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Chernobyl tourism is booming

HBO’s Chernobyl
Photo: HBO

Just as Game Of Thrones has brought tourism to the likes of Croatia and Northern Ireland, HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries is now beckoning viewers towards Pripyat, the Ukrainian ghost city that was evacuated after one of the Chernobyl power plant’s reactors exploded, spewing radiation across a swath of Europe. Reuters reports that, though the town saw roughly 70,000 visitors just last year, bookings are now up by as much as 40% since the series began its five-episode run, which just wrapped up last night.

There are a number of day trips available to the site, which, thank god, will no longer slough away your stomach lining and bone marrow—though radiation levels are higher than normal in Pripyat, they’re safe for short-term visitors. In fact, per Inverse, the area’s seen a surprise boom in wildlife in recent years, with brown bears, bisons, wolves, and more than 200 bird species flourishing within the area.

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There’s also, of course, stray dogs, the likes of which empathetic viewers will undoubtedly want to coddle and shield to ensure that nothing bad ever, ever happens to them. Per Reuters, though, you’ll also be busy visiting the infamous reactor number four, as well as the various monuments in the area. A walk through eerie, abandoned Pripyat, which includes a barren, rusted-over amusement park, is how trips end, though some think this new boost in interest will hamper the experience somewhat. “There are quite a lot of tourists already here and it does kind of take away the experience of being in a completely abandoned town,” said an 18-year old student from the Netherlands, “so I think if more and more tourists come here that will ruin the experience.” He’s got a point; ghost towns are a little less impactful when flooded with selfie sticks.

“I’m not a religious man, but that’s as religious as I’ll ever feel,” Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin said of his visit to the city on HBO’s accompanying Chernobyl podcast. “To walk where they walked felt so strange, and also being under that same piece of sky you start to feel a little closer, in a sense, to who they were.”

So, despite the lies you were fed in 2012's irradiated zombie flick Chernobyl Diaries, Chernobyl site tours are both safe and illuminating. Watching the show, which is as traumatizing as it is powerful, is probably more hazardous to your health.

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Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.