The COVID-19 pandemic shot down a plane called «Chernobyl Tourism 2020» at the time of its take-off.
After the release of the popular series from NBO, when the Chernobyl zone only began to receive the first fruits from a crazy wave of interest from around the world. But all expectations were ahead. The Exclusion zone has long become a real magnet for foreigners, because people went to Kiev and Ukraine, and to Chernobyl, Pripyat and abandoned villages: Kopachi, Zalissya, Krasne (these are not just words, but the result of numerous surveys of tourists).
In 2018, about 80,000 tourists visited this one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ukraine, last year — more than 124,000. This year, more than 200,000 visitors was expected, but everything stopped. Instantly and indefinitely.
I'm not complaining about anything at all now. We all understand that these are necessary measures to preserve the life and health of humankind. Stopping the spread of the epidemic is a priority now facing the whole world. Quarantine measures should definitely be carried out in full and subject to all observational standards, especially in Ukraine.
However, «how much will this continue», «when will it end» and «what will happen after»? I think every business owner asks himself these questions, and not only the tourism business.
It is useless to give forecasts, and all of them are relative, because no one can predict the course of events. However, now we can consider at least two obvious scenarios:
The first is when, even after quarantine ends, people will hardly travel. For a long time. More than six months or even a year. Lack of funds caused by the next global economic crisis, desperate attempts to save and restore the business, risk of job loss, health that needs to be restored — this mix is not too good for travel.
Conversely, a person is a social being, therefore, to meet their needs for new impressions and acquaintances, and to eliminate psychological trauma from a long stay in closed rooms, people will go somewhere. It is not a fact that they will travel far — at first within their own countries, then to neighboring ones. It may be like a pinched stream of water in a pipe. People make every effort to compensate positively for the negative emotions that they are experiencing now. Therefore, the best way for them to reboot is to travel.
In both cases, Ukraine is in a winning position. I mean tourists from the EU, because thanks to the close proximity, people can save on air tickets. For a very affordable price, we have something to offer: ethnoculture, modernity, service, and very close by a vivid example of the post-apocalyptic world, the «time capsule» — the Chernobyl zone.
A similar story has already been observed by Chernobyl. The vast territory at one moment turned into a desert, and thousands of human destinies changed. Irrevocably. Forever.
Even the current fires, which, unfortunately, have burned down more than 10% of the territory, will not interfere with the attractiveness of the Chernobyl zone. We lost many memorable places. Old cemeteries, forests, swamps, and at least 12 former villages, including Leliv, Kopachi, Polissya, and the territory of the Red Forest were burned. The fire destroyed the famous MTB-82 trolleybus (due to its construction it can be seen in many photos), the «Emerald» Pioneer Camp. The fire went through the Yaniv railway station, part of the «Fairytale» pioneer camp.
This is a tragedy.
Because it’s not just some villages that were burning. The whole history of the region was burning. Our memory was burning. Fire spares no one.
The disaster caused permanent damage to the Chernobyl Radiation and Ecological Biosphere Reserve. Nature was brutally destroyed. With tears in our eyes, we watch animals and birds that cannot return to their homes. It’s even scary to think how many of them died in the fire.
Everyone loved the village of Leliv. It was a real time capsule. There are very well preserved houses, school. There you could see how the inhabitants of Soviet woodland «Polissya» lived. Agricultural utensils, tools, household items. There was also a well-maintained school with student textbooks and notebooks. Numerous Soviet slogans and stands deserved special attention.
A few kilometers from the village, the «Emerald» Pioneer Camp was located. Children of Nuclear power plant staff and military families from the garrison of the secret town of Chernobyl-2 came for summer vacations. There were about a hundred wooden houses painted by characters from children's fairy tales and cartoons. For example, the Cat Leopold, the wolf and the hare from «Nu, pogodi», the lion cub and a turtle, gnomes and many other heroes. Moreover, there were huge fields of lilies of the valley.
We grieve over all these hopelessly lost relics.
We observed a similar situation in 2015, when there was also a large-scale fire in the Chernobyl zone, which destroyed many villages. Ilyintsy, Lubyanka, Dibrova, Polisske — all of them were located in the northern direction and burned to the ground. Then it was also very scary, because the fire was on the tops of the trees.
Forest fires in the exclusion zone are a seasonal phenomenon. The problem is that the grass that covers the Exclusion zone is very dry in the warm season, and in the absence of precipitation in the form of rain and snow for a long time, the risk of occurrence and rapid fires increases. Last year, part of the forests also burned.
However, the fire had never come close to such important objects as the DUGA radar, the military town Chernobyl-2, and, of course, Pripyat town and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Fortunately, the wind, which literally threw fire (gusts of wind overturned the fire from trees to trees through roads), changed its direction. Therefore, an open flame approached a distance of two kilometers, and this is a critical distance. It’s a real miracle, that all these objects have survived. It is probably unnecessary to say what we all felt at that moment. We are those people for whom the Chernobyl zone became a second home a long time ago.
The Chernobyl zone needs protection not even at the all-Ukrainian, but at the global level. We need to make every effort at all levels to create a developed fire infrastructure in the Chernobyl zone. We all saw that the Zone was simply not ready for such a massive fire just because of the lack of fire infrastructure. Dead wood was not cut; there were no access roads, fire lanes, mineralized sand and clay strips that could stop the spread of fire between the blocks of the forest. All these lessons must be taken into account for the future in order to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy.
Everyone must understand that the Exclusion Zone cannot burn!
We will make every effort to ensure that tourists, who arrive in the area after the opening of borders and the end of lockdown, continue to receive the maximum amount of information and a quality tourist product.
In the meantime, the dead streets of Pripyat town now again remind of that terrible time. After thousands of tourists and vehicles, when the central square in terms of the number of people looked more like the central street of Kyiv — Khreschatyk, it suddenly became itself again.
Ghost town. The city of memory. Memorial City.
However, the Chernobyl zone is a unique place. The city by its own example shows that everything bad is cured by time, and after any tragedy, there will come a revival of nature and a rethinking of many values.
We all hope so. Again, we will wait for the guests and promise to surprise them with new and improved clusters.
In the meantime, we use this sudden opportunity and time for training, developing new tourism products and improving existing ones. In particular, we recently opened an online educational platform for training guides and for all those interested in the topic of Chernobyl. We also prepare online tours to the very «heart» of the Exclusion Zone — the Chernobyl NPP.
After the rain, the sun always comes out. We believe in tomorrow! Very soon. And forever.