This article was last updated on: January 2019
This Kiev and Chernobyl article is kind of long and thus is divided into four (4) parts. You are about to start reading part one (1). Choose here any other part you may want to go to: | Two (2) | Three (3) | Four (4) |
A topic that piques my interest quite strongly is the cold war, and the different manifestations and consequences of it.
Manifestations in differences in political, economical, social, and industrial systems. Manifestations in Aviation, and well, so many others.
One of the situations that the postwar period left was the fast development of nuclear energy for civilian uses, especially for electricity generation.
That topic has always struck me as supremely fascinating, even though I know zilch about it if we go straight to technical matters.
And there’s a place in the world that combines that interest of mine for the nuclear, with being an important place in the cold war history.
It’s also a place in which many circumstances came together to create one of the worst catastrophes created by humankind.
That place is Chernobyl.
I was dead curious to go there, and fortunately I could do it before they finished putting in place the “New Safe Confinement” structure.
They started to build this structure in 2010, it was moved to the place where it was supposed to fulfil its role in late 2016, and they say the last fine-tuning will be finished by late 2018.
This trip started in Moscow, and here we go.
Aeroplane: Boeing 737-500
Airline: Ukraine International Airlines – UIA
My visit to Moscow was coming to an end, and it was time to leave Russia, hopefully not for the last time.
I was leaving from Domodedovo, south of the city, and I was staying very close to Sheremetyevo, to the north.
I had to take three trains, and go through the whole of Moscow from north to south that morning to reach my departure Airport.
That’s quite a handful, given that Moscow is not a little village, it’s a huge city.
Anyway, I knew very well what I was getting into. I have a tendency to do these things out of sheer curiosity to know new Airports, Aeroplanes, places…
The flight was in the morning, not very early, but morning nonetheless. I had calculated it was going to take me two hours and a half to Domodedovo.
And taking into account the three hours for the check-in, that implied I would have to wake up at around four in the morning.
Often, the formalities can be done in way less time than that. But it was an unknown Airport, so I preferred to be conservative, lest the flight leave without me.
That wouldn’t have been too troublesome in general. It’s just that I made one of my usual jokes, and went to bed at two in the morning.
I asked the receptionist of the place I was staying at to not let me sleep further than four for any reason, and she made good on that.
A very beautiful and kind woman, by the way. The night before we had a casual chat for a while when I arrived from my Moscow adventures.
She talked with a such a simple and relaxed demeanour! The likes of which very few times an unknown woman has spoken to me, even less being that beautiful -did she know she was that beautiful?-. Russian women are something else.
Anyway, I left to take the train toward Belarussky train station, my first stop that day.
I managed to get in the train before the one I had initially planned to board, so I saved some minutes there.
Once there, I took the metro toward Paveletsky train station. That’s the train station in which Soviet people received the train with Lenin’s body, when he died in 1924.
And in that station, I took the Aeroexpress to Domodedovo Airport.
Domodedovo is the second most important Airport in Moscow after Sheremetyevo, and has grown a lot in recent times.
A good part of the most well-known international airlines moved their Moscow operations from Sheremetyevo to Domodedovo in recent years.
Some people prefer Domodedovo by a long shot, they say it’s got better access and is more modern. But I liked them both, hihihi.
After a comfortable 45 minutes trip I arrived in the Airport and went to check-in.
I had entered Russia with the Colombian passport, since the visa waiver for Colombians had come into force just recently.
I was going to Ukraine, and Colombians need a visa for that country, but Britons do not. So, I was in Russia as a Colombian, but I was going to Ukraine as a Briton.
Britons need a visa for Russia, and it isn’t that easy to get. Relations between the United Kingdom and Russia are easily the worst and coldest among world powers.
So, for once in a lifetime, the Colombian passport was coming in handy. I used it to do one of the things I had wanted to do the most (and that I want to repeat): going to Russia.
Going to a country with one passport, and arriving in the next one with another, is something I’ve only done to and from Russia. Also when I leave Colombia, or come back there.
Usually it isn’t a problem, but here the counter agent was getting a tad confused.
She was a woman of about 50 years that didn’t speak much English, we were communicating fine with two or three Russian words and signals, though. First she asked me to show her the passport I was in Russia with, so far so good.
Then she asked me to show her the Ukraine visa, so I told her I didn’t need one and showed her the other passport. She had a little meltdown there and didn’t know what to do, and we remained like that for a few minutes.
She told me to wait for a while, and went to call a supervisor. It was almost like what had happened in immigration entering Russia just a few days earlier.
The supervisor saw both passports, and with better English asked me where I was going to after Ukraine.
I told her I was continuing to Finland, and she said:
-“Aaahhh, that’s not a problem”.
And so, the counter agent woman accepted my luggage, and gave me my boarding pass.
I had arrived on time, but the check-in took longer than expected. In fact, I had arrived earlier than I had initially calculated and had to wait because when I arrived the counter was closed.
I was still fine. From there I went straight to emigration and security.
The line happened to be T-R-E-M-E-N-D-O-U-S and moved at snail pace. I don’t know if it was normal or all Moscow decided to leave at the same time I was leaving, but it was quite something.
Eventually I reached the emigration agent. He took my passport, and had a look at it, then to me, then to the passport again.
He typed and typed but wasn’t processing me.
I was starting to get a tad nervous, even though I had arrived to the Airport totally on time, things were getting tight.
I made it past emigration, and I had to make a similar line for security. There, for the first time, I had to get in one of those scanners that see you all naked.
It’s all too common now, but back then it was a novelty for me.
Besides, the security environment was kind of rarefied at that moment, because there had been a terrorist attack in Domodedovo a few months before.
When I was finally done with all the lines, there was only half an hour before the flight’s departure time. Imagine had I arrived late!
I couldn’t have arrived earlier either, because then the counter would have been closed anyway (in fact, that’s what happened).
There, I looked for the departure gate of my flight in the screens. But the flight was nowhere to be seen!
So I went back to a place close to the scanner that sees you all naked, where there was a huge window with a view to the apron.
There, I looked for the tail of an Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-500, and I went to that gate when I saw it.
Advantages of being an Aviation geek. A “normal” passenger that can’t tell a Cessna 172 from an Antonov 225 is likely to have much more trouble in that scenario.
The other thing is that I wasn’t totally sure about it being my flight, rather than a flight, say, to Odessa.
So I arrived in the gate like 23 minutes before departure, and I showed my boarding pass. The machine beeped green, and no one scolded me. That was that, it was the Kiev flight indeed, fortunately.
As a side note, at the time of writing, all that I’ve just described is literally history.
Nowadays there aren’t any non-stop direct flights between Moscow and Kiev, they stopped in 2015, due to all that’s happened between Ukraine and Russia.
When I went, everything was “normal”. Since then, the Crimea annexation, the war in Donetsk and Lugansk, and the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 shooting down happened, among other things.
That has made the relations between both countries to be in its lowest point since the Soviet Union disappeared.
And that has affected the aerial links, and the joint Aviation projects they had, just to set some examples.
Currently, to go in Aeroplane between the two countries, a stop in a third country is needed.
Some of the most popular for this are through Minsk, in Belarus, Warsaw, in Poland and Riga, in Latvia (among others). Doing what I’m relating, at this moment, is impossible.
Anyway, I boarded the Aeroplane all relaxed, after the adventure I had had criss-crossing Moscow, after having slept just two hours.
I was in a zombie state, but I was in an Aeroplane I hadn’t flown on before, in a new airline, flying between two new Airports… I simply couldn’t sleep that easy, because I’m a geek.
The chosen one that day was UR-GAZ, a Boeing 737-500. It was my first time in a Boeing 737-500 and in Ukraine International Airlines.
That Aeroplane is flying relatively close these days, in Brazil.
There was a Transaero Boeing 737 beside us (Transaero doesn’t exist anymore), and an Uzbekistan Airways Boeing 767-300 arrived. We were pushed back right on time, and started the trip.
You could see part of the improvement works that were being carried out in the Airport.
We continued taxiing, as a Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-200 arrived, and we passed beside many Aeroplanes in remote spots.
And we held in what appeared to be an intersection, and not the beginning of the runway.
In the takeoff I managed to see the forest in which days before I had been taking pictures and my friend Inal and company.
I had been just to the other side of that wall.
Announcements were made in Russian, Ukrainian, and English. Listening to Russian and Ukrainian there I could notice many differences.
I didn’t understand a thing in any of the two languages, but it was evident they’re quite different.
Most people’s general idea -and mine until I researched more about it- is that they’re almost equal languages, almost mutually intelligible.
And while they do share many things, Ukrainian, they say, has much more similarity with Belorussian and Polish. A Russian person that hasn’t studied the language won’t understand it automatically.
Now, there’s a kind of mix between Russian and Ukrainian that some people speak, especially in rural and border zones.
This mix is called Surzhyk. According to what I’ve researched, it may be understood by people that speak both languages. But it’s just that, a mix.
Purists from both languages dislike it.
And there, in that Boeing 737-500, climbing and getting away from Moscow, I had a sample of what I’m telling you here firsthand. It was cool as hell.
Well, I continued watching what I could. Even though only fields, forests, and little villages were to be seen.
I was still fascinated about overflying the terrain I was overflying.
So much history!
But I literally couldn’t stay awake any longer, and as soon as we reached that cloud layer in the photo below, I fell fast asleep.
And there even was a baby crying around (in the takeoff and landing videos he can be heard. It’s despicable).
But I was SO sleepy that it didn’t matter, and I still fell like a rock anyway.
The flight time was a little less than an hour and a half, and they gave me a sandwich.
I woke up on descent to Boryspil Airport. I saw fields, and little villages similar to those I saw just going out of Moscow.
Then we overflew the Dnipro river (Dnepr in Russian).
Then some green pastures, and we landed.
We vacated the active runway and I had the Ukrainian government fleet right in front of me.
A total delight for my eyes, between Aeroplanes in use and withdrawn from service, old and new, western and Soviet. Delishis.
We arrived in Terminal B, it was about to be refurbished.
The UEFA Euro was about to start there (as joint hosts with Poland), and even the Airport buses were painted (in the photo below it can be seen).
The Airport had been having upgrade works for a long time, but the new terminal was not yet ready.
So I arrived in this terminal that didn’t even have jet bridges, but I loved it because I’m like that (hihihi). I exited the Aeroplane via stairs then.
Immigration and customs formalities this time around were quite simple, nothing to do with the adventures I had in Russia.
I’m not sure whether it was because of the change of country, or the change of passport.
The thing is, my friend Ruslana had helped me arrange some guy to go and pick me up, instead of taking public transportation. It wasn’t that expensive, and the Colombian peso was worth something back then.
I usually prefer “normal” public transportation, but that day I had that “luxury” arriving to Kiev.
I met with the person that was supposed to pick me up fast enough. He was a very nice guy apparently, and very warm.
We got in the car and started our way to Kiev, located about half and hour from the Airport.
The main goals in this trip were to go to Chernobyl, and to the Zhulyany museum. With the remaining little time and money I took some casual strolls around Kiev.
I would have liked to do much more there, but I had to prioritise. Still, I’ve two or three things to write about my short stint around the city.
First, the road to Boryspil Airport was very good, and the speed limits in some lanes were quite decent.
Up to 130 km/h in some lanes, and not a single misplaced speed bump.
Nothing to do with the 30 km/h limit they have in a dual carriageway motorway in Colombia from time to time. And if you don’t want it then they put a misplaced speed bump for good measure, because the “authority” is expert.
Building pedestrian overpasses or underpasses does not ring a bell with them. They KNOW that having a 30 km/h limit in a high speed dual carriageway with a misplaced speed bump is much better.
If they didn’t know what’s best, they wouldn’t be the “authority”… Right? RIGHT? RIGHT MISTER AGENT WHAT SEEMS TO BE THE PROOOOBLEM?!
Another thing is Kiev’s hotel offerings appeared to be -at least when I went there- somehow limited taking into account the kind of city it is, and costly at that.
Not only that, there have been cases in which there’s an event and prices skyrocket, even cancelling reservations made beforehand, so they can charge more to people going urgently on last minute plans to whatever event that is, and that didn’t have a previous reservation.
On the other hand, that has given rise to generosity samples from the city’s residents, in which they find out about the hotels’ antics, become incensed, and begin to host foreigners for free in their own houses.
I kind of researched when I was making plans, and I was a little apprehensive about the closeness of the UEFA Euro date to the date I was going to be around there.
But it’s better to have friends than money, as they say around here. I spoke to my friend Ruslana about that when I was preparing the logistics to go, and she said to me:
-“Dooon’t sweat it. I know someone that rents short term flats and I may get you a better price, in a better location”.
Said and done, she got me a nice flat in a central point, at a decent price, and I stayed there.
Airbnb already existed, but it wasn’t very “famous” yet.
In any case, it’s almost always going to be cheaper for a local that knows stuff and speaks the language, than for a foreigner just in from the mountains.
The first thing I did when I arrived in the city was to meet the owner of the flat and pay her what we had agreed, after exchanging dollars for hrivnias.
I don’t remember if I exchanged in the Airport, or where.
She gave me the keys, a modem for Internet, and that was that.
My room in Kiev.
Studio of my Kiev flat.
The flat had everything I needed. Even a washing machine with Mr.Muscle, that fit me like a glove.
I had just arrived from several weeks of wandering around in various continents, and I was running out of clean clothes.
And I wasn’t keen on paying laundry for all that, even less so in Europe.
Anyway, I chose there where it said “delikat”.
In part because it was the only thing I understood (as much as I read), and in part because my clothes are rustic and mottled, but at the same time soft and delicate. Just like me, hihihi.
A pleasure I had just discovered was reading billboards. In Moscow, I had to learn to read Cyrillic in a rush so I could use the metro.
And in Kiev’s roads I was happy reading every little thing, I even discovered there’s an electronics store called Eldorado. You can see in the photo below.
(Eldorado is the name of Bogota’s Airport).
When I grow up I’m going to set up a store in Medellin called Boryspil, honouring what I read.
Just kidding, no, after I do that they will eat me with taxes, extortion, devaluation, and clients nagging about nonsense.
I passed near the Motherland Monument. A huge World War II memorial, part of a museum on the topic.
The statue still has the emblem of the Soviet Union, but this is polemic now due to the worsening of relations between Ukraine and Russia.
In fact, there’s a law that forbids communist symbols, but monuments to World War II are exempt.
In addition to a campaign to tear down the Lenin statues in the country.
They say when the Soviet Union disappeared there were some 5500, and there’s none right now (at least officially).
A photographer published a book about it, it’s called “Looking for Lenin”.
I managed to see something of Lenin in Kiev, as can be seen in this photo, below. I’m not sure whether that statue exists or not at the time of writing this, perhaps not.
I also took a little stroll around the red building of the Kiev National University Taras Shevchenko, considered the best in Ukraine, and among the top 500 worldwide.
The building is more than 170 years old, and in general the sector is very pretty.
There were many people together nearby.
That tent you see below says “Kvas Taras”. Kvas is a traditional fermented beverage from east Europe and Russia, mildly alcoholic.
In Russia, even Coca-Cola produces Kvas.
When I saw that tent I immediately remembered those extra tacky blue tents that you see around Colombia, the ones that say “Postobon”.
Of course, I couldn’t stop walking around Maidan Square. Easily the most recognisable square in Kiev.
The local name is Maidan Nezalezhnosti. It’s been the centre of the most noteworthy political protests in Ukraine’s recent history, especially since they stopped being a part of the Soviet Union.
One of those was the Orange Revolution between 2004 and 2005. The other one was Euromaidan in 2014.
I’m going to say two or three things about those protests, always subject to whatever little I may know from my vantage point.
What I say is descriptive. I’m not taking sides for anyone.
The Orange Revolution was about the results of the presidential elections of that moment.
Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych were the contenders, the first one was closer to Europe, and the second to Russia.
Getting closer to Europe or Russia is a very strong dividing line in Ukraine, politically and socially.
Yanukovych, besides, was close to ex-president Leonid Kuchma.
And Kuchma had been embroiled in a grave grave situation because in a cassette that was lying around, he could be heard ordering the kidnapping of a journalist that ended up murdered.
That was called Kuchmagate.
On top of that, an important part of Ukraine’s society was fed up with the same old politicians, or the new ones being lackeys of the old ones (as some of us are in Colombia).
When the election was over, Yanukovych was declared the winner. But many people were convinced there had been mass fraud, and went to the streets to protest.
So a huge protest began, and it ended with that election’s annulment. The second round was repeated, and Yushchenko won this time around.
Yushchenko’s government passed. Including a potential poisoning case that destroyed his face, as you can see in the photo below.
And when his government was over, in a not-so-polemic election, Yanukovych was elected. This time around there was no fraud, at least according to international observers.
Yanukovych’s government started in 2010. They say he was a very corrupt person, and that he favoured in excess the Donbass region, an industrialised zone to the east of the country.
That zone is pretty close to Russia in geography and culture, and he had made his career there.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back was when he decided to cancel an association agreement with the European Union.
Some protests began there in November 2013, they lasted for months.
Those protests were called “Euromaidan”, and even though they were long and in several places, their main centre was right there in the square.
Several people died, and the country almost went to civil war.
Yanukovych had to flee to Russia, and go into exile there (and he’s still there at the time of writing this).
Later, the association agreement was signed, and Petro Poroshenko was chosen, the current president.
While at that, people invaded the Mezhyhirya Residence, where Yanukovych lived. The place is so opulent, that they say a single chandelier could cost almost 100.000 dollars.
They say, that all these events helped fuel the things that transpired later with the Crimea peninsula annexation, and the armed conflict in the regions of Lugansk and Donetsk.
Those regions are precisely the ones that make most of the Donbass I mentioned earlier.
And well, I walked around Maidan Square.
And while I observed the whole place, and having it right in my face, I was thinking in the Orange Revolution, and what I had seen on TV.
Euromaidan hadn’t happened when I was there. When it happened, after that visit, I was living in Australia. Obviously, I followed everything closely.
And of course, I thought again on my short stint around that place.
Kiev struck me as a not so asphyxiating city in comparison with others I’ve walked around. I saw wide avenues and trees in several places.
Obviously, what I saw was quite limited, but within that limitation that’s the impression that I got.
I found a buffet restaurant called Puzata Hata, cheap and good. I became a regular customer the days I was there.
Walking around I saw one of the most beautiful police agents in the world.
Braided brunette baby arrest meeeee.
She reminded me of Oxana Fedorova, of course, they had to be from “around there”.
The city has a metro in which I moved around the city almost all the time. It was the third one to be built in the Soviet Union, and put to work in 1960.
And well, Kiev was the third city of the country after Moscow and Leningrad (current Saint Petersburg).
The other city in current Ukraine that made it into the top 10 of biggest cities in the Soviet Union was Kharkov.
Unlike Moscow’s metro, when I went, Kiev’s had English announcements and signs. My understanding is that they were fairly recent, in due time for the mentioned UEFA Euro cup.
The metro has a station called Arsenalna, which at 105 metres is the deepest metro station in the world.
I saw her in that metro, she was carrying a grocery bag, and left in Olimpiiska. When she left I had gone more than three stations past the one I needed, just to see her.
What shall my Ukrainian girlfriend-of-minutes-that-never-knew-she-was, be doing?
Not even all the infatuations I’ve had while riding Medellin’s public transport (and they aren’t few) match the one I had for that women for some minutes in Kiev’s metro.
So much so that today, years after, I still remember everything clearly. Like yesterday.
Even the station she got off at, and by doing so destroyed what we had, and broke my heart.
(She’s not the one in the photo below).
The metro has several means of payment to use it, but I used to buy some plastic blue tokens. I didn’t use them all, and I still keep some that remained.
As most metro systems built during the Soviet times, Kiev’s is very beautiful, and some stations are thematic.
Now, with the entry into force of the law I mentioned before about communist symbols, many of the time’s decorations have been removed, or so I have read.
On top of that, I rode the bus a couple of times as well. I kept a ticket, as can be seen in the photo below.
There are taxi services too, but they didn’t seem to be very regulated. You had to agree for the fare beforehand, as in Medellin in the old times.
My grandfather spent some time in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union.
I think he was in a different city than Kiev, I don’t know why Dnepropetrovsk rings a bell (officially called Dnipro since May 2016), but I’m not really sure.
Whatever city it was, somehow, I felt undoing the old man’s steps in Kiev, like when I passed through Shenyang.
I liked what I saw from Kiev. I must return sometime to see even more.
For now, I leave you with this gallery of other photos I took around, including a car crash.
This was a sample of what I saw and did in Kiev, but it wasn’t the only thing I did in Ukraine.
The second part of this article goes deeper into Aviation matters.
The third is an explanation of how a nuclear reactor works (as far as I can make it), what happened in Chernobyl, and its consequences.
The fourth is the report of my visit to the exclusion zone, Chernobyl, and Pripyat.
Let’s continue, then.