We had planned to stay in a hostel in Kiev but somehow they had lost our reservation from six months ago a few days previously which caused some major headaches. Booking.com found us an apartment to stay in instead which was no doubt bigger but it wasn't in such a convenient location. That was why we had arranged to have a driver from the apartment pick us up at the airport because it would have been so much harder trying to find the apartment as there is far less English spoken in Kiev and the alphabet is Cyrillic. Steven has still retained his knowledge of some (most?) Cyrillic letters from our visiting Russia three years ago but still it's a tough adjustment.
After dumping our bags and then having to walk with the receptionist to another apartment complex that had a credit card machine to pay our lodging bill, we were finally on our way to find and visit the Chornobyl Museum before going to the actual place the following day.
I actually timed the TWO escalator rides down into the bowels of the earth to get to the metro itself and they took a full 4.5 minutes! I couldn't help but think of the amount of time residents of Kyiv must spend every year not on the metro, but just getting down to the metro!
The station nearest our apartment just happened to be the most beautiful according to the guidebooks. We were lucky we didn't have to go out of our way to go see it!
Thanks to Steven's excellent metro navigating skills and using his map apps on his ipad, we finally reached the National Chornobyl Museum about 3:30 after landing at the airport three hours earlier.
The museum opened on the sixth anniversary with only 200 items but now the collection has over 7,000. Luckily, they have all been cleaned and decontaminated. The site of the museum is a former fire station whose firemen played a critical role in the unfolding disaster.
As we entered the museum, we saw signs going up the stairs of the 76 settlements that had to be abandoned due to the radioactive contamination from the disaster that took place just 60 miles away from Kiev 30 years ago this past April 26th. Later, another 92 Ukrainian villages had also had to be abandoned.
The office clock is stopped at 1:23 am, the exact time of the explosion and the moment the long cleanup began.
In the year following the tragedy, 350,000 Soviet citizens were involved in the massive cleanup but that number jumped to 600,000 in just the next five years. A new term was coined for the men initially involved at Ground Zero: liquidators. It was staggering but not unsurprising to learn that, in the last 25 years, over 45% of the Ukranian liquidators have died and a further 50% are disabled as a result from working at Ground Zero. We saw so many photos of liquidators; so many had the radioactive stickers on the photos indicating they had died. It is one thing to know about the facts and figures but quite another seeing faces attributed to the facts.
At the time of the explosion on April 26th,1986, the Soviet Union had 5 power plants with 16 nuclear reactors operating in Ukraine. Below is a scale model of Reactor 4, i.e. the one that exploded which was located near the city of Pripyat which was about 25kms or 15 miles from the much larger city of Chornobyl. Before it was built, the scientific leaders had persuaded the political leaders it and the other nuclear plants were so safe, they could be installed in Red Square in Moscow itself! The leaders were assured that the reactors were absolutely reliable, powerful, quick to build and, above all, easy to maintain.
The audio guide I listened to said the investigative committee, comprised of Soviet political leaders and scientists, established within 12 hours of the disaster, produced a report that contained a staggering 59 volumes that came up with 13 different reasons for what happened. The ultimate fault, according to the Soviets, lay with operators who caused the catastrophe. The international community charged with deteriming the cause, however, laid the blame on unsafe contruction standards. In the end, over 5,500 men and women were found guilty and sentenced to prison by the Soviets.
After the explosion, the first priority was to evacuate the town of Pripyat located about 2 miles away from the nuclear power plant. The town was established in 1970 to house the plant's workers and their families. The average age of the residents was only 26. An annoucement was made that, due to an accident, citizens must temporarily evacuate and therefore should take their documents, food for three days and any belongings they wanted. All pets had to be left behind. They had just one hour to do this. At no point were the residents informed that they were in imminent danger or how to protect themselves. In a matter of just three hours, the town of Pripyat, with a population of 55,000, 17,000 of whom were children, was evacuated with the 'assistance' of 2,250 police officers who just happened to be wearing gas masks. Of course, the three day evacuation became permanent and what remains of Pripyat is a ghost town today.
Below, the Monument to Kyiv Founders was also in the same part of the huge square. The scaffolding you see was because preparations were underway for Independence Day that was being celebrated in a few days. Too bad we would miss that by a day as I imagine the festivities would be spectacular.
In the courtyard, honey was sold at a large number of booths.
This massive colonnaded building west of St. Michael's Monastery complex is luckily the only government building constructed on the site. Today, it houses the Ministry of ForeignAffairs.
We walked toward another church, St. Andrew’s, located about a 10 minute walk away. It is one of the most familiar landmarks in Kyiv with its turquoise facade and gold-trimmed green domes. It was built between 1747 and 1753 at the spot where, in 50 CE, St. Andrew the Apostle is said to have erected a cross and predicted a great city would be founded. Unfortunately, the church was undergoing renovations so we could see even little of its exterior. We could only imagine how beautiful it will look when all the renovations are completed and the scaffolding is removed.
The back of St. Andrew's Church: