Firstly, the overnight train. Although not my first time on a Russian overnight train it was definitely the most memorable experience. We made friends with a nice Russian minister from Vladivostok who, before saying hello, made sure we were “believers” and then asked if our friends needed converting to make sure they do not go to hell. We then spend about an hour looking at photos of his church and his family. The lights were turned off at about midnight and we all tried to get some sleep, the beds are surprisingly comfortable and the rocking makes getting to sleep quite easy. However in the middle of the night we woke up because we had stopped at a station, we looked out of the window and on the platform there were about ten people all covered in cuddly toys…literally somehow carrying tens of toys each. There were also massive bins overflowing with these toys, on the platform. It was the most surreal sight and very creepy. We have no idea what was going on but in the middle of the night with the eerie fog and the darkness it was very scary! At about 2am we were awoken by the Police coming on the train yelling DOCUMENTS and we had to give them many different bits of paper to ensure we could get into the country. This then happened again at 5am. On the way home we managed to befriend the crossing guards because they took about half an hour to check all of our documents, it was very amusing to hear them attempt to pronounce our names.
Kiev was awesome! Definitely one of my favourite cities. We pretty much just walked around, following Lonely Planet Guides walking tour thanks to john and his obsession with Lonely Planet Guide. We went to a few churches including where Yaroslav the Wise is buried (the whole trip was pretty much a pilgrimage), the Lavre which is like the Vatican but Ukrainian style (where we saw some dead monks who Tanya later informed me could answer wishes, I was told off for not asking for a husband for me or her…oops.)
We also saw the statue which depicts Russia and Ukraine’s friendship (Ironic seeing as they famously hate each other). The rainbow was present from Russia to Ukraine and at night it lights up in neon colours and looks more like the sign for a nightclub than a statue. We went to the War museum and saw the statue of the “protection of Motherland”, which is the most enormous statue of a woman.
We had chicken Kiev’s! That was exciting. Although they tasted horrible and had butter instead of garlic inside. But it had to be done.
Was freaky! On the way into the city we went through security checks and then it was about a half an hour drive along one straight road just surrounded by trees and fields…the area around Pripyat is of course uninhabitable. Its called Zone something.. We had a tour around the town and it was so odd to not see any people! I’m pretty sure we were the only people in the town (apart from a few people that work in Chernobyl). The buildings themselves just looked as run down as any building in Russia but once you looked closer you could tell they were abandoned. We went to the main square of the town which was completely overgrown, the guide showed us photos of the square before Chernobyl and it was unrecognisable! In the square there was a theatre which we were allowed to walk around (thanks to the lack of health and safety regulations in Ukraine). There was broken glass everywhere; the seats and the stage were pretty much demolished. But we were allowed to walk over them all the same.
We then went to a school which was the creepiest place we went! It still had the majority of furniture and exercise books and books and writing on the boards. Very odd to think it had been abandoned so suddenly, it was quite a sad place.
We then went to the reactor that blew up. Apparently it still occasionally leaks radioactive stuff (not sure what its called..) and the more it rains the more danger there is of it blowing up again. Cool! They are currently building a new cover to go over the reactor to keep the rain out, but it won’t be finished until around 2012. Our tour guide let us use these little machines that measure the level of radioactivity…apparently the level in the air most of the time is only equal to the level you are subjected to on a flight from London to new York. But you are still only allowed in Pripyat for 3 hours. When he put the measure next to a tree or the ground the level of radioactivity was really high, we weren’t allowed to touch anything just in case. People still work in Chernobyl, trying to build the new reactor and some of the other reactors are still being used so people work there. Apparently if you work in Chernobyl you are given a flat and your food as well as being paid, so a lot of people want to work there despite the health risks. We had to sign a disclaimer saying if we get ill we cannot sue the tour company or the Ukrainian government. We could also not sue if our cameras broke as the radiation affects them..in some photos you can see white splodges which is apparently the effect of the radiation. One the way out of Pripyat we had to be tested for levels of radiation by security. We had to stand in these machines and put our hands on metal panels, and if the light did not go green you were not allowed out of Pripyat as you may contaminate other areas. It was a scary moment but we all passed!