina reminded me of a long overdue visit.

Short drive in: I booked an organised tour to get all the paperwork to the exclusion zone done. There are in fact two zones – 30km around the exploded reactor and 10km. Details about the events in April 1986 can be found here. After a 2,5h drive from Kiev we arrived at the 30km zone check point. Having been a completely deserted area post the nuclear accident, there a fews settlers back. All old people that usedd to life here numbering less than 100 today and falling as people die of age or nuclear impact.

Radiation varies: This outer zone shows only limited levels of gamma radiation (0.15 mSv) though much more can be found in the ground rendering living off the land a potentially fatal exercise. We measured 24mSv at an old school (30km zone) and even 46mSv in Pripet town (10km zone).

The 30km area might actually self – heal … in a few hundred years. There is no such hope for the 10km one that remains uninhabited though has daily power plant and other commuters. There was, however, no mentioning during our tour of undetected fall-out or forced relocations in the area as late as 1995 in the tourist version we got presented (see here for a bit more reality).

There two mandatory radiation checks on each check point when you exit the exclusion zones. We got a total of 1mSv all day – a typical plane ride can easily be 4. So looks ok ;o)

Chernobyl town & nearby village: 14000 people used to call this place home. Today still some 3000 workers (ex the power plant) live here that deal with radioactive waste removal, science, foresting etc. There are three hotels around for the keen. We visited a monument for fire fighters, a machine park with remote controlled vehicles used to fix reactor 4, saw crosses in memory of 97 erased/deserted villages and a nearby village with its kindergarden.

Chernobyl power plant: The 1986 ‘sarcophagus’, which had been built to cover radiation with an estimated lifetime of 30y, has since 2016 been complimented by a new structure above it. Radiation here was higher at 0.8mSv though still relatively low. The reactor type used here was usually only for army use, but cheap and used for energy even despite its (known) dangers. No comment. Today’s workers here are chiefly busy with deconstruction work that is expected to last to 2065. Ukraine still spends huge sums (5% of GDP) on Chernobyl – money missing elsewhere – taking the total economic cost of the disaster to multiple times the countries economic output over the years.

Pripet town: This was the largest settlement in the direct vicinity of the plant with 50000 inhabitants. It was considered a soviet model town, with well above average salaries at RUB200-300 at the time vs RUB100-150 in Kiev (at the time, the FX rate vs USD was 1:1). Here you find the most striking site – a deserted amusement park. Empty scooter parlour and a large ferris wheel. The latter actually never worked, but legend tells of a few spins just on day of tragedy and within days of the official opening on 1st May 1986. Beyond that you find all kind of buildings in desolate states – hotels, schools, hospitals. Tragic for all those who could never return to their homes.

Soviet radar station: Last stop was a soviet (over the horizon) radar station with the biggest antenna i have come across (90m high, 180m long or thereabout). And we only saw the receiver! These were extremely powerful things (up to 10MW at times, see here) and carried the name Russian woodpeckers from the knocking-like interference they caused. Impressive structure though long decommissioned by now.

Tour to Chernobyl: i booked with the moderately priced go2chernobyl guide company. UAH 2000 for the c12h roundtrip from Kiev (lunch extra). I think there is no point getting geiger/dosi meter, as the guide has one and takes frequent readings. Our guide was very average and lacked any real insight or story. Most about the accident i learned during a movie on our way to Chernobyl and from my friends work.

Clouded lands – 30years Chernobyl‘: On the 30 Oct 2016 I received a mail from Tina asking for support for her Chernobyl venture. I helped, no question, and am still impressed by the work she and her friends produced. I copy one of her pictures below, but urge readers to check the whole fotoset & story here: Life after Chernobyl