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Object Ch renovation. Lala Tarapakina, Advisor to Minister of Environmental Protection, on when Chernobyl to revive and become self-supporting

The most likely monetization of the exclusion zone is tourism, waste processing, and the development of green energy. Photo: personal archive

The most likely monetization of the exclusion zone is tourism, waste processing, and the development of green energy. Photo: personal archive

In October, almost 15,000 people visited the Chernobyl exclusion zone (during the entire 2020—36,450)—this is a record number compared to other months, 24% of the total figure since the beginning of the year. At the same time, the state announced enhancing the tourist component in the zone and the project for the renovation of facilities and new approaches to visiting them.

Lala Tarapakina, Advisor to the Minister of Environment Protection and Natural Resources on the development of the exclusion zone, tells The Page how the exclusion zone will change in the next two years and how it will become self-supporting.

How is the zone changing now and what will we see when the project of Big Construction in Chernobyl is completed?

This project is mainly not about construction, but about revitalization that has its own unique context in the exclusion zone. A new garden city cannot appear here. At this place, you cannot reset the region and build something new. It is here that memory, stories of people, a unique culture, and a place that unites all people are important.

The key task is to create infrastructure facilities necessary for basic hygiene and safety of the guests. Streetlights, video cameras, restrooms, places to eat something or drink coffee that were not there before. And here even video cameras have special functions: in addition to safety, they also have an anti-vandal effect and fire-prevention purposes.

The second aim is museification. Based on the existing facilities in the zone, we create something that is tied to the history of this place but takes on a different meaning.

For example, in 2022 a Chernobyl workshop or, as we say, Chernobyl hub should appear here near the station. This is a large space of 3,000 meters on the site of the former service station of the motor transport enterprise. In 1986, this place turned into a canteen for the liquidators, sometimes 600 people dined here at the same time. They called this place the "feed shop".

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Now we will reconstruct it, actually keeping the original function—the assembly point. Cultural and public space where there will be a food court and cultural projects.

In the exclusion zone, for example, it is forbidden to eat or drink on the street. Previously, you could only eat on the bus. Now you can eat at the hub.

The third part is the conservation of the legendary facilities of Pripyat that are gradually being destroyed without people for 30 years. For example, the cafe Pripyat. From the point of view of government building codes, this is an ordinary building. But the unique stained glass windows make this building a monument of art.

In addition, we plan to restore the bus station, 16-storey building, and one of the checkpoints the tourists enter the zone through. This year we focused on instrumental examinations and design to get technical reports and understand how to work with the facilities further. The main work is planned for 2022.

What else is needed if the tourist flow continues to grow?

The Chernobyl zone is reminiscent of a trip to the Soviet Union. There is a basic tourism industry here—hostels with Soviet service, and this has its own charm for foreigners. They don't even complain—neither about living conditions, nor about food. Because they understand that they came not to Rixos, but to Chernobyl.

Here we can show foreigners the same artifact—the cafe Pripyat. The work will be difficult: it is important to preserve the legendary stained glass windows of the artist Viktor Blinov. The technique that he created in the bureau of monumental art has no analogues in the world. These are volumetric stained glass windows, consisting of hundreds of plates. Even in terms of the amount of the materials, this technique requires 10 times more glass than an ordinary flat stained glass window.

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According to Larysa Pisha, a member of the bureau of the monumental section of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, this stained glass window creates the impression that it is not glass, but a luminous woven tapestry. That is, can you imagine? There is something in Pripyat that is Ukrainian national heritage that may surprise even very knowledgeable people.

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The cinema Prometheus is also interesting. Its conservation will also be difficult: there is Ivan Lytovchenko's mosaic Energy that is also crumbling very much. There is a music school on the other side of the building, and here the mosaic has suffered even more.

We will conserve it in the moment—as it is. Otherwise it will compromise the authenticity. A lot of historians and experts insist: preserve and make the facility safe for visiting.

Or, for example, the swimming pool Lazurne—a cult place, but in disrepair. Here one needs to remove the debris, put in fences, and fix the ceiling and the floor because everything is rotting.

The checkpoint Dytiatky needs to be completely renewed—so that the visit becomes a user experience, so that people pass it much faster and with elementary comfort.

We are currently working with the Ministry of the Ecology on a revitalization concept. This is a bunch of specialists and experts who must unite all opinions about the future. Historians, radiologists, doctors, ChNPP employees, liquidators, and public associations. They all consider this place to be theirs. Therefore, we are forced to constantly discuss this in order to come to a common denominator.

The Big Construction in the zone is actually a revitalization of the exclusion zone that is created very carefully, preserving the authenticity and historical memory.

How does the state ensure safety in this territory?

The main function of the exclusion zone is a barrier. The area can only be accessed via carefully measured approved routes.

In general, if you follow the routes, the area is completely safe. Even the radiation level there will be less than in the center of Kyiv.

The rest of the routes are closed to the public. We will exclude the entry into the buildings that are deadly. And warn visitors. Including with signs that if your guide does not lead you here, it is really fraught with danger to your life.

For example, there is a medical unit where the first firefighters were taken after the accident. Their clothes are still kept there. It is so radioactive that even standing near it for a minute is very dangerous to your health.

Therefore, we do not recommend visiting the zone illegally, as stalkers do this. They are crazy people,and one should not take colour from them. A visit is possible only when accompanied by our specialists.

But after the State Property Fund announced the possibility of renting premises in the exclusion zone, British outlets even reported that apartments were put up for auction, where one can settle…

- This is the right project. The SPF put up the property for auction because it is necessary to look for an owner for the property in the zone that is now on the balance sheet of the state. Now, according to the fund's program, one can rent a premise for a nominal fee—1,000 UAH with a coefficient of 0.15%. This is a premises for production or closed-type warehouses.

It is necessary that grocery stores appear, relatively speaking. After all, about 5,000 people are here every day, and they need services.

But of course, you can't come here and live. People work here, but on a rotation basis. They are given accumulation devices, and depending on the area of work, the dose of accumulated radiation is monitored.

We know that about 100 people have returned to the villages. The state legalized them. These are elderly people who live in their huts, it is dearer to them than the risk of dying.

They do not want to live out their lives elsewhere. But this does not mean that you need to come here and live.

In general, Chernobyl is now a fairly populated town. 2,000 people are here every day, including at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. They work on a rotation basis 4 after 4 days, or 15 after 15, so as not to accumulate an excessive dose of radiation.

In general, this is a huge territory with ownerless property. Some facilities can be rented out. What else can the state do here?

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Despite the vast territories, there are a lot of restrictions in the exclusion zone—legislative and regulatory acts and state supervision related to radiation safety.

In my opinion, apart from visiting the zone, the most likely monetization of the territory is waste processing and the development of green energy. But these are just areas. All this will be reflected in the future strategy.

If there is a huge territory that will never be inhabited, one can make it so that waste is processed on it, waste that cannot be recycled on the territory of inhabited Ukraine due to the proximity of the housing. Let's say the same batteries that no one recycles.

After launching the revitalization project, the state will think about how to adjust the situation so that the exclusion zone itself could earn money for restoration. Because now this territory is a huge burden on the budget.

New solar stations are also under construction. One of them is quite powerful in Chernobyl—on the basis of the school stadium. The first steps towards green energy have been taken. But they are still very timid.

In the concept, we spell out a vision that will help the zone to retain these facilities and preserve them and create an opportunity to become self-supporting.

How soon can a zone reach break-even point and become self-supporting?

It is possible to earn money on tourism here only if the scientific and educational context is retained.

It is very important that the number of visitors grows, so that people want to come for the second, third, and fifth time, discovering this place again and again.

The same routes have existed in the zone for many years. It doesn't motivate people to come again. Although Chernobyl is different in summer and winter.

Since our task is to influence precisely the tourist potential of Chernobyl, so that people from all over the world come here and spend money on the development of Chernobyl. This is our task.

  • increase in locations that are interesting for people to visit,
  • increase in routes and formation,
  • repackaging of tourist products,
  • transparent rules for working in the operator's market,
  • additional museification, giving new meanings to legendary facilities,
  • security upgrade.

All this will undoubtedly affect the monetization of the exclusion zone. There is a goal in this monetization: this place should be less subsidized by the state and be able to develop independently using the funds earned by the zone.

When we create infrastructure projects, add points where one can have a bite to eat, go to the restroom, listen to an interesting lecture, and see an art object, this increases the attendance of the zone and the average check.

How does the state see the exclusion zone after 10-15 years?

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The final concept for the development of this area should be completed in April-May next year. The main narratives will be spelled out there: where and how the exclusion zone should develop, taking into account all stakeholders.

We combine different concepts and visions, today there are several of them. Environmental, from the State Agency on Exclusion Zone Management, another one is from the Ministry of Culture.

First of all, it is a nuclear waste storage facility. The plant does not produce nuclear energy, but it dumps waste. And it will continue until 2064. We hope very much that over time it will be a place for green energy, an industrial cluster. Because it is a gigantic territory that in the near future—24,000 years—people will definitely not live in. Maybe longer.

It is important that Chernobyl becomes the site of the main lesson on life safety. A place of science, education, and summing up.

It is also not a memorial place of memory and a rethinking of traumatic experiences for all of humanity. For visiting, this place needs to be filled with ideas of scientific enlightenment.

Everything that is in the exclusion zone definitely cannot be entertaining. We try not to even use the word "tourism", although most people are already used to calling a visit to Chernobyl that way. Tourism has an entertainment component. And here the inner pain is revealed, the attitude to life and to the planet is rethought.

We understand that Chernobyl is a tourist magnet for all people. But, in my opinion, every Ukrainian should also be initiated here. We want people to draw conclusions and understand that they need to move further.

And one can rethink something through cultural projects. The HBO series Chernobyl that shook the whole world can be an example. We want the zone to have cool interactive museums so that there is more information for the kids. Since children under 18 are not allowed to visit the zone, we are creating an educational communication platform about Chernobyl. So that children can familiarize themselves with the story: what happened and why, what preceded the disaster, what it means for humanity and why it is important to talk about it.

Among the museum projects, there is an interesting 16-storey building with the apartment of Volodymyr Pravyk, the head of the fire brigade; all the guys from it died. We want to make an art object out of this apartment, fill it with meanings.

The stalkers have been bringing groups of people here illegally for a long time. And we want to do it officially by creating a safer area. To give guests, on the one hand, the opportunity to see how the lifeguards lived and to salute them. On the other hand, to look at the greatness of Pripyat when nature defeated it. The rooftop of this house offers incredible views of the city.

Research is in process to understand how safe it is to bring people here, we will put up fences. Outwardly, such facilities change insignificantly. But we must do everything to make them stand much longer.

We cannot change Pripyat—it must remain as it is, but safer for its employees and guests. The initiative group has long been included in the UNESCO list.

The current goal is to make the visit safe. More and more people are going to the zone anyway. Secondly, this is our history. If Pripyat collapses, no one will be allowed there.

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