JavaScript is off. Please enable to view full site.

Ukraine seeks World Heritage status for Chernobyl zone

Monday, December 14, 2020, 09:47 GMT+7
Ukraine seeks World Heritage status for Chernobyl zone
A visitor stands in front of a souvenirs booth next to the Dytyatky control point at an entrance to Chernobyls exclusion zone on December 8, 2020. Photo: AFP

A soft snow fell as a clutch of visitors equipped with a Geiger counter wandered through the ghostly Ukrainian town of Pripyat, frozen in time since the world's worst nuclear accident in 1986.

More than three decades after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster forced thousands to evacuate, there is an influx of visitors to the area that has spurred officials to seek official status from UNESCO.

"The Chernobyl zone is already a world famous landmark," guide Maksym Polivko told AFP during a tour on a recent frosty day.

"But today this area has no official status," the 38-year-old said of the exclusion zone where flourishing wildlife is taking over deserted Soviet-era tower blocks, shops and official buildings.

That could be set to change under the government initiative to have the area included on the UNESCO heritage list alongside landmarks like India's Taj Mahal or Stonehenge in England.

The structure of the New Safe Confinement (NSC) covering the 4th block of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which was destroyed during the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, is pictured on November 22, 2018. Photo: AFP

The structure of the New Safe Confinement (NSC) covering the 4th block of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which was destroyed during the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, is pictured on November 22, 2018. Photo: AFP

Officials hope recognition from the UN's culture agency will boost the site as a tourist attraction and in turn bolster efforts to preserve ageing buildings nearby.

The explosion in the fourth reactor at the nuclear power plant in April 1986 left swathes of Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus badly contaminated and led to the creation of the exclusion zone roughly the size of Luxembourg.

Ukrainian authorities say it may not be safe for humans to live in the exclusion zone for another 24,000 years.

Meanwhile, it has become a haven for wildlife with elk and deer roaming nearby forests.

Pripyat, not far from the plant, is a ghost town -- its amusement park long abandoned. Photo: AFP

Pripyat, not far from the plant, is a ghost town -- its amusement park long abandoned. Photo: AFP

Dozens of villages and towns populated by hundreds of thousands of people were abandoned after the disaster, yet more than 100 elderly people live in the area despite the radiation threat.

In Pripyat, a ghost town kilometres away from the Chernobyl plant, rooms in eerie residential blocks are piled up with belongings of former residents.

Although only a few dozen elderly people remain in the area, the zone has become a haven for wildlife. Photo: AFP

Although only a few dozen elderly people remain in the area, the zone has become a haven for wildlife. Photo: AFP

'The time has come'

Polivko said he hoped the upgraded status would encourage officials to act more "responsibly" to preserve the crumbling Soviet-era infrastructure surrounding the plant.

"All these objects here require some repair," he said.

It was a sentiment echoed by Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko, who described the recent influx of tourists from home and abroad as evidence of Chernobyl's importance "not only to Ukrainians, but of all mankind."

A record number of 124,000 tourists visited last year, including 100,000 foreigners following the release of the hugely popular Chernobyl television series in 2019.

The April 1986 explosion at the plant left swathes of Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus badly contaminated but 124,000 people visited last year -- some drawn by a popular TV programme on Chernobyl. Photo: AFP

The April 1986 explosion at the plant left swathes of Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus badly contaminated but 124,000 people visited last year -- some drawn by a popular TV programme on Chernobyl. Photo: AFP

Tkachenko said obtaining UNESCO status could promote the exclusion zone as "a place of memory" that would warn against a repeat nuclear disaster.

"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 government is set to propose specific objects in the zone as a heritage site before March but a final decision could come as late as 2023.

The sarcophagus of the destroyed fourth reactor can be seen behind a monument to the accident -- the 20th anniversary of the plant's final 2000 closure is on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

The sarcophagus of the destroyed fourth reactor can be seen behind a monument to the accident -- the 20th anniversary of the plant's final 2000 closure is on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

After the explosion in 1986, the three other reactors at Chernobyl continued to generate electricity until the station finally closed in 2000.

Ukraine will mark the 20th anniversary of the closure on December 15.

Tkachenko said the effort to secure UNESCO status was a new priority after work on a giant protective dome over the fourth reactor was completed in 2016.

The sarcophagus of the destroyed fourth reactor can be seen behind a monument to the accident -- the 20th anniversary of the plant's final 2000 closure is on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

The sarcophagus of the destroyed fourth reactor can be seen behind a monument to the accident -- the 20th anniversary of the plant's final 2000 closure is on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

With the site now safe for one hundred years, he said he hoped world heritage status would boost visitor numbers to one million a year.

It's a figure that would require an overhaul of the local infrastructure and overwhelm a lone souvenir kiosk on the site selling trinkets such as mugs and clothing adorned with nuclear fallout signs.

"Before, everyone was busy with the cover," Tkachenko said of the timing of the heritage initiative.

"The time has come to do this."

AFP

More

Read more

;

Photos

VIDEOS

Vietnamese youngster travels back in time with clay miniatures

Each work is a scene caught by Dung and kept in his memories through his journeys across Vietnam

Experience summer sand-boarding in Mui Ne

Sand-boarding, a popular activity amongst local children in the coastal tourism town of Mui Ne in south-central Vietnam, is attracting hundreds of tourists to the Red Sand Dunes

Young maple trees given better protection as Hanoi enters rainy season

The trees are currently growing well, with green leaves and healthy branches.

Hunting skinks for food in southern Vietnam

Skink meat is known to be soft, tasty, and highly nutritious.

Vietnamese-made app allows people to grow real veggies via smartphone

Nguyen Thi Duyen, a young engineer in Hanoi, developed the app and its related services to help busy people create their own veggie gardens.

Latest news