The list of the most extreme tourism objects of the world includes Chernobyl, and much of it is owed to the popular computer game and book series S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Though the real 30-kilomenter alienation zone differs from the fantasy, it never fails to attract adventurers from different countries. Prices for the tour vary. Depending on the level of comfort and program of the tour, Ukrainian agencies may charge you one thousand hryvnias or one thousand dollars. However, there are stalkers, who do not seek easy ways and go to the alienation zone illegally, without a permission, control or guide. In an interview with ForUm, Volodymyr Holosha, head of the State agency of Ukraine on alienation zone management, spoke about the development of legal and illegal tourism in Chernobyl. 

- Volodymyr Ivanovych, there is an underground movement of stalkers, who like to trespass the alienation zone in search of extreme. Does the agency trace such "gamers" and what measures do you take to prevent intrusions?

- According to the law, unauthorized trespassing of the alienation zone is a punishable offence, especially since there are legal ways to visit the place. There are special routes, there are organizations engaged into the activity. There is no problem if people come, pay money and go on a tour in an orderly manner. We use this money to rebuild Chernobyl grounds.

However, there are people , who believe it is a special extreme to illegally trespass the zone. Last week, for example, we detained two stalkers from Russia and two from Belarus. The situation is clear, they face relevant punishment and will be deported from the country.

Nevertheless, regardless of media coverage and various warnings, trespassers keep coming. Moreover, they try to take some souvenirs with them, for example things from the abandoned city of Pripyat. Every week we register a dozen of similar crimes. The scheme is always the same - people trespass, take a souvenir, get caught by police, undergo trial, but others come in their place.

- What punishment do illegal visitors face under the law?

- If caught for the first time, a trespasser faces an administrative fine, but if caught for the second time - criminal responsibility. Moreover, those who remove or vandalize signs of radiation hazard and those who simply violate the zone border also face punishment under the law.

- What are other risks illegal stalkers may face?

- Health risks, obviously. Those people do not know contamination levels of the environment. They walk through forest, not clean roads, thus may contaminate their clothes or themselves. They may bring contaminated clothes at home and expose their relatives to radiation. The problem is always the same - violation of radiation safety regime.

- As for legal tourism to the alienation zone... Internet is full of offers. Does this activity require licenses, permissions, etc.?

- We do not have such tourism as it is. We have what we call "visiting certified routes", meaning routes, controlled and approved by specialists of the Healthcare Ministry. As a rule we bring people to clean places, which have undergone "sweep-ups" and where visitors are not exposed to dangerous dozes of radiation. To visit such places visitors must send a request to the Agency and provide all the information required, including means of transport, services they wants to get, like guides, food, etc. Then the Agency establishes a program of the tour and agrees it with the law enforcement agencies, which in turn do certain background check on visitors to rule out criminal intent. Then the program gets approved and people can go.

- Are there any special procedures for foreigners to undergo?

- As I said, foreigners get controlled to rule out terrorism.

- Now about prices of such tours. Different operators set different prices. According to the Agency's price list, how much may such tour cost?

- We have standard prices for services like food, guides, transportation, etc. Such expenses are not covered by the state budget, thus tourists must pay from their pockets. Prices are equal for all. As for other operators, engaged into this activity, it is their business what and how much they charge their clients.

- Does the Agency plan on expanding the project and service portfolio?

- We are hostages of the growing demand. The more tourists request such tours, the more programs we have to work out and approve, though it is not our primary task. Organizers mostly include tour operators or tour agencies. The only thing we ask is to notify in advance for the Agency to have enough time to plan the work. With an inflow of tourists we might not have enough time or personnel to provide all services, and if the Agency cannot provide proper safety, tours will be limited, and we will have to deny requests. 

Valentyna Dudko


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