How not to get lost in Chernobyl
Understanding the geography of the Zone

Did you know, that many of those who work in the Zone, quite often call the lands outside it "the Great Land"?

It is so not only because the way of life in Chernobyl area, with is hazards, regulations and regime differs very much from the normal life. But also because of the size and scale of this territory. In this article we will give you basics on the local geography and how not to get lost here. Maybe, it will be handy if you select locations for your Pro Exploration tour to Chernobyl.

Let's look on the map

So first, let's look to the actual name of the Zone — officially it sounds as the "The Zone of Exclusion and Mandatory (Unconditional) Resetllement". This actually means, that unpopulated areas cosnsists of 2 major subzones — the Exclusion Zone (ЧЗВ), around 2.600 sq. kilometers, and which is that place we all normally mean with Chernobyl Zone, and the Zone of Mandatory resettlement (ЗО(Б)В), which has pretty the same size and located to the west. The difference between them grounds in the different legal regime, caused by different level of hazard.

But given that radiological conditions in the Exclusion Zone are very diverse, itself it divided to 2 subzones — the inner area of treatment of nuclear materials, or 10-kilometer zone (in local slang — desyatka), and buffer, or 30-kilometer zone (trydcjatka). These names (10- and 30-kilometers) are solely historical and originate from 80s, as an initial radial areas of control of fallout, but nevertheless, everybody uses them:

map of Chernobyl Zone from children book

In fact, the actual shape and size of the zones are far from circle as it follows the configutation of fallout tracks, as on the picture below. Here you can also see, how the area expanded during last 3 decades, after more precise analysic of contamination levels. Initially, the most western checkpoint was Dibrova. It impresses very much, that nowadays, one needs to drive nearly an hour to checkpoint at Poliske (as you can experience in our 2-day tour).

map of Chernobyl Zone

What about roads?

It depends. The main highway, that connects Dityatky checkpoint and Chernoby nuclear power plant is very good, as it serves significant flow of traffic, hence makes accessible close locations even within one day. For example, one needs around 30 minutes of driving to get from the checkpoint to town of Chernobyl, and same to the NPP. However, if we take a look on the route to, for instance, Krasno village which is pretty the same far from Chernobyl, it will be needed at least 2 hours to get there — as the only way to cross the Pripyat river is a bridge close to Chernobyl, and the road on the left bank is pure hell (though, picturesque). In such destinations as Klyvyny village, having a bulldozer (sometimes) or at least SUV is a handy idea.

So the best practice during the visit is to combine directions, for example like this:
- Chernobyl, Leliv, Kopachi, Pripyat, NPP, Novoshepelychi
- Chernobyl, Koshivka, Starosilla, Kryva Gora, Zymovysche, Krasno, Mashevo
- Chernobyl, Paryshev, Ladyzhychi, Teremtsi
- Chernobyl, Stara Krasnitsa, Nova Krasnitsa, Tovsty Lis
- Dityatky, Rudnia-Veresnia, Ilovnitsa, Pioneers camp Skazochny
- Dityatky, Opachichi, Kupuvate
- Chernobyl, Chernobyl-2
- Chernobyl, Korogod, Illyntsy, Rudnia-Illyinetska, Dibrova, Poliske

What is what in the Zone

All together in the Exclusion Zone there are more than 90 different villages and towns. This won't be an overestimation to say that all of them are very different. Below we outlined some major locations — for sure, it is not complete list. Some places we will show only in personal :)

A satellite city of Chernobyl NPP, established in 1970. Once it was a home for nearly 50,000 people. Pripyat is the perfect example of the Soviet planned cities, built according to one solid plan with a clear structure of districts. By 1986 it consisted of 5 districts and at least one more was planned for construction. Currently abandoned, except few service facilities operating.

Ancient town, former center of Chernobyl region of Kyiv oblast. The actual founding date is not known, however, first time it was mentioned in 1193 — at that time it already had been a developed town. Before the disaster, this place had around 14,700 people. Currently, Chernobyl is the administarion center of the Exclusion Zone, where approximately 3,000 staff members stay per shift basis, and numerous facilities are in operation.

Red Forest
Approximately 6 sq. km. of pine forest, that faced extensive contamination and eventually died. Original trees were excavated in 1987 in order to prevent secondary contamination in case of possible fires. Currently, it is extremely huge contaminated area, which is a subject of few radiological studies.

Kopachi village
The year of foundation is not known. As Kopachi is nearly the closest village to the Chernobyl NPP, it was nearly completely destroyed like Yaniv and Chistogalivka — its wooden structures were buried in ditches, so, nowadys almost nothing gives a sign that it was a home for nearly 1100 people.

Zalissa village
The biggest village of the Exclusion Zone, known at least from 1556. It is located approximately 1 kilometer away from Chornobyl and perfectly represents its name — as of today it is one of the settlements mostly affected by vegetation.

It is one of the 6 components of Duga (eng. "Arc") over-the-horizon radar complex, designed in 1970s to detect launches of U.S. ICBMs to Soviet Union. It is a complex of more than 30 structures, the center of which is a breathtaking antenna array — 148 x 500 m and 98 x 250 m. Major landmarks here are communication center building and apartment complex, that was a home for approximately 1,000 people.
As Chernobyl disaster caused a contamination of Chernobyl-2, being followed by the end of the Cold War and a collapse of the Soviet Union, the Duga project ended badly - it was cancelled and all the components were destroyed, except an array of Chernobyl-2.

Cooling pond
A giant artificial cooling reservoir, designed to cool down turbines of units I-IV of Chornobyl NPP. Historically was a host site for a huge fish breeding facility, converted later into radiological lab, that continued operation up to the year 2000.

Cooling towers of Phase III
A complex of 2 unfinished cooling towers for Units V and VI of Chernobyl NPP. Impressive site for photography and good to see some tough hotspots.

Paryshev village
The year of foundation is unknown. This village, that had approximately 1,000 inhabitants, is nearly a clean area inside the Exclusion zone. As many other villages of the left coast of Pripyat river, it features archaic architecture. Currently, it is a host of one of the forest firefighting departments and has a population of 7 families of resettlers.

Krasno village
Ancient village, famous for its wooden church of St. Michael, built in 1800, which is a perfect example of traditional architecture of northern Polissya. This place is located on the northern contamination track, that was among the first directions of fallout.

Starosillya, Koshivka, Kryva Hora villages
Old villages at the left coast of Pripyat river, that are examples of archaic folk architecture of Ukrainian Polissa region.

Opachichi village
Relatively large and old village at the south-east of the Zone. First mentioned in 1646. Currently, few people live here, also a forest management department is located here.

Kupuvate village
One of the most populated villages of the Zone — 28 self-settlers live here. Long time it was a site of experimental research farm where there were conducted studies on radiobilogy. The local traditional cemetery definitely worth visit.

The village is named after the the local river Veresnia, that crosses it and flows outside the Zone. As most of the villages in this direction, quite a little were touched by sprawling vegetation, so it is perfect for a landscape photography and exploration of houses.

Located aside of the main road, it is a tiny, but pretty picturesque place. Along with Rudnia-Veresnia, here it is possible to see traditional architecture with some variations, specific for this part of the region.

Skazochny Pioneer Camp
Initially, this camp was built as a summer resort for kids of NPP's workers. It features the same architecture style as Pripyat — up to streetlights. After disaster, it became a first temporary camp for those employees of the power plant who were involved in the liquidation process.

A really huge village, that actually consists of two — Great and Small Korogods. Originates from XVII century. Here are a lot of houses, sometimes with well preserved internals, as well as a quite surreal collective farm, and a nice cemetery.

First mentioned in 1783, this village for the long time was a true gem of the Zone — as some structures there were nearly untouched. Unfortunately, few years ago it was heavily damaged by forest fires, but still there are enough locations to see. The name of the village refers to small, but powerful river Illya, that flows nearby.

Wonderful, but pretty contaminated place. This village is really huge, and for long time it was an administrative center for the group of villges located on the left coast of the Pripyat river. Here was a bug collective farm, so a lot of buildings of it remained, as well as agricultural equipment of all sorts, vehicles and so on. This place borders with a railway line Semikhody - Slavutych, so sometimes one can see a passing train.

Pretty contraversial place. From one point of view, this village is the place, where you need to go if you want to see the final stage of nature that takes over the remains of human civilization — as it is located at the riverfront of the Zone. From another point of view, some parts of this place are populated and look pretty like normal village outside.

To our opinion, it is an unusual place. This village, known at least from XVII century, consists of few parts, that differ from each other very much. One is in a pine forest, another is between swamps and fields, and third one is in a dense forest. So here is good place to explore houses (some of them have quite good condition inside), make pictures and walk around.

The easiest way to describe this town is to say 'Abandoned version of the town of Chernobyl'. This place has long and hard history — being established at around 1215, it passed multiple wars, changes of states, periods of raise and fall. The soviet rule was a disaster to the town — in the beginning on 30s of XX century it degraded from developed industrial settlement to nearly completely agriculture-specialized village. After establihing the Zone in 1986, Polisske was yet not included into it. So it became one of the main evacuation points after disaster; moreover, a lot of investments were done in years after. However, pretty soon appeared, that this area is also contaminated. So, in 1993 Poliske was evacuated. Despite it looks somehow alike abandoned Chernobyl, it resembles completely different epoch — 90s in already independent Ukraine

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