Destination Truth: The Ghosts of Chernobyl - My Commentary

Destination Truth's Ghosts of Chernobyl episode finally aired on SyFy last night. I think the only good thing I can say is it was interesting to see Pripyat at night, though it seemed they only spent time in the hospital complex, the cultural center and amusement park. The thermal image of the ferris wheel was also pretty cool.

However, there was a bit of misinformation and redirection in the segment. Since I know the Chernobyl area pretty well, it was easy to identify misinformation and see how their editing took scenes out of chronological order. For instance, there is no "5 km checkpoint." The Dytyatky Checkpoint is at the southern entrance to the 30 km Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The Leliv Checkpoint is located 10 km from the Chernobyl Plant. What Josh Gates said was the 5 km checkpoint is at the entrance to Pripyat, which is 2-3 km from the Chernobyl Plant.

Editing took viewers from the Pripyat Checkpoint directly into the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant parking lot where visitors can see a close up of the Sarcophagus covering Reactor 4 (the visitor's center is also located at this parking lot). In reality, they would have visited the Chernobyl Plant several minutes after passing the Leliv Checkpoint, not the Pripyat Checkpoint.

The Thyroid Shield additive and radiation protection suits were definite overkill. The group was way too concerned about their radiation exposure. They did not seem to be in any areas of Pripyat that are known to have higher levels of contamination.

There is absolutely no way their cumulative dose of radiation reached a dangerous limit in that short amount of time. I personally know people who spend a lot more time in Pripyat, including in areas with higher levels of radiation and they have never had a problem ... and never wore radiation protection suits. Either someone manually set off the alarm or they set their dosimeter to sound its alarm at a very low level, just for effect.

As far as their evidence, my first reaction to the thermal footage with the shape in the window was a reflection, which was later verified by Jason and Grant from Ghost Hunters. I also question the other thermal footage that was referred to as a "great piece of evidence." The Destination Truth crew may have all been in radiation suits, but the shape could have been one of their cameramen or it could have been their guide Yuri. Despite what they implied, there is no way they would have been left completely alone in Pripyat without a guide.

They also got all excited about the small light in the cultural center (second floor of the building). As Jason and Grant mentioned, it could have been an animal. Wild dogs are known to wander the streets of Pripyat. If they did any research on the city, they would also know that thieves have been looting Pripyat for more than 20 years and continue to do so today. Could it have been a looter's flashlight?

The EVP session was also a joke. Construction of Pripyat began in 1970, so it was a young city that was only populated during Soviet times. Why the hell would you ask questions of spirits in the English language? In this location, do you really think someone is going to be able to understand a question in English and respond in English?

Lastly, Jael's freak out when she was "touched" reminded me of a scene with a wrestler on one of Ghost Hunter's live Halloween specials. It was too much of an overreaction to be real. The Destination Truth group is supposed to be there searching for the paranormal. If every little thing is going to scare you, why would you go on such investigations?

Overall, I found the Ghosts of Chernobyl episode to be a disappointment. For me, it revealed major issues with the Destination Truth show - issues that were previously suspected, but now seem more true than ever. These people are supposed to be professionals, yet whenever they see anything suspicious, they jump to the immediate conclusion they experienced something paranormal. Josh Gates has worked with Jason and Grant from Ghost Hunters and should be quite familiar with their approach, where if something is experienced, you investigate and try to disprove it.

I guess I should end with what I thought was a fascinating and appropriate quote from Josh Gates at the end of the episode's second segment: "Panic is a powerful agent of  imagination." I think Gates and his crew proved that tonight in the Chernobyl segment, where the destination was not the truth.

23 Comments

Nicely written article mark,

I thought it was a terribly edited show purely from a geographical standpoint as well as you said, at one point they were driving through the 10km section, next they were approaching Chernobyl. I guess to the many many people who don't know about the area its not really important but...

Some points of my own.

1. If you're going to wear a radiation suit in the zone put it on before you enter the zone not when you're standing in Pripyat town square, kind of seems redundant at that point as you're already dangerously contaminated as they liked to imply. Also why even wear one in Pripyat when you've stood outside the reactor in plain clothing?

2. Now I may have got this bit wrong but that light that moved along on the second floor of the cultural center I thought I heard them refer to it as the school. He said that we headed into the school to look for the light source and they walked into the cultural center.

And thirdly and possibly the most stupid point for me, they made it out that their dosimeter just suddenly alarmed while they were standing in a room, this implies that the radiation was moving around on its own. totally inaccurate and kind of careless on their part as anyone who knows even a little about this subject would know that wouldn't happen in a building, maybe outside with wind and weather patterns.

As for the girl who had her hand grabbed, if it was me I wouldn't freak out and then run of into a dark room on my own to calm down. totally staged!

Like you say the only cool bit I think is seeing the Ferris wheel in thermal imaging, nice that it stood out in the cold night like that.

disappointing on the whole, and misinforming the viewer.. sad!

Graham,

You are correct - they were also in a school. I forgot, but the classroom was obvious.

I agree with your assessment of their timing for putting on the radiation suits. For people that were so concerned about exposure, it seems stupid to wait so long to put on the suits.

It was hard to see, but the structure of the building with the light looked just like the cultural center. I swear I saw the outline of what used to be the big windows from the second floor.

Regarding the dosimeter alarm, some units have the capability of measuring cumulative doses, not just the level at that point in time. Therefore, it is possible for a dosimeter alarm to go off if you reached a specified cumulative level of exposure, even when standing in one place. There's just no way they reached a critical dose level in such a short amount of time.

It was quite obvious they were trying to exploit people's fears of radiation. I wonder how Yuri felt about being their guide. I'm sure he was not happy having to deal with people that were only visiting Chernobyl to exploit the Zone for a TV show. Maybe that's why he refused to translate for them. :-)

Yes your right, it was the cultural center for sure, but after that he said they were heading into the school to look for it, next shot you see them walk up steps which to me looked the the hotel and then they were on the second floor of the cultural center. Some school!!

Fair point on the dosimeter and collective dose but, when it went of he said we should leave this are (or building now), and then proceeded to carry on with the investigation for another 10 mins or so, and THEN!! take your mask off and discuss the experience while still in the middle of a radioactive zone..

Im putting it all down to lack of knowledge in the editing department.


I did laugh out loud at the thyroid medicine, didn't realize such a thing existed and in such nice flavors

Poor old Yuri, I think you're right, that guard said something that hit a nerve with Yuri and he wasn't going to repeat it for a US TV show about.

Did I also see sasha stick his head out over the guards at Dityatki near the beginning ?

I was also wondering if that was Sasha. I recorded the show and just took another look - it definitely seems to be him. I wonder if they contacted Pripyat.com for their arrangements.

While looking for Sasha, I noticed Josh Gates says they were assigned a soldier to escort them to Pripyat. Yuri may have been dressed in fatigues, but he is not a soldier.

I have to stop looking at this show ... I'm seeing more issues each time I look at something! :-)

Very interesting article, Mark! I myself am a huge fan of such shows as Ghost Hunters and Destination Truth and I was really looking forward to this episode, especially since I am originally from Ukraine. Having watched this show before, I couldn't help by noticed a myriad of imperfections of Destination Truth. Very rarely they do solve the mysteries that they are facing. Oftentimes, they blame the lack of their results and, hence, the evidence on their equipment or, as you mentioned, they take everything as a face value and jump momentarily into conclusions without doing a thorough research. I also noticed that this girl, who supposedly was touched by a ghost, freaks out almost every time in every episode with or without reason. I understand that this is done to impress the viewers of this show but, if you claim to be a professional, you have to act like one and not run away when the opportunity presents itself.
On the other note, many stereotypes that foreigners hold about Ukraine as the post Soviet country have been successfully portrayed in this episode. First is the team’s open and possibly damaged luggage. I understand that Ukrainian airlines are not the best ones in the world but the fact that their luggage got opened could be possible attributed to the way the suitcase was packed. How convenient for them to start their trip by depicting how bad everything is in Ukraine?! And did Josh really have to jump on that carousel and make it that dramatic?! I wonder how many people got a wrong idea of what awaits them at the Boryspil airport. In regards to the old Soviet mini-van that they had to drive in, if you look around you do not really see these kinds of old cars anymore, especially in Kiev! Also, when they were eating at the cafeteria Josh made a remark about the flavored anti-radiation liquid or whatever that was that they had to take in with their drinks. First of all, he read the label of that medicine in English (!!!)I am sure that the team got a special treatment, since it was comprised of Americans and, thus, was given a special flavored foreign medicine unlike everybody else in that cafeteria. So, they really should say thank you for having this thing and understand that possibly not everyone gets a flavored one rather than complain about it.
It was somewhat cool to see the thermal images and Pripyat at night but overall I got disappointed with the show. It was a good try though I don't think that people who knew nothing or very little about Ukraine or Chernobyl got a good understanding of what is really going on in that area and in Ukraine in general by watching this not-even-half-an-hour-long investigation on the “Ghosts of Chernobyl” .

Hi Yulia,

Thanks for stopping by.

I completely understand about bad sterotypes many people have about Ukraine. When I told my mother about going to Chernobyl, she was horrified that I would risk my life traveling to such a "third world" country. Nothing I could say would change her opinion, which is sad.

What's really bad about the luggage scene is that the same thing can and does occasionally happen in the United States, too. I was wondering whether they had properly closed their luggage before boarding their flight in Los Angeles. Boryspil Airport was a bit confusing (when arriving for a departing flight), but I didn't find anything wrong with it - just a little different than what I consider "normal."

I was also a little offended by the scene at the Rodina Mat statue in Kyiv. They seemed to be joking about something that I'm sure many Kievans and Ukrainians take very seriously. It would be the same as foreigners making jokes about the Statue of Liberty when visiting New York City. I found their comments to be rather tasteless.

It really is a shame that Destination Truth did not give people a realistic view of Chernobyl and Ukraine in general. The country needs all the help it can get right now and this particular show did nothing to help.

I completely forgot about that Rodina Mat scene. Yes, it was extremely rude and disrespectful from their side to joke about it!
By the way, thank you for running such a great web-site! It has a lot of useful and interesting information about Ukraine that provides a much better and clearer image of Chernobyl from the one that was depicted in Destination Truth!

Being from Germany I haven't seen this video yet (altough
I am currently downloading it). Judging from your comments,
it appears to be one of the lurid ones as we have here
as well (especially on private TV channels). The last one I
saw here was "Kaffeefahrt nach Tschernobyl" ("Kaffeefahrt" is
the german word for one of those free bus trips where you
are urged to buy overpriced stuff which nobody needs). Apart
from asking myself why it was called "Kaffeefahrt" (there is
nothing you can by on this trip apart from a 10 Euro photo
album at Chernobyl Interinform) I got the impression they
just wanted to shock the viewers: They showed a counter
going wild on the patch of moss in the amusement park
(implying the whole area would have a dose rate of 35 uSv/h),
pretended to having been 25 m away of the sarcophagous
(while in fact standing near the monument close to the
visitor centre) and so on. They also mixed up the checkpoints
and their locations. Since this video was broadcasted
on one of our TV stations governed by public law (I don't
care about the private ones) I mailed them regarding my
issues but never got a reply...

I think I have also seen Yuri as their guide and I
remembered the words of my guide (Maxim) who got a bit
hacked off by visitors he had complaining about the "bad
infrastructure" during the trip -- those people were
expecting to buy coffee and t-shirts around every corner
in Pripyat...

Just completed the download... No offence meant but this piece
of crap is worse than what I have ever seen (wonder when it
will appear on n-tv or n24 here in Germany).

- No, Yuri is no soldier.

- If they were really scared of radiation: Why didn't they
bring their own counters but instead relied on an ukrainian
Ecotest? With their arrogance I would haven't trusted it
(although I know they are pretty reliable).

- Why are they being scanned "before" entering any bulding?
Never heard of this practice...

- Poor Yuri, I completely understand why he didn't want to
translate the "ghostly encounter" issue.

- There is no 5km checkpoint.

No more comments, I stopped viewing this shit after 10
minutes...

"Oh my god" ;-)

I was disappointed with the Chernobyl episode. I studied Chernobyl and Pripyat online for about a week leading up to this episode and felt like I had more knowledge of the area than the Destination Truth team. I felt like everything was over dramatized for TV, and there was no way they could have reached radiation limits in that short amount of time, especially wearing the suits. I thought all the evidence that was discovered could have easily been disproved. I will remain a fan of the show but have to say this episode was a let down.

Mark, I enjoyed seeing your pictures and reading about your trip to Chernobyl and Pripyat.

Can't comment on other episodes -- being from Germany I even
didn't know they exist (and after watching this, I am no more
interested at all). As I said, it appears to be badly researched,
shallow, lurid and arrogant. My respects to Mark -- being an
expert of Chernobyl, I appreciate his factual rating of this
crap. I really got upset by these buggers...

"I agree with your assessment of their timing for putting on the radiation suits. For people that were so concerned about exposure, it seems stupid to wait so long to put on the suits."

Actually, it was not a stretch to wait that long. The suits are to prevent skin or clothing contamination from activated items, like dust, etc. They do not protect from full body penetrating radiation, like x-rays. I have read where there is not much of a contamination issue outside in Pripyat, except when indoors where the dust and smoke clouds did result in surface contamination building up inside buildings, houses, etc., that had open windows. Therefore, putting the suit on before going indoors makes perfect sense.

HOWEVER, that being said, once you leave an area where contamination is suspected, YOU DO AN INCREDIBLY DETAILED SELF EXAMINATION WITH VARIOUS DETECTORS, and carefully remove all items of the suit, making sure not to touch any of the outside areas of the suit, and bag it for disposal. This drill is practiced over and over again by those that work in the nuclear industry, and they are graded on it, in preparation for the real thing.

I'm thinking they did not do that.

Basically, the show was done by average folks, same as those that respond here, that really aren't that familiar with the various types of radiation and radioactive contamination that are possible. Kind of like the movie industry and "The China Syndrome."

Andre,

Thanks for stopping by and providing your feedback. I think your very blunt assessment is right in line with my feelings. I was just trying to be a bit more "politically correct" when writing my review.

I'm not sure if you are entirely correct in saying the episode was poorly researched. In some aspects, their research was certainly not very good. However, the more I think about it, I get the feeling they knew exactly what they were doing. I'll bet they knew the radiation suits were not necessary, but realized that by wearing them, it would create a much greater impact on the viewers (which it did ... positively or negatively).

Matt,

Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words about my photos and trip story.

I just left a reply to Andre, in which I stated the Destination Truth crew may have known more about Chernobyl and Pripyat than it appeared. I think they may have known exactly what they were doing with the radiation suits and signaling an alarm that they had reached their exposure limits. Like I previously said, I believe they attempted to exploit the public's fear of radiation to create a huge impact and gain more viewers. I guess sometimes honesty is not the best policy.

Shawn,

Thanks for stopping by and providing some interesting insights.

This may not be the case in all of Pripyat's buildings, but from what I recall about my trip, the radiation levels in Pripyat were consistently higher outside than inside the buildings. I completely understand your reasoning about interior surface contamination, but that was not my experience. Yes, the interiors were definitely contaminated, but outdoor levels were much worse.

I agree with Mark. At least in October 2008 the radiation
inside of buildings in Pripyat was almost always clearly
below 1 uSv/h. Outside they were around 1-2 uSv/h (apart
from hotspots like the patch of moss in the amusement park).
That said, hot particles can lie around everywhere. After
a long and heavy rain fall, I assume it _might_ be worse
inside of buildings (since the rain has washed them away
on the outside temporarily) but since most buildings have
cracks and broken roofs water might enter here and wash
them away here as well.

Of course, these suits can't protect from radiation but
only from hot particles. Also there is no exposure limit
of radiation which, once reached, makes you stand up and
walk away. There are limits established by laws for
different appliances and you can programme your counter
to set off an alarm when they are reached (mine started
beeping in the visitor's centre since I forgot to increase
the default threshold of 5 uSv/h) but there is also no
reason to say 10 uSv/h is THE limit. 10 or even 100s of
uSv/h are pretty safe for a short time. Certainly, every
kind of radiation hitting you adds up to your life dose
and if you are afraid of that, you shouldn't go there at
all (with or without suits). Equally, you shouldn't go by
plane and avoid x-rays.

Mark, I think you are right w.r.t. the show being not as
poorly researched as I said -- it all depends on the goals
they had in mind. They figured out how to make a show(!),
not more and not less.

Apart from that, I am quite familiar with radiation,
contamination and their measurement.

Ok everyone I understand that some of you know what the place is like and how the layout of the grounds is. But they were using a Geiger Counter that measure the amount of Nuclear Radiation or if some people had heard it in the usual name it is use it measures the "Rads" - Radiation in the area. Not a Dosimeter there is no such thing, you can't make up your own words for something that you have no clue of what your talking about. As for the Radiation Sutes yes they do need them there is still to this day with in a 50 or so miles radias from the reactors outward high enough contamination in the air, ground, trees, and metal objects that store even higher amount of radiation in them. I have been studying about Chernobyl since the 80's after the insadent of the Meltdown. Now I don't know all about the geography of the area but yes there isn't going to be a all out on target. The remains of reactor unit 4 will remain radioactive for some time. The isotope responsible for the majority of the external gamma radiation dose at the site is Caesium-137 which has a half-life of about 30 years. It is likely that with no further decontamination work the gamma ray dosage at the site will return to background levels in about three hundred years. However, as most of the alpha emitters are longer lived, the soil and many surfaces in and around the plant are likely to be contaminated with transuranic metals such as plutonium and americium, which have much longer half-lives somewhere from 5000 years some of the others up to 50,000 years before it hits anywhere of a half life to start breaking down it's level of radiation. So wearing that much protection is a huge must maybe it won’t effect yhem right now but down the road it will effect there health and any future for there childrens health.. So please next time you decide to trash a very intertaining show do so with know all of the facts and also have a little bit of knowlolege of wht you are talking about.


Dare,

You are entitled to your opinion, but apparently you do not have all your facts correct. First of all, I did not make up the word "dosimeter." Dosimeters do indeed exist. I refer you to the following URL, which is the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of "dosimeter":

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dosimeter

I also refer you to the next URL, which is from a company named Ecotest, that manufactures dosimeters (I personally own the TERRA model MKS-05):

http://www.ecotest.ua/index.php?mod=device&lang=en

Your units of measure are also incorrect. You say there is a high level of radiation within a 50 mile or so radius from the reactors. First of all, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which is the highest contaminated area around the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, is within a 30 kilometer radius from the reactors. That translates to 19 miles, not 50. Second, the city of Slavutych, which replaced Pripyat as the home for Chernobyl Plant workers, was built 50 km from the Plant. That's around 31 miles and was considered to be a safe distance from the radiation.

I personally know some people who work in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, some for over 10 years. These are people who spend up to 2 weeks at a time in the Zone. They occasionally travel into areas that have much higher radiation levels than the Destination Truth crew experienced in Pripyat. These people never wear radiation suits. In a few places, they may wear gloves and a cloth respirator, but that's it. They have not suffered any health problems.

I believe that between my personal experiences in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and talking to friends who work there, I have quite a few facts to back up my opinions. Have you ever been to Chernobyl? Have you spoken to anyone that works there on a regular basis? If not, then I must question your ability to have appropriate facts on the situation.

Ultimately, you have the right to enjoy the show, if you want to do so. However, in a free society, I have the right to state my opinion about questionable activities that occurred in that show. You can disagree with me if you want, but don't challenge my knowledge base without having all the facts!

Ok I know nothing about Chernobyl but did see the Life after People episode that filmed in some of the same places as the DT crew, the Life after People crew was not wearing any radiation gear. Now to the point I really want to make, this show and the few others like it on SyFy are staged and badly I might add. Reality TV just sucks and this show just happen to be one of the worst.

Josh Gates really needs to reexamine his team. I am really getting tired of his team screaming and freaking out. At the first sign of any evidence or stress they are so busy running away or freaking out they lose any credibility. Tiresome

I watched it last night. Overall I thought it was pretty cool, although a lot of stuff in it was probably faked such as the bit wi the piano and handshake by the 'ghost child'. I wonder do locals really believe the place is haunted?

All I got from it was that its a really eerie place especailly at night. Haunted or not I wouldnt spend the night there on my own for all the money in the world, the looters who go must drink a lot of vodka beforehand!

Interesting opinions! Did you come up with that yourself? Or can you site your references?

I'm not sure what information you want references for. All the facts I stated are based on any of several factors, including personal experience in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, information obtained from friends who regularly spend time in the Zone and common knowledge about the current situation in the Zone. Can you specify what you want references for? Thanks.