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Ukraine

Kyiv, Chernobyl, and the Borders of Bessarabia

Come with Atlas Obscura on a once-in-a-lifetime tour of Ukraine, Transnistria, and Moldova, a region known as Bessarabia. We'll delve deep into local cultures and traditions, Soviet history, and contemporary politics, and journey into the incredible Exclusion Zone created by the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

Your tight-knit group of 12 explorers will have a whole team of experienced guides at your disposal as we explore Bessarabia, one of Europe’s most fascinating—and drastically underrated—regions. We'll see beautiful Orthodox monasteries, underground tunnels, breathtaking monuments, and radioactive wastelands. Along the way, we’ll also find plenty of time to enjoy fantastic food and drink, good company, mischief, and mystery. Our 11 days and 10 nights in Ukraine, Transnistria, and Moldova will be breathtaking, surprising, and occasionally challenging … but always memorable.

Trip Highlights

  • Hands-on History: We will visit everything from breathtaking UNESCO sites to abandoned military facilities as we dive headfirst into the region’s history.
  • Postnuclear Wastelands: Accompanied by expert guides, we will (carefully!) explore the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and witness the devastation left by the world’s most disastrous nuclear accident.
  • Soviet Legacy: The USSR left a lasting mark on this corner of Europe. As we tour two former Soviet Socialist Republics, as well as the former Soviet autonomous territory of Transnistria, we will visit towering monuments raised in tribute to Moscow and see examples of classic Soviet public art and architecture.
  • Catacombs: We'll take a guided tour through the catacombs beneath Odessa, the world’s longest network of tunnels. Our extensive tour will give you an unforgettable experience of this timeless labyrinth.
  • 21st-Century Culture: Ukraine, Moldova, and Transnistria are countries that defy easy definition, and we’ll get to know them well, by experiencing authentic culture and meeting real people. We’ll see the good, the bad, and everything in between as we immerse ourselves in the varied cultures of this fascinating region.
  • Transnistria: This small sliver of land between Moldova and Ukraine is often referred to as a "frozen conflict zone." It is a self-declared—yet unrecognized—republic, a place where vodka is cheap and Soviet nostalgia runs deep. Transnistria celebrates its Independence Day on September 2. We’ll be there for the party in the capital, Tiraspol … but after that we’ll head out into the smaller towns of the region. There you’ll see a completely different side of Transnistria, and learn that there’s more to the place than Soviet tanks and Lenin statues.

Your Expert Organizer and Guide

Darmon Richter is a British travel writer and Ph.D. researcher, with a particular interest in the ideological architecture of Eastern Europe. He writes The Bohemian Blog and has contributed to Atlas Obscura since 2013. In addition to Ukraine, he has led Atlas Obscura trips to Bulgaria and the Balkans.

Trip Cost

A $500 deposit is required to secure your spot. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. We have a limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill quickly. The trip will cost $3,996 (the $500 deposit plus $3,496 final payment) and will cover all fixed costs including accommodations, daily breakfast and dinner, and all the activities listed below.

QUESTIONS?

Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, or payment. 

Itinerary
Day 1
Welcome to Kyiv!
  • Arrive in Kyiv and meet your travel companions.
  • Check into to our accommodation at the delightfully brutalist Hotel Salyut, conveniently located just down the road from the deepest metro station in the world.
  • Settle in with dinner and drinks at a traditional restaurant nearby, and get to know your guides and fellow travelers.
Day 2
A Brief History
  • Marvel at the magnificent Pechersk Lavra monastery—one of Ukraine’s most important Orthodox sites—and then explore the system of catacombs beneath the church.
  • Head over to the nearby Motherland Monument to experience sheer awe before this towering Soviet symbol, before learning about Ukraine’s role in World War II at the Great Patriotic War Museum.
  • After lunch, we'll hear about the 2014 Maidan Revolution from Ukrainians who participated in the struggle for independence. We’ll visit the places where it happened, and learn about ongoing conflict in other regions of the country.
  • Finally, we’ll end the day with a banquet at a rustic home-style restaurant.
Day 3
Chernobyl
  • Leaving early from our hotel, we’ll travel by private bus to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. We'll meet our Chernobyl guide, while a documentary film playing on the bus will bring us up to speed on the accident, its causes, and its many repercussions.
  • On our first day in Chernobyl we’ll visit the reactors themselves. We’ll see ground zero of the accident, admire the new containment structure installed in 2016, and explore some of the other facilities around the nuclear power plant.
  • Take lunch in the Chernobyl workers’ canteen, surrounded by scientists and engineers currently stationed at the plant. 
  • After a long day of exploring, we'll eat dinner at a restaurant in Chernobyl town. Our accommodation for the night is at a hotel nearby, inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Day 4
Pripyat
  • At the time of the Chernobyl accident, the workers’ city Pripyat had a population of 49,000. It was evacuated soon after the event, and today it survives as one of the world’s most famous ghost towns. Today we’ll get to know this empty city intimately.
  • Walk the desolate streets of Pripyat and visit schools, hospitals, and theaters. We will see all of Pripyat’s main landmarks, including the fairground, Palace of Culture, swimming pools, and fabulous street murals.
  • After lunch back at the Chernobyl canteen, we’ll visit one of the Exclusion Zone’s best-kept secrets: the DUGA radar installation, or "Russian Woodpecker," which rises to a height of 500 feet 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.
Day 5
The Presidential Palace
  • Today we’ll visit Mezhyhirya, the private residence of exiled former president Viktor Yanukovych. Marvel at the disgraced leader’s insane display of wealth as you tour his ostentatious house and classic car collection.
  • After lunch back in the capital, we’ll stop by Kyiv’s Chernobyl Museum. Focusing on the human stories connected to the catastrophe, this curious and colorful museum makes the perfect epilogue to our trip into the Exclusion Zone.
  • Dinner will be hearty Ukrainian fare, served at cozy restaurant near the hotel. After that you’ll want to get some rest, and ready yourself for the long journey coming up.
Day 6
Odessa
  • Today we take a private minibus south—almost 300 miles to Odessa, on the Black Sea coast. There’s something very exciting to see along the way, so we’ll stop to explore this mystery destination and have lunch halfway, before continuing on to Odessa.
  • We’ll check into our accommodation at the luxurious Hotel Gagarinn, and then head out for dinner.
Day 7
The Catacombs
  • The Odessa Catacombs are the longest network of tunnels in the world, an estimated 1,553 miles in length. This morning, we’ll dive straight into the labyrinth … accompanied by an experienced local guide, of course.
  • Exploring the catacombs is hungry work, so we’ll return topside in time for lunch in the city.
  • In the afternoon, we’ll take a walking tour of Odessa. From the legendary Potemkin Stairs to the beautiful Cathedral Square, we’ll explore the highlights of the city and then settle in for a good evening meal.
Day 8
Goodbye, Ukraine
  • Odessa has a lot to offer, from its markets and church squares to famous Soviet-era monuments. You can even visit a Lenin monument that one local artist has transformed into a likeness of Darth Vader. This morning, we’ll give you a map and some free time to explore the city as you choose. 
  • After that we’ll take another bus and head across the border into the unrecognized republic of Transnistria. We’ll find our spacious apartment lodgings, enjoy a local meal, and prepare for the big day ahead.
Day 9
Independence Day
  • Prepare yourself for a street party like nothing you’ve ever seen. September 2 is Transnistrian Independence Day: Expect Soviet-style military parades, marching bands, and pompous speeches from a podium decked in flags. The streets fill with crowds of spectators, while bands perform late into the night. Along the riverfront, we’ll find food stalls selling nothing but shashlik—huge grilled kebabs—and plastic cups of vodka.
  • We’ll be going in deep today: mingling with the locals and getting lost in the noise and chaos of the parades. Later, we’ll gather for a big dinner and drinks, and to talk about all we’ve seen.
Day 10
Moldovan Socialist Modernism
  • We will travel north to Chișinău in the morning, and then head out to explore the city. The Moldovan capital is an underrated gem, from the socialist-modernist state circus to the neoclassical cathedral and beyond. We’ll admire brutalist housing blocks and visit the striking Victory Monument.
  • We'll learn about Chișinău’s Jewish heritage as we walk through the city’s former ghettos and visit the overgrown Jewish cemetery on its outskirts.
  • We'll finish with dinner and an overnight stay in the city.
Day 11
Farewell & Departure
  • One the last day of the tour we’ll enjoy one last breakfast together, and then visit the Chișinău Bureau of Migration and Asylum to get the passport stamps we missed by entering Moldova through its breakaway republic.
  • After this last little taste of Soviet-style bureaucracy, you’ll be welcome to join your guides for an optional lunch in the city … or head off to start your onward journey.
  • Chișinău International Airport is well connected, but for those hoping to fly home out of Kyiv, your guides will be happy to assist and advise on onward travel back to Ukraine.
  • Until the next adventure!
The Fine Print

 

Your Atlas Obscura Ukraine, Transnistria, and Moldova Expedition Includes

  • All lodging in double-accommodation rooms in modern, well-equipped hotels throughout the trip. (Single supplement for a private room is available for $625. Otherwise we'll work to place singles together.)
  • Breakfast daily (either in your hotel or at recommended traditional breakfast spots).
  • A full meal every evening of the tour.
  • Two experienced Western tour guides and an Atlas Obscura representative to accompany you throughout the trip, in addition to several different local guides, each stepping in to tell you about their specialist subjects.
  • Private transport throughout the trip, in a comfortable minibus.
  • Admission to all proposed activities and events, including museums, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and the Odessa Catacombs.
  • A full briefing packet for each explorer, including country information, final itinerary, logistical and contact information, recommended reading, and packing list.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all that Bessarabia has to offer!

NOTE ON ITINERARY

Itineraries and pricing are subject to change. This particular tour has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, whose schedules and availabilities may change in coming months. Though unlikely, fluctuating radiation levels may potentially prevent us from reaching some of the more restricted locations listed. If any activity or attraction that is advertised is missed or not available, then we will always replace it with another activity or location of significant interest and value.

NOTE ON PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Some elements of this tour will be physically demanding. Our two-day exploration of Chernobyl involves no more than walking, but there will be a lot of that, and over rough ground, so be sure to bring proper walking boots or other outdoor footwear. Long sleeves and full-length pants are also required inside the Zone. Be aware that this tour also involves a good amount of driving time.

PAYMENT

You will be charged a $500 deposit to hold your space. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. The final payment of $3,496 will be due by May 28, 2018. There will also be the option to pay in two installments, the first due April 30, 2018. All reservations will be final after these dates and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the Terms & Conditions. For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional $625 will be included in the final payment.

Travelers Are Responsible For

  • Transportation and flights. The tour begins in Kyiv, Ukraine, and ends in Chișinău, Moldova.
  • Travel insurance (required).
  • Baggage charges.
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings, including lunches and alcoholic beverages.
  • If applicable, applying for a Ukrainian visa. (Find out if you need one here.)

QUESTIONS?

Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment.