Chernobyl Photoshoots Generate Controversy As HBO Show Prompts Tourism Increase At Nuclear Disaster Site
As HBO's Chernobyl wrapped up its five-episode run last week, reports have surfaced that the show has provided a tourism boost to the area which was decimated by nuclear disaster in 1986.
According to CNN, trips to the exclusion zone, an area surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, has increased by a third.
"We have seen a 35 percent rise in bookings. Most of the people say they decided to book after seeing this show. It's almost as though they watch it and then jump on a plane over," Victor Korol, director of SoloEast, told CNN.
SoloEast is one of several companies that offer tours of Chernobyl, which can only be accessed with a licensed guide.
Some of the area remains off-limits, but the Ukrainian government opened up more of the site in 2011 to tourists. Tours often include Pripyat, a ghost city near the power plant, and an observation area that overlooks the New Safe Confinement, a steel cage that covers what is left of Chernobyl's nuclear reactor.
Korol told CNN that his company has been taking up to 200 people to the location on the weekends since Chernobyl premiered in early May.
The increased attention on Chernobyl has also extended to social media as some photos of "Instagram influencers" posing inside the exclusion zone were tweeted out by Twitter user Bruno Zupan (@komacore) on Tuesday. Zupan's tweet immediately drew attention, garnering reactions from Chrissy Teigen, The Atlantic staff writer Taylor Lorenz and others.
Chernoybl show creator Craig Mazin even weighed in on the issue, asking people to refrain from taking selfies at the site of a nuclear disaster.
"It's wonderful that #ChernobylHBO has inspired a wave of tourism to the Zone of Exclusion. But yes, I've seen the photos going around.
If you visit, please remember that a terrible tragedy occurred there. Comport [sic] yourselves with respect for all who suffered and sacrificed," Mazin said.
Lorenz was quick to call out Zupan's post, saying that the users he highlighted in his tweet are not considered to be Instagram influencers and that the captions written by some of the users reflected the tragedy, despite how the photos appeared.
"This tweet is rude & stupid. Only 2 of these ppl are even influencers. Others are regular ppl. 1 barely has 200 followers. u cropped out the captions, some explicitly talking abt the tragedy. And selected 1 the image from a whole carousel where a girl included herself in the pic," Lorenz said. She later clarified in a separate tweet that only one account used in Zupan's post would be considered an influencer.
However, a glance at geotags for Pripyat and Chernobyl reveal numerous photos of tourists smiling or posing at the site of the disaster. Pripyat's Ferris Wheel, located inside the city's abandoned amusement park, is a popular choice for photographs, along with the reactor unit and interiors of abandoned, crumbling buildings.
A 2017 article about Chernobyl, written by Andy Day, talks at length about the attempts to capitalize on so-called "dark tourism" or tourist attractions that draw upon death and tragedy to entice people to visit.
"The number of toy dolls scattered around seems a little odd, and the chances of anything having remained where it was dropped on the day of evacuation is very slim. Visitors do not walk through an abandoned town; they walk through an abandoned town that is maintained as a theme park, a palimpsest of every visitor's fetishistic interactions," Day writes, citing another description of the exclusion zone, written in 2014 by historian Darmon Richter. Richter's post discusses the careful placement of televisions and how fellow tourists on his visit picked up stuffed animals and dolls to arrange them for photographs.
It is unknown precisely how many died as a result of the Chernobyl disaster, the United Nations once estimated 9,000 deaths related to cancer as a result of exposure to radiation, while Green Peace estimated 200,000 by accounting for other health issues as a result of the explosion. Thirty-one people died when the nuclear reactor exploded.
Chernobyl is considered the worst nuclear disaster in the world, with 400 times the radiation of Hiroshima released during the incident. Clean up related to the explosion is still ongoing.
However, portions of the site are deemed safe to visit and do not put tourists at risk of life-threatening levels of radiation. Additionally, numerous safety precautions are in place, including regular radition checks for tourists throughout their visit.
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