Welcome to Chernobyl! The atomic amusement park

(Ukraine 2014-2016)


Yuriy Tatarchuck is the deputy director of the area's department of tourism and sightseeing in the exclusion zone, and has been living in Chernobyl since 1998, the town being sadly famous because of the nuclear accident of 1986, and since then within an exclusion zone. His main job the tourist guide. It would seem a paradox, to do the tourist guide in a restricted area, but instead it is. Since 2011, the year in which the Ukrainian government has opened the door of the exclusion zone to the tourists' visit, about 15,000 people a year cross the radiation border.


There are now dozens of tour operators from Kiev organizing the all-inclusive "Chernobyl tour", a day in the most significant places of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The classic one-day tour includes a visit to the city of Chernobyl, the stop in front of the sarcophagus covering the reactor exploded, and the monument in memory of the firemen burned by radiation in the early hours of the incident. The visit to some abandoned villages where the so-called "resettlers" returned to live and the visit to Pripyat, the town of 50 thousand inhabitants located three kilometers from the nuclear power plant and evacuated two days after the explosion. For the more adventurous there are custom tours, even for more days.

 

The tourists are welcomed into a guesthouse in the town of Chernobyl built years ago for scientists, journalists and photographers and recently renewed for tourists, with good accommodation and an excellent restaurant where they served three good and abundant meals a day. All this made to live fully, but with the convenience of the tourist, the intensity of the "end of the world." Tourists come from all over the world: US, Europe, Australia, Japan, South America, with the most different reasons: fans of abandoned places, or tourists of extreme places, people interested in history or to see with their own eyes the consequences of a nuclear accident. Or just curious.


But today, after 30 years of neglect, while nature is taking over the area thanks to the absence of humanity, the zone has become decadent and crumbling. The buildings are falling apart, especially in Pripyat. Now the greatest danger here are no longer radiations, which in any case still remain a problem as they are always very high in most of the area, but the fact that a rubble can fall on the head, or worse an entire building. For this reason the government, which regularly checks the conditions of the abandoned buildings, has started putting restrictions for tourists, for security reasons. Many areas have become off-limits. And they will become more and more. Maybe up to get rid of in the near future, tourism from Chernobyl.


Today tourism in this new Pompeii has become fundamental. It helps the local economy, 15,000 people a year, are not few for a place that would have to be abandoned and forbidden. Here the nuclear amusement park works well, so well that the Ukrainian government plans to bring the number of tourists to one million a year. But forgetting that everything here is contaminated, and it will be for millennia. That the area is called “exclusion zone” because it should exclude people's access to avoid the risks for their health, even if tour operators assure "no risk". And also to preserve the respect for the memory of this tragedy as a warning for humanity and not to transform Chernobyl into an amusement park for tourists passionate of horrid, abandoned places and selfies, as it has become today Chernobyl.