Chernobyl visitors criticised for 'disrespectful' photos

FAIRFAX MEDIA
Thirty years after the world's most notorious nuclear disaster, Chernobyl remains a desolate, yet offbeat tourist destination.

Tourists posting photos of themselves smiling and posing provocatively at Chernobyl have come under criticism online. 

Popular HBO mini-series Chernobyl has prompted a surge in bookings for trips to the area and the nearby town of Pripyat, abandoned following the 1986 Ukrainian nuclear disaster.

Visitors who have shared pictures online of people striking irreverent poses in the exclusion zone have been deemed disrespectful by other social media users. 

"If you look for photos by location Chernobyl on Instagram, you can find this kind of stuff," Twitter user lettipop said in a post that included a picture of a woman looking at a radioactive sign in mock horror, another woman posing on a rusty swing, and a man doing a high kick in front of a ferris wheel.  

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Intagram user NZ.Nik's photo of a woman posing in Pripyat in a g-string and partially removed transparent garment attracted a barrage of negative comments. 

"This photo is disrespectful to the people who legit lost their lives. How insensitive can you be?" one user wrote. 

"Ma'am people died", "Show some respect" and "Shame on you" were among the other responses. 

Trip bookings have increased 30 per cent in May year-on-year and were up over the next three months, said Sergii Ivanchuk, director of SoloEast Travel that organises trips to the nuclear power plant and its surrounding areas. Another tour company, Chernobylwel.com, confirmed that its numbers had increased, as well.

On their tours, visitors usually head to Pripyat next to the power plant, which was evacuated within hours, and other sites, including the former power plant itself.

Radiation levels during the trips are considered to be safe, but the area around the plant remains largely uninhabited until today.

This is just the latest instance of tourists coming under fire for posting pictures deemed inappropriate at sights of disaster or tragedy. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Dm.Shibanov (@dm.shibanov) on

In 2014, Twitter user "Princess Breanna" shot to notoriety by posting a smiling selfie at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Fellow social media users questioned the tastefulness of the photo, taken at the site of some of the worst Holocaust atrocities. 

The following year, two American sisters were arrested in Cambodia in 2015 for taking nude photos of each other at Angkor Wat temple, which holds spiritual and historical significance for locals.

That same year, a group of Western tourists were jailed in Malaysia after posing for naked photos on Mt Kinabalu, which locals consider sacred. Indigenous tribes blamed the tourists for a deadly earthquake which occurred shortly afterwards. 

More recently, in 2018, three Sri Lankan men were arrested after posting a photo of themselves with bare backsides at a sacred site. The arrests followed a complaint by a Buddhist monk who said the photos, taken within view of the Unesco-listed Sigiriya rock fortress, are a religious insult. 

In New Zealand, Playboy playmate Jaylene Cook attracted criticism for posing nude atop Mt Taranaki, which local Māori regard as a living ancestor.

The surge in visitors to Chernobyl raises questions about how sites of large-scale disasters can cater to tourists without turning them into theme parks. 

At least one company is already advertising an HBO-themed trip for NZ$280 per person, which it says reveals "the secrets and real stories of the events that occurred". The tour includes riding "in an armoured patrol vehicle, in which the liquidators in 1986 made a radiation reconnaissance" and trying "a real lunch of power plant employees in the canteen of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant."

SoloEast Travel director Ivanchuk said that he was struggling to comprehend why some of his competitors were selling "fridge magnets, radioactive ice cream and canned air" near the site.

Popular HBO mini-series Chernobyl has prompted a surge in visitors to the site of the nuclear tragedy.
BRENDAN HOFFMAN/GETTY
Popular HBO mini-series Chernobyl has prompted a surge in visitors to the site of the nuclear tragedy.

"It is disgusting and humiliating to those people who still work in Chernobyl or who come to visit their abandoned houses," he told The Washington Post.

"The 20th Century is full of 'Dark' events and suffering, and just like Auschwitz or Hiroshima, Chernobyl is one of them."

While statistics on "dark tourism" - visiting sites associated with death, disaster, tragedy, destruction and the macabre - are hard to come by, there is evidence that it is on the rise. 

Visits to Auschwitz in Poland have passed the 1.7 million per annum mark, while the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York recorded 4.5 million visitors in its first year of operation alone.

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