Last March, I saw an advert by Ryanair announcing flights to Kyiv…
About 22 years ago, I sat in my school’s assembly hall for an afternoon, staring awestruck at a young man standing at the front of the hall. His name was Ruslan, and he was from Belarus.
He had been affected by the explosion at the Chernobyl power plant back in April, 1986. As a 7 year old, I didn’t really understand what that meant, other than that an explosion was the cause of his strange facial features. Our school had raised money to bring him to the UK for a month, and here he was, standing awkwardly in front of hundreds of curious faces as he was presented with a bright red Manchester United football shirt.
As I grew older, I learned more about what had happened at Reactor Number Four, and I decided that I wanted to see it for myself. I watched all the documentaries that I could find on the subject, devoured all the articles I could find in the media, sat, eyes glued to an episode of Top Gear when they completed the ‘Chernobyl Challenge’…
As I sat looking at the Ryanair advert, the cogs began to whir… Could I fly to Kyiv and take a trip to Chernobyl? How much would it cost? Was it as safe as the tour companies made out? By the end of the week, I had decided that it was a) affordable, and b) going to happen in October half term. We booked a package through http://www.expedia.com, which included a hotel, and I began the countdown. In July, ‘disaster’ struck- it was announced that Ryanair had cancelled plans to fly to Ukraine. Cue major panic. I like to be highly organised and in control of situations in which I find myself. Very quickly, my partner and I found alternative flights, with British Airways. As someone who has only flown BA once (back in 2006), I was quite excited: I cut my travelling teeth on the back of budget airlines ridiculously cheap prices (£9.99 to Berlin, anyone?!) Problem solved.
All too soon, it was time to start thinking about Airport Transfers and an organised tour to Chernobyl.
We organised our transfers via Viator with Green Tour Ukraine. For the sum of £35, we would be met at the airport and taken to our hotel in central Kyiv, and then returned to the airport in time for our return flights.
Our day trip to Chernobyl was organised by SoloEast, and cost £80.45/person including lunch, insurance and the hire of a Geiger Counter for the day.
We were all set!
Due to the cancellation of our Ryanair flights, we were no longer flying from Stansted, but using Heathrow instead. Due to the timing of the outbound flight, we selected a stay and park package at Heathrow, staying in the Thistle Terminal 5 hotel. This also included the opportunity to ride to the terminal on the driverless pods.
The hotel itself was perfectly functional, and I slept undisturbed. I was however, slightly resentful at having to wake up early the next morning.
The flights were quite fine, and I enjoyed being able to track our progress on the drop-down screens on the plane. Upon landing at Kyvi Borispil airport, chaos descended. I was anxious at having to go through what I understood to be extended security checks, as well as being able to communicate. I had read that due to political tensions, it was not favourable to speak Russian (not that I can say anything polite, anyway!) I had spent a fair amount of time learning how to transliterate from the Cyrillic alphabet into the Roman, just so I could attempt to read signs.
Having cleared immigration, we set foot into the arrivals hall. Taxi touts were EVERYWHERE! We couldn’t see our driver initially, which made us fair game to the touts. Eventually we found our driver, who drove us smoothly to our hotel in Kyiv. The car was clean, and I felt very safe despite witnessing some rather erratic driving from other road users!
We had booked to stay at Hotel Ukraine which is centrally located, and included a diverse breakfast buffet. Check-in was smooth and we were soon in our hotel room high above Maidan Nezalezhnosti/Independence Square. The views were excellent, and one could admire the golden domes of the local churches and cathedrals.
I was most excited that our hotel room had its own vestibule. The room itself was huge, and, like many reviews on TripAdvisor state, a throwback to the Soviet Era! It was what I would describe as faded comfort, and I spent a great deal of time just watching the goings on down below.
We had quite a tightly packed schedule for our trip: we arrived on Sunday afternoon, with Monday being spent on the Chernobyl Tour, and Tuesday being dedicated to sightseeing, before flying back to London on the Wednesday.
We spent the afternoon wandering around the local area, before taking an early night after dinner at Shato Robert Doms.