Decades after nuclear disaster, tourism is booming in Chernobyl via Chicago Tribune


It was twilight, and from our rooftop perch, the only light we could see came from the silver dome encasing the Chernobyl reactor, lit up as if it were still on fire. Someone in our group blasted music from an iPhone, and suddenly a dozen Americans broke out dancing. We were among the only humans in this deserted city.


Ever since the Ukrainian government opened Chernobyl to tourists in 2011, the number of annual visitors continues to climb. Last year, the government reported nearly 72,000 visitors, up from 50,000 the year before.

“Travel to Ukraine has become cheap,” said Sergii Ivanchuk, owner of SoloEast, a company that last year shuttled nearly 12,000 tourists to the site of the infamous nuclear disaster.

“We don’t have Crimea anymore, and less and less people are interested in religion and churches,’’ he added. “But we have cheap beer and Chernobyl!”


Years later, stories and photos from Chernobyl continue to stoke the world’s curiosity — horses born with eight legs, giant catfish found in the waters near the plant, octogenarian “self-settlers” who seemingly thrived after returning to the Exclusion Zone, eating vegetables grown in contaminated soil. Even now, interest in Chernobyl shows no signs of ebbing. Journalist Adam Higginbotham’s book, “Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster,” hit shelves earlier this year, and HBO’s new drama miniseries “Chernobyl” debuts May 6.


I’d returned to the Exclusion Zone because this time I wanted to sleep in Chernobyl. How many people can say that?

Two-day guided tours cost $200 to $300 a person for a group of 12 and include an overnight stay in a spartan, dormlike hotel in the town of Chernobyl, about 12 miles from the reactor. Day excursions are available too. Dozens of companies run trips to the area. Tour buses, often painted with gas masks and radiation symbols, pick up customers from Kiev’s Independence Square.

I’d brought along 11 students from Syracuse University where I teach journalism — after convincing university officials and the students’ parents that our visit would be no more dangerous from a radiation standpoint than an intercontinental flight or dental X-rays.


On our tour, Globa pointed out radiation “hot spots,” including the red forest where trees had turned red and orange. As our bus quickly moved through a section of the woods, our Geiger counters screamed warnings with rapid beeping.


A highlight of the trip was meeting Ivan Ivanovich, 82, at the primitive-yet-cozy home he built in Parishev village. Ivanovich is one of 119 “self-settlers” who are still alive, according to Exclusion Zone officials. The settlers were allowed to return after 600,000 so-called liquidators cleaned up the roads, bulldozed toxic buildings, scraped the radiated topsoil, and buried cars and furniture.

“The level of radiation in Kiev was the same as in Parishev, so why would I stay there?” he asked.


Cheryl L. Reed is a freelance writer and former U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Ukraine.

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2 Responses to Decades after nuclear disaster, tourism is booming in Chernobyl via Chicago Tribune

  1. yukimiyamotodepaul says:

    I am very concerned, or rather disturbed, to learn that 11 students went to Chernobyl, and wonder what the purpose of this trip. The resident’s statement about radiation is the same everywhere–the radiation level is as safe as Tokyo, Denver, or wherever, but the radiation dose in the air is distributed so unevenly, and it differed on the ground level and a few feet above the ground. And this only takes into account external exposure.

  2. nfield says:

    The instructor’s attitude–“how many people can say that?” about sleeping in the exclusion zone is juvenile, to say the least. She lacks the most elementary knowledge about distinction between external and internal exposure.

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