On April 26, 1986, the Unit 4 reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded, the result of an experiment gone dreadfully wrong. That moment marked the worst nuclear disaster the world has ever encountered, releasing catastrophic amounts of radioactive material into the environment, which quickly spread over Ukraine, Belarus and as far away as Western Europe. The impact of the nuclear meltdown caused a global reaction, while people in the region suffered physically, mentally and financially.
In 1999 Ukrainian government opened the doors for the visitors inside the highly secured 30 km Exclusion zone around the site of the worst nuclear disaster. Prompted by the UN the idea was to allow mostly foreign visitors (representatives of scientific organizations, media and non-profit organization) the access into the area in order “to keep an eye” on the processes there.
This also would show how transparent Ukraine is after it got its independence from the USSR in 1991. It was probably a good gesture in order to attract donations from more the 20 countries to build a new confinement over the reactor #4 later.
Twenty years later such visits to the zone turned into what is now known as “Chernobyl tourism” with its good and bad taste. The number of people who stepped on the contaminated soil of the restricted area was over 100,000 in 2019, turning this destination into the number one traveller attraction in Ukraine. Some people are very pessimistic about such experience.
“There is nothing to be gained in terms of knowledge from a trip to the zone except excitement and an extra portion of radioactivity,” says historian Dr. Melanie Arndt of the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies. For her, disaster tourism represents a “rather eccentric longing for the dark side of our post-modernity and an ever-growing longing for authenticity.”
On the other hand most of those who went on the trip liked it. According the tour operators the amount of information people receive in one day is huge and the photo opportunities are endless.
Regardless the moral aspects the staggering Ukraine’s economy could somehow benefit from this activity. But Ukraine is one of the most corrupted countries. Here are few facts how ugly it can get. There is no definition or legal terms who can be a tour operator to Chernobyl. Basically anyone who can fill in an application form and has a private entrepreneur license (or without one) can do it. It doesn’t cost much to make a very impressive website in Ukraine. Next day one can start selling tours to Chernobyl. Pay fee to the government and a guide and hire a transportation.
Usually such tours are cheaper than those offered by the legal tour companies with tour operator licenses.
We did a study on those who offer tours to Chernobyl based on the information available on the Internet, customers reviews and our own inquiries. There are dozens of such “Chernobyl tour” businesses with zero liability on the Internet.
But some of them turned lie and fraud into a very successful money making machine.
One stand-alone organization of moral freaks is called Chernobyl-Tour. Their latest invention in 2017 was to put souvenirs booths at the checkpoint into the Exclusion Zone.
So called “tourist information centres” on both side of the road which are impossible to omit offer anything from the radioactive cookies, T-shirts, magnets, ice-cream with radiation logo, “canned Chernobyl air” and “Chernobyl Tragedy 1996-2016” badges.
One can only imagine the feelings of the ex-residents who once a year come here to visit their abandoned houses and graves of their relatives.
Chernobyl-tour.com – A “company” claiming on it’s website:
– to be an “official” provider of the tours – myth, no official status even exists;
The only official organization within Chernobyl Exclusion zone is State Agency of Ukraine on the Exclusion Zone Management. http://dazv.gov.ua/en/
Even a thorough search on it’s website brings no result for Chernobyl-Tour.com in either language. (The statement being “official” was deleted in March, 2017 in English version, however it is still present in Russian version)
– They claim to have an office in Chernobyl town at #1, Polupanova St.
It’s unclear why they lie about this as anyone who visit Chernobyl can see that there is an old hotel there. Even to get to Chernobyl everyone need a pass. On the other hand “official” provider – need “official” address 🙂
– to look more solid they used to have a “branch” in Vancouver, Canada up to 2016 – the information was deleted from the website – but a screenshot remains.
The facts: – the website claiming experience of guiding to the Chernobyl Zone since 1986.
The site doesn’t explain what kind of experience is that and how it is related to Chernobyl-tour.
– officially Chernobyl-tour.com (the same as Chornobyl tour) is registered in 2016.
(this was announced on their FB in 2016 as well).
The travel licence was issued on March 29th, 2016 (this is posted on their website)
Taking into the consideration Chernobyl-Tour’s young age it is strange to read about their partners (in Russian version) and collaboration (in English) with world famous organization such as BBC, AP, Forbes etc. Apparently there is a “research department” within a travel company too.
2. Another shady agency is Chernobylwel. http://www.chernobylwel.com – The agency claims to be from Slovak Republic and provide 101% tours to Chernobyl.. There is no evidence if Chernobylwel is registered as a business representative and how they do business in Ukraine. In their disclaimer they mention Orfi Ltd. registration number 46 799 656 in Slovakia. The “founder” of Chernobylwel is Dominik Orfanus a Slovak national who tries to disguise himself, but who directly benefits from the business. His website claims to have European headquarter in Bratislava and offices in UK, Germany (the same phone number for three countries) and in the USA. The addresses mentioned on their website are more likely fake as there are no office or unit numbers – just buildings. The headquarter in Ukraine is in an old apartment building in the outskirt of Kiev. The Chief Operator is Alexey Loginov (from Ukraine), who is also a founder of Chernobyl Tour Operator Association http://www.chtoa.org . The “Assocoation” has only one existing member which is Chernobylwel.com . Alexey Loginov used to work for the government organisation called “ChernobylInterinform” which was shut down due to the corruption in 2013. For many years this government firm had the right to provide logistics inside the zone. The logistics included issuing the permits to access the area and providing guides. Loginov who worked there for less then a year was fired. Known as “one of the greediest” clerks in the history of Chernobyl tours. They use quite primitive way of charging people – the deposit or full payment is required to be sent to a private paypal account and the rest to be paid in cash to the company “representative” before the tour. Unlike the previous “operator” who avoid paying taxes in it’s own country – this one manages not to pay taxes in two countries or even in five if one takes into the consideration their “offices” around the world.
3. Ukrainianweb.com – a fake company with an Ontario phone# and address claiming to sell “certified” tours to Chernobyl. They are using the same trick as the above when paying for the tours. Recently changed the phone number on their website to a local Ukrainian cell phone.
Internet Based Mediators:
There are many individuals who re-sell tickets for the trips to Chernobyl. The name of the “business” is usually a web domain name. In most cases they transfer all the responsibilities to a service provider. There is usually no refund. They will ask for a deposit via Western Union or a bank wire to a person – not a business. If you are asked to pay via PayPal please be aware that now Ukraine is one of the countries that can only use PayPal to send funds and and not to receive them.
Some of the internet based “providers” of the tours to Chernobyl
The tour to Chernobyl is a very exiting experience and there are hundreds of honest good reviews on the websites like TripAdvisor. But one has to be careful when choosing a company as there could be a 100% fraud behind 101% official or 100% certified tour operator. It is very easy to define a shady dealer – check the website well and use a common sense.