Dangerous tourism

What is a tourist? Some light minded character who driven by an impulse decides to go to a place without knowing anything about it; a sheep in the horde who follows along because of that it might lead to something interesting or simply because that's where everyone else is going/because it's recommended, or is it just anyone who for the first time visit a strange place, regardless of purpose? The latter, I find it hard to agree to.

When traveling to, and entering, the Zone, thinking of myself as a tourist was the last thing I would ever do. I was there to try my theories, to explore the things I had read about and seen on so many documentaries before, and above all - to find out what the Zone was really like. Thus I was utterly surprised, and - I admit - a little insulted, when it showed that I as well as the others of our group were labelled as tourists in two different reports, both documented by group members. 

The first one was displayed by Daniel Cronin, an American photographer, who made two journeys to Chernobyl during that week. Before joining us, he had gone on a typical bus trip with approximately 45 other people to spend one day in the Zone. I remember Cronin telling us that he also wanted to get to know what it was like to visit Chernobyl as "an ordinary tourist" before joining up for the more in-depth four days with the rest of us. We all became a part of his photo project Disaster Tourism.

A few weeks later, another group member, Kieran Culligan, presents his travel report, and again we are refered to as tourists. It should give some perspective, shouldn't it? Or at least show another point of view. -As this is the internet and people tend to misunderstand things unless having it typed onto their noses, I must underline that I'm in no way criticising neither Cronin or Culligan, but this will all eventually lead to a point.
Photographers, explorers or just tourists?

I had barely returned to Sweden when I was told by a friend that he had posted the link to my photos to an internet discussion group, and when I finally joined, it was to find that there was already a full discussion going on and above all, criticism concerning the photo appearance of group members wearing short sleeves in the Zone. They were generally discarded as ignorant tourists. Comparisons were made, to women entering the Zone by bus, wearing short skirts and sandals, and now we're starting to get somewhere.

Last year it was officially announced that Chernobyl would open to tourists this year. Even before then, it was possible to join a trip to the Zone, if staying at the right Kiev hotels and having enough cash. These excursions were announced as something exotic and exclusive with every part of the trip described in advance in order to make the foreigners feel safe. Along with this, were more or less serious private expeditions from (mainly) eastern Europe running - small individual businesses either trying to make money from interested parts, or simply filling a car in order to not have to pay for the petrol all by themselves. 

When the news were broken, in mid December 2010, that the Zone would henceforth be "available for everyone", many of these one man initiatives disappeared, but one's loss is another's gain and more hotels through tour companies swiftly hooked on to the new trend of making money from the disaster.

So now the Zone is open for everyone.
This isn't true. It merely means that more companies can use the new intermediates required to get access to the Chernobyl area and the more money you have, the easier it is. Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Yulia Yershova said that "experts are developing travel routes that will be both medically safe and informative for Ukrainians as well as foreign visitors" which sounds good, but still isn't satisfying. The routes are safe, no doubt about it, but the tour guides (not the local, required guides. but those coming from outside the Zone) are said to often lack in knowledge of the sites as well as the common precautions, and that's why we're likely to see shorts and mini skirts in the Zone,  if happening to come across one of these tourist groups.

As a side note, but a relevant one, I remember when standing by the amusement park, and a roaring bus parked next to our van. Moments after, a larger amount of chattering people came pouring out of it. As I stood there trying to understand what was so special about this particular place, I suddenly understood what was not: These people simply came out from the bus, took the mandatory shots like ithis was something they did every day, before returning to their vehicle. The large group of people made me move from this site, encouraging me to find my own places, and I did, but not until having avoided yet another bus full of tourists. 

What can they do? What harm can they do? If given the proper instructions, probably only a minimum. Another advantage is the restricted time they have on each site - there's no room for personal adventures. The bus people are held strict, even if not told what to wear and what not to wear, and even though their ignorance may leave them exposed to potential health hazards, they're hardly dangerous to anyone but themselves.

Every year there are an unknown number of illegal visits to the Zone, and we find the most hints of this in the relatively easily accessible Pripyat in form of litter, graffiti, vandalism, stolen items and other signs of disrespect and ignorance.Very recently, it came to my awareness that there is an unofficial grouping of people (number unknown) who refer to themselves as "Real Stalkers". They are known to illegally visit the Zone,  where they "often break Ukrainian law". Scavenging and "experimenting" with what items of interest they may find, are other parts of their activity. Having recently been (involuntarily) briefed by such a person, I was given the impression that this subculture is something popular, that might even be growing.

These masks didn't get there by themselves.
When running a blind hunt for treasures, you're likely to destroy things on your way, and anyone who have been in the Zone, can see the damage done by scavengers as such. I have previously stated that 
"the essential "looting" happened long before the first outsiders entered the ghost town"
meaning that inhabitants of Pripyat would return  to their homes after the distaster, to retrieve items of affection and other belongings important to them. But these people are not those responsible for trashing public buildings, stealing Soviet era "trophies" or spreading the radioactive contents of laboratory boxes, just to mention a few things, and it's logical? Why would you return to your abandoned home, the place where your heart once was, and perhaps forever will be, to destroy your own memories? Of course all this is the work of vandalizing scavengers and unfortunately, there seem to be no way to keep them out of the Zone.

This, added to the other changes; the previously mentioned removal of metal from various places in the Zone; the possibility of disassembling the Duga-3 array, and so on, of course including the natural decay of structures, means that it's just a matter of time before these part of the Zone will be close to completely emptied and destroyed. There are people who are of the opinion that the town of Pripyat should gain the status of a city-museum, hoping that such a status would protect and preserve what's left of the town, but the question is: Would it really work? Obviously a 30 kilometers exclusion zone doesn't stop intruders from breaking in, so what use would another law be of? This is a big problem to which we cannot yet see a solution, but if nothing changes, the Zone will be doomed, due to the human lack of respect and inability to keep their hands to themselves.

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