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A deserted building in Chernobyl, Ukraine (Ian Bancroft/Flickr)

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The Ukrainian government is seeking UNESCO World Heritage status for Chernobyl, the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history.

Two nuclear energy accidents, rated at the highest level of severity, occurred at the Soviet-era Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986, causing the evacuation of hundreds of thousands from dozens of neighboring towns and villages and leaving radioactive waste for generations.

Since then, Chernobyl and its neighboring town of Pripyat have become tourist attractions despite being utterly deserted for decades. Last year alone, 124,000 tourists visited the area, setting a record. Ukrainian officials partially attribute the surge in the site’s popularity to the lauded 2019 TV mini-series Chernobyl.

Since then, Chernobyl and its neighboring town of Pripyat, both utterly deserted for decades, have become tourist attractions. Last year alone, 124,000 tourists visited the area, setting a record. Ukrainian officials partially attribute the surge in the site’s popularity to the lauded 2019 TV mini-series Chernobyl.

Earlier this year, Hyperallergic reviewed writer and photographer Darmon Richter’s book Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide, which brings haunting images from the eerily deserted Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. “Richter shares glimpses of the incredible access he had to a site that continues to send chills down the spine of people around the world,” wrote Hyperallergic’s Hrag Vartanian.

Maksym Polivko, a tour guide at the exclusion zone, told AFP that the area “is already a world-famous attraction.”

A deserted playground in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (Ian Bancroft/Flickr)

“Tourists come to Ukraine because of it,” Polivko added. “Unfortunately, now this place has no official status. Therefore, if this happened in the future [inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage list], it could only be a benefit.”

Ukrainian officials hope that a UNESCO status would help boost tourism to the country and preserve decaying structures in and around Chernobyl.

Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said that declaring the exclusion zone as a World Hertigate site would help promote the area as “a place of memory” that would warn against another nuclear catastrophe.

“The area may and should be open to visitors, but it should be more than just an adventure destination for explorers,” Tkachenko told AFP.

The Ukrainian government said that it will propose specific locations in the zone as a heritage site before March, but a final decision could come as late as 2023.

The exclusion zone might not be habitable for another 24,000 years, Ukrainian authorities estimate. Apart from a small community of about 100 older citizens who still live in the area despite the radiation threat, wildlife has reclaimed the zone, as local elk and deer roam freely about the ghostly towns.

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...