After a day of walking through the city of Kyiv, and exploring several areas of the Ukrainian capital, I had planned to visit the museum dedicated to the nuclear disaster that took place in Chernobyl when daylight was running out. A plaque outside the museum confirms that closing time is 6pm, so I have a little under an hour and a half. The lady selling me the ticket does not speak English, but makes clear that the audio guide is not available. A pity, since all explanations are in Ukrainian. Downstairs, there are displays with animals, and I assume they live in the affected area. Apart from the impact on human life, I now realize that also the animals in a wide area around Chernobyl must have been affected: drinking water, habitat, food... without any authorities taking them to safety. And still drinking polluted water to this very day.
Above the stairs to the next floor, there are names of villages, and at the far end, the name of Chernobyl with a big red stripe through it. I turn right at the top of the stairs, and step directly into the first exhibition hall. It tells the story of how the disaster unfolded, has a model of the nuclear plant, various protective clothes the liquidators (those fighting the nuclear spill) wore, pictures of those who worked to contain the disaster, those who died, newspapers from around the world, documents, books, and much more. The displays are overflowing with items. Then, there are video screens with images of what happened. A clock stuck at 1:23, the time the disaster happened. Reading the newspapers is like stepping back in time: it was Cold War, and the disaster was initially hidden from the rest of the world, even though other countries like Sweden and Finland were also affected.
The dark room with the sometimes gruesome exhibits emits a grim feeling, but there are many things I do not understand, and there are many questions in my head. A Ukrainian girl approaches me, introduces herself as working for the museum, and is able to answer several of the questions. The magnitude of the disaster, and the impact it has on the region for decades and perhaps centuries to come, is hard to grasp. Most people have been evacuated from the region, but a few still live there: they do not want to leave their homes. Chernobyl is still the worst nuclear disaster, followed by the Fukushima disaster of 2011. An old lady comes to my new friend, but when she turns to me, it turns out that they decided to close the museum at 5, not 6: I only have 5 minutes left! This seems a strange, and almost Soviet-style way of operations. Where I thought I had plenty of time, and a personal guide, I now have to hurry through the next exhibition hall, which is dedicated to the impact, the aftermath, the affected people, and the world wide concern for nuclear power. At the entrance, a weird church-like setting with an angel on the left, and a protective suit on the right. In the middle, a boat with fluffy animals to honour the affected children. Many more pictures and items, but my guide has gone, and I have been able to get a ten minute extension. The old lady who closes the exhibition hall behind me points out that the signs above the stairs are the village names of the region: seen from this side, all their names are crossed out by a big red stripe. I leave the museum with mixed feelings: deeply impressed by the enormity of the disaster, and upset by the abrupt way in which it was ended.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Chernobyl Museum (Ukraine). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Chernobyl Museum. Read more about this site.