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By Emily Booth, Friday 30th June 2017 This weekend's film premiere explores the terrifying yet grotesquely tantalising circumstances of one of the world's greatest tragedies of all time.
The fear of nuclear fallout is etched into the consciousness of pretty much anyone who grew up in the 1980s, which is largely due to the catastrophic Chernobyl Disaster on April 26th, 1986. When reactor no. 4 exploded, it emitted 400 times more radioactive material than the Hiroshima atomic bomb did. Surprisingly, there were only 31 direct deaths recorded at the time, but the magnitude of this disaster's aftermath is still relatively unknown, as even today more and more health problems amongst survivors are attributed to radiation exposure, such as cancer and birth defects. In nearby Pripyat, a town built for the workers of Chernobyl and their families, some 50,000 people were hastily evacuated, leaving behind all their belongings as they believed that they would soon be able to return... They were wrong. The town remains abandoned and dangerous to this day. This gloomy history provides the sinister backdrop for our Saturday premiere: Chernobyl Diaries.
Unsatisfied with typical, European attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum, a group of tourists head to Ukraine for a nose around the ghost town, Pripyat, accompanied by their 'extreme tourism' host, a local boy named Uri. After Ukrainian military personnel refuse them entry and tell them to leave (what good horror doesn't involve ignoring all dire warnings...?!), they find an alternate entrance and are soon happily taking selfies with the infamous town in the background. But is Pripyat as desolate as they thought? Ready to leave, the group heads to their van, only to discover that something has chewed through the wires, rendering the van inoperable. They are now trapped in this toxic town which is not quite as deserted as they thought...
This UK TV premiere brings to life the horror of this dead town and uses a little artistic licence to have some fun imagining the ways in which the nuclear disaster's after effects could manifest.
Now, 30 years later, you can officially visit Pripyat with tour companies who will acquire a government approved pass and organise your visit; there's even the option to stay overnight! While authorities say it is safe to visit, the 19 mile exclusion zone won't be habitable for a staggering 20,000 years, but this doesn't stop some 30,000 'extreme tourists' from visiting every year.
So what's the appeal? Akin to the inexplicable desire to stare at a motorway crash, it is hard to put your finger on what exactly 'attracts' us to this kind of horror. In the case of Pripyat, it really is frozen in 1986; propaganda posters and newspapers still lurk, toys litter the floor, rooms are kept shut, a huge and hopeful looking Ferris wheel looms over the town - scheduled to open just 4 days before disaster struck, it never had a paying customer.
A trip to Chernobyl is like walking through the apocalypse without ever having to live through the horror of it. Roaming the abandoned town, one truly gets a sense of the fragility of human life and how violently it can all come to an end and at the very hands of human error... Is it any wonder that we're so fascinated by it? If you can't quite head all the way to Ukraine for a spot of 'extreme tourism', then just sit back in the comfort of your own (low radiation) home and catch the UK TV premiere of Chernobyl Diaries on Saturday, July 1st at 9pm.
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