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Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Reactor 4 inside the exclusion zone

The former USSR, now present-day Ukraine holds one of humanity’s top dark tourism destinations in the world. Chernobyl and Pripyat and the surrounding areas have been off-limits due to the human-made nuclear disaster in 1986.

Dubbed the “Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,” this destination has been on my bucket list for the better part of a decade. I’ve watched and read every documentary about the events that led to the disaster and the devastating after-effects.

I landed in Kyiv and embarked on a fantastic journey that took me through the history of the events of April 23, 1986 and into ground zero. Radioactivity is invisible, odorless, and tasteless; a genie that should never be allowed to escape. I had concerns over radiation exposure; honestly, no one wants to cut years off our lives or come back glowing.

What I found in the exclusion zone was a snapshot in time that has remained untouched for the past 30 years. The animals run wild; all tagged to track their population and buildings decaying and collapsing as nature begins to reclaim the ghost town that was once a bustling city.

Officially, the death toll from the explosion of Reactor #4 is 31; however, many tens of thousands of people have been indirectly affected by the explosion by exposure to varying levels of radiation. Many have died from cancers and significantly shortened lifespans.

UPDATE: After visiting the exclusion zone in 2017, HBO released a miniseries about Chernobyl and the after-effects of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

While the HBO show is not considered a documentary, it closely follows the events that transpired in the days, months, and years after the explosion of Reactor #4. The show has been responsible for a notable increase in Dark Tourism, specifically to Chernobyl and Pripyat.