The haunting ruins of Chernobyl, a site in Ukraine that was abandoned to the elements after the world’s worst nuclear disaster occurred there in 1986, is seeking recognition from Unesco in hopes that being included on the organisation’s World Heritage list will lure more visitors and bring in funding to preserve the deteriorating buildings.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which includes the ghost town of Pripyat that was once home to 50,000 residents, currently doesn’t have any kind of official status and has seen an influx of visitors since the release of the hit TV series Chernobyl in 2019. Nearly 125,000 tourists visited last year to tour the 30km Exclusion Zone around the former nuclear reactor complex, an area larger than the size of Luxembourg. Although radiation levels are still higher than normal and authorities say that it could take as long as 24,000 years for people to be able to live in the region safely, tour operators say it’s safe for short-term visits. Bookings were up by as much as 40% in 2019. 

A large protective dome was placed over the fourth nuclear reactor in 2016 to contain the radioactive debris. Last year, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that new walking trails and better mobile phone reception would be implemented for visitors and that restrictions on filming would be lifted. The site would also introduce an electronic ticketing system to cut down on corruption and unauthorised tours.

“Chernobyl has been a negative part of Ukraine's brand,” Zelensky said in 2019. “The time has come to change this. We will create a green corridor for tourists. Chernobyl is a unique place on the planet where nature has been reborn after a huge man-made disaster. We have to show this place to the world: to scientists, ecologists, historians and tourists.” According to AFP, the Ukranian government is expected to propose specific locations in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to Unesco in March 2021, but a final decision might not be made until 2023.

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