Are We There Yet? – Visiting disaster destinations

This week we head to... Chernobyl?

Jennifer Coxby Jennifer Cox

The Ukraine recently announced that they would open up the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to tourists this year. The affected zone, a 30-kilometer radius, will be available for the public to explore, which includes the ghost town of Pripyat and the remains of reactor number four, the cause of the disaster.


The area is obviously unique as well as strangely beautiful. As a photography hobbyist, I would definitely love to visit here – I think it would be a fascinating setting to take very interesting photos. But as a traveler, I wasn’t sure if Chernobyl, or even the Ukraine, would be high on my list of places to see.


That was, until I did some research.


More than 20 million people visit this eastern European country every year and it is the eighth most popular destination in the world (!). There are a number of great cities to check out, including the capital of Kiev (St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery is breathtaking), Odessa with its waterfront on the Black Sea and mosaic cultural landscape, the historic cities of Kharkiv and Izmail, and the medieval city of Chernihiv. There are the Seven Wonders of the Ukraine – historical and cultural monuments that were voted on by citizens as well as visitors back in 2007. There’s also the impressive architecture of the Ukraine, like their infamous wooden churches, which date back to the beginning of Christianity.


Chernobyl, though, seems like an eerie vacation destination. But then again, people flock to see Pompeii, the site of the volcano Mount Vesuvius eruption, which spanned for two days in 79 AD and completely buried everyone living in Pompeii under up to six meters of ash, only to be rediscovered centuries later – the world heritage site in Italy now sees up to 2.5 million visitors every year. Granted, this is a historic site created by a natural disaster, but there are tourists posing next to glass-enclosed bodies of mothers holding babies… seems a tad unusual, no?


There are a number of other man-made disaster sites, much like Chernobyl, that are frequented by visitors – the site of the World Trade Centre in New York City; Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania where there was a nuclear power plant partial meltdown; Hiroshima, the first city to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon (killing upwards of 90,000) and now boasting a thriving tourism industry; and Pearl Harbor, the Hawaiian lagoon harbour whose attack was the reason the U.S. entered WWII and saw more than 2300 people die.


Is it history that drives us to these tragic places? Or is it morbid curiosity, the same way we check out an accident on the side of the highway hoping not to see anything horrific but looking nonetheless?


They say that radiation levels are still high in Chernobyl, however it’s my prediction that this peculiar, devastating site will contribute to the already-popular tourism industry in the Ukraine. Like so many other historic sites that are marked by tragedy, it is definitely a strangely intriguing place to consider visiting.



Bon Voyage,