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Disaster destination




CHERNOBYL, Ukraine (AFP) — The hit TV series “Chernobyl” has attracted a new generation of tourists to the nuclear disaster zone, but guides say that many are more interested in taking selfies than learning about the accident.

“They do not need information anymore, they just want to take a selfie,” said Yevgen Goncharenko, an official plant guide, at the site of the worst nuclear accident in history.

Tourists now are often on the lookout for locations featured in the acclaimed HBO drama and can be surprised to discover that certain sites were fictional, he told AFP.

The hard-hitting mini-series recreates the April 1986 disaster, when one of the reactors at the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl plant, in what is now Ukraine, exploded during testing.

The blast spewed radiation over a vast swathe of Europe and a 30-kilometer (19-mile) exclusion zone remains in place around the plant, although a small part of it is open to a growing number of tourists.

The abandoned site had already become a “dark tourism” destination in recent years, even before the eponymous TV show that has picked up 19 Emmy nominations.

But some Ukrainian travel agencies have adapted their tours to take in locations from the “Chernobyl” series and offer further special trips, such as kayaking in rivers around the exclusion zone.

Oleksandr Syrota, head of the Chernobyl information center, said certain tourist companies were offering up the disaster zone as “fast food” — a quick and easy travel experience.

And the trend towards more tourists looks set to continue. In July, new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree that aims to develop the site further as a tourist attraction.

Louis Carlos, a 27-year-old visiting from Brazil, said he didn’t know much about the disaster before watching the TV series but was motivated to travel to Ukraine to find out more.

“If people come here to understand what happened and try to learn, it’s a good thing,” Carlos said, as a friend took a photograph of him next to the nuclear power station.

“It’s history,” he added.

Tourist numbers have steadily increased every year, and last year 72,000 people visited Chernobyl.

The tour operators’ association working in the region said it expected the number to jump to 100,000 this year.

Zone guide Goncharenko, who accompanies groups of tourists on visits organized by private companies, said he’d experienced such booms before.

One came after the release of the American horror film “Chernobyl Diaries” in 2012, he said, also mentioning the impact of the site featuring in the “Call of Duty” computer game series.

“Sometimes people who came after the computer games seriously asked where one can find mutants,” he recalled.

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