FOR MOST people the thought of taking a vacation in a nuclear fallout zone is the stuff of nightmares. But, it seems that the Ukrainian town of Chernobyl is literally becoming a tourist hot spot. Famagusta Gazette’s Nathan Morley has returned to the town to explore the attractions.
Even though it is still a dangerous and contaminated place, Chernobyl is the star attraction in the growing travel niche market known as ‘Dark Tourism’.
The number of visitors to the exclusion zone around the destroyed power plant has seen fast growth in recent years, with tourists flocking from around the world.
Daily trips from Kiev to Chernobyl – costing around 110 dollars – give tourists the chance to snap monotonous rows of derelict Stalinist apartment blocks –some sprouting trees and vegetation from within. You also get to tour an abandoned swimming pool, schools, supermarkets, and a football stadium.
Last year more than 63,000 tourists visited the Chernobyl zone, compared with some 8,000 visitors in 2014. The town witnessed one of the worst nuclear accidents in human history on April 26, 1986.
After the disaster, a large tract of land around the plant was designated as a forbidden zone and ordinary people were completely prohibited from entering it for decades.
Much of Chernobyl was wrecked in the aftermath of the disaster. Spivs, thieves, and wheeler-dealers have infested the area for years. In a three-decade-long orgy of theft, contaminated scrap metal, radiators, doors, timber, windows, furniture; TV’s, toilets, bikes, cars, and even clothes have been looted.
The sarcophagus is the most poignant feature in this nuclear never-never land. It was thrown together in just 200 days by soldiers, miners, conscripts, and robots in a desperate attempt to isolate the spew of deadly radiation as the reactor melted down in the summer of 1986.
It is very easy to fall under the illusion that the countryside around Chernobyl was left unscathed by the disaster. Nowadays, the vast expanse of lakes and forests look lush and pure.
Insects, birds, and beasts have returned.
Bizarrely, many of the trees have been dead for thirty years – but they don’t seem to be decaying.
Even the leaves that should have rotted decades ago remain where they fell. Some experts say that microbes and fungi have not recovered well from radiation contamination in the area.
This is an imitation sanctuary, where nothing is as it seems.
As radiation levels decreased, the 30-square-km area around the plant was officially opened to tourists in 2010.