Belarus / Ukraine – 2020, Proposal for Atlas Obscura
Hi Tao Tao, and others at Atlas Obscura.
On this page is the Minsk (Belarus), Chernobyl, and Kyiv (Ukraine) proposed tour for Atlas Obscura. Anton, Phillipa, and myself (Nate) have jointly put this together, and our tour concept is simple – to expand the appeal of the popular Atlas Obscura Kyiv/Chernobyl tours, we have added another country to the journey.
Belarus is somewhat unknown, and a little mysterious, but offers a unique experience unmatched by any other country on the planet. Minsk is an old city, with a mid-century appearance – a little surreal at times, but it’s the best surviving example of the original Soviet utopian dream.
Below is a draft overview and itinerary, we hope you like it as much as we do.
Note, we have planned the inaugural tour to coincide with the annual Belarus Independence Day Parade – a true Soviet-style military parade in the middle of downtown Minsk…
Minsk, Kyiv, and Chernobyl – Trip Overview
Commencing our tour in the “Hero City” of Minsk, Belarus, we’ll journey through a living museum-city of Soviet-Modernist architecture, and witness one of the largest military parades on Earth. We’ll continue on to Kyiv, Ukraine – fast becoming a hotspot of European tourism, famed for the blend of old and new. Ancient streets and architecture blend in with contemporary sites – this is Eastern Europe’s greatest modern-day capital city. Finishing this trip off, is a very special trip to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – a three-day immersion that few tourists ever get to take part in.
This trip requires travellers to have reasonable level of fitness.
Minsk, Belarus – Independence Day Military Parade and city celebrations
Soviet Modernist Architecture of Kyiv and Minsk
Get to Know the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
See inside the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant
Tour the lavish mansion of a deposed president
Day 1 – Welcome to Minsk!
- Arrive in Minsk, check into your modernist hotel in the very heart of the city (just a five minute walk from the upcoming parade location). All major points of interest are nearby.
- Make sure to arrive early enough for a walking tour of the interesting Soviet-era sites nearby.
- We’ll have our first group dinner in a traditional Belarus-style restaurant close to the hotel, so bring your appetite.
Day 2 – Under the Watchful Eye
- Today we will explore Minsk with an informative walking tour. The capital city holds of wealth of unique sites – the Soviet’s left their modernist architectural stamp and it’s proudly preserved and utilised to this day. We’ll see the best examples, including the National Library, October Theatre, The Moscva Cinema complex, National Expo Center, and the infamous KGB headquarters.
- To get around the somewhat quirky city, there is no better way than the Soviet-era metro system – the numerous stations are beautiful, historical, and as you may expect, the multiple lines run with ruthless efficiency.
- Lunch will be handily located in the back streets of central Minsk.
- In the afternoon, we’ll continue the city exploration, and check out a unique memorial museum and workshop. It’s the personal space of sculptor/artist Zair Azgur – once an official national artist of the USSR. Mr Azgur was the recipient of several prestigious Stalin Awards, and his workshop holds some of the most incredible sculptures of the Soviet-era.
- Throughout the day, you’ll begin to notice the importance of tomorrow’s main activity – a range of ‘men in black’, soldiers in uniforms, and other officials and workers will be preparing Minsk for the highlight of the annual calendar – the annual Independence Day Parade…
Day 3 – Independence Day
- We’ll start early today and to grab the best spots for viewing the parade.
- Throughout the day, feel free to wander around and absorb down-town Minsk at it’s finest – we’ll make an optional meeting spot for a group lunch. The area surrounding the main parade location will be full of locals cooking delicious traditional food, celebrating the occasion with a bottle of something pretty strong, and browsing through the handicrafts on sale.
- You will be free to explore the vicinity of the parade on your own, or with us. For sure, we’ll be joining locals for some fun.
- After a long day, we’ll gather back together for dinner, and then pack for tomorrow’s adventure – we have another country to discover…
Day 4 – Welcome to Ukraine!
- Ukraine awaits, but first we’ll visit one final Belarus monument on the way to Sovmod-style Minsk Airport – the fantastically named “Mound of Glory”.
- After a short one-hour flight, we’ll arrive in the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv. Lunch will be on the way to one of Kyiv’s modernist gems – and it’s your home for the next few nights. We’ll check in to the iconic Hotel Salute – our Base of Operations for the Kyiv section of this adventure.
- Upon arrival, you’ll be given enough time to unpack and get ready for a relaxing walking tour, as we walk the same city streets that were involved in the most recent Ukrainian revolution – the 2014 “Revolution of Dignity”.
- Walking through Maidan square, the incomparably grand Khreshchatyk street, and the surrounding area, we’ll hear an on-site explanation of the events that took place during the 2014 revolution
- in the evening, our group dinner will take place at a popular Georgian restaurant – known as the finest cuisine of the Soviet Union.
Day 5 – Run-Away President
- Kicking the day of will be a visit to “Mezhyhyria” – the private residence of exiled former president Viktor Yanukovych. Marvel at the disgraced leader’s display of unfathomable wealth, as we tour his enormous estate (and exclusively inside his lavishly decorated private home). We’ll be stopping to check out his garage that still holds his retro classic car collection.
- Heading back into the city for lunch, we’ll be in the popular inner city district of Podil – an area quickly gentrifying, but continuing to display a working-class level of authentic old Kyiv. Lunch is a real treat – a fusion of old and new in a way that only Kyiv can do.
- In the afternoon, you’ll have a choice: either head underground for a guided “urban exploration” tour, navigating through storm drains and tunnels beneath the Ukrainian capital, or if you prefer, you can stay topside for a tour of Kyiv’s eye-catching highlights.
- Dinner will be on the more modern side of this city. Kyiv holds a surprise around every corner, and visitors are amazed at the selection, variety, and freshness of the contemporary food scene.
Day 6 – A Stroll Through Time
- Today we’ll explore different eras of Ukrainian history, conveniently lined up within walking distance from our hotel. From the Holodomor memorial, where we’ll learn about the tragic events of the early 20th century, we’ll stroll to one of the most important Orthodox monasteries in the world, (founded over one thousand years ago), see the Catacombs that continue to hold the bodies of deceased religious figures, the smallest sculptures on the planet, and make our way to the Great Patriotic War museum – underneath the foreboding (and enormous) statue of “Mother Ukraine”.
- Lunch will be enroute, and then we’ll head back to Podil to the Chernobyl Museum – filling ourselves with some useful background information before our special trip to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
- We’ll wrap it up a bit earlier today, making sure we get plenty of rest pre-Chernobyl – but not before a great dinner in a nostalgic Soviet-style restaurant, just a couple of minutes walk from our hotel. You will feel like you’re in the cozy home of the Soviet Grandma you never knew you had.
Day 7 – Chernobyl
- Leaving early from our hotel, we’ll travel by private bus to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Our official Chernobyl guide will bring us up to speed on the accident, its causes, and its many repercussions.
- On our first day in “the Zone” we’ll stand within a hundred meteres of “ground zero” of the accident, just outside the infamous Reactor Four. Ironically, the radiation levels are safe here – we’ll be able to confirm this with our dosimeters and geiger counters at all times.
- We’ll have a special lunch today – home cooked food at the home of a local self-settler, one of the original babushkas of Chernobyl.
- The Exclusion Zone is huge, and there is so much to see – highlights today will include admiring the new containment structure installed in 2016, visiting some of the lesser-known facilities around the nuclear power plant, and we” get our first look at the abandoned city of Pripyat.
- Later, after we have finished with exploring for the day, we’ll press on to our accommodation for tonight at a local village just outside the exclusion zone. We’ll be served delicious Ukrainian style home-made dinner, and continue on tomorrow with an early start.
Day 8 – The Chernobyl Saga Continues
- First up is something incredibly special – we’ll have an exclusive guided tour inside the Chernobyl Power plant. Each day, thousands of workers arrive to the series of plants, working to safely decommission the nuclear power facility.
- Lunch we’ll need to remain flexible – keeping in mind the timings of the power plant tour, but will be provided within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
- With time on our side, we’ll explore the ‘Zone and its landmarks at a leisurely pace – we have an opportunity to explore deeper into the Exclusion Zone, to see some of the more remote, untouched sites.
- Returning to our village home for another night, we’ll enjoy a home-cooked Ukrainian meal, and get some rest for our final day in Chernobyl.
Day 9 – The Streets of Pripyat
- At the time of the Chernobyl accident, the workers’ city Pripyat had a population of 49,000 people. It was evacuated soon after the event, and now survives as one of the world’s most famous ghost towns. Today, we’ll get to know this empty city intimately, walking its desolate streets, and visiting its abandoned schools, hospitals, theaters, restaurants, and stores.
- We’ll see all of Pripyat’s main landmarks, including the fairground, swimming pools, and also some fabulous Soviet-era mosaics.
- Lunch will be at the Chernobyl workers’ canteen, surrounded by scientists and engineers currently stationed at the plant.
- In the afternoon, we’ll visit one of the Exclusion Zone’s best-kept secrets: the DUGA radar installation, or “Russian Woodpecker,” an enormous structure at the heart of an abandoned Soviet military base.
- Late in the day we’ll return to the capital for one last night at our Kyiv hotel, stopping enroute for a genuine Ukrainian country-style feast.
Day 10 – Do Pobachennya & Departure
- After one final group breakfast, we’ll head to the airport for our individual flights home, say farewell (and see you soon) to new friends, and bid Ukraine adieu!
- If you choose to extend your time in Ukraine, your guides will be happy to offer additional tips and recommendations.
- Until the next adventure!
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