In the wake of the popularity of HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl, social media influencers are flocking to the Ukrainian ghost town of Pripyat to ride the wave of the widespread interest generated by the show. However, their pictures at the site of the 1986 nuclear tragedy, which resulted in the loss of thousands of lives, have not gone down well with many.
The hugely successful TV show, which chronicles the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster, has led to a massive uptick in Google searches for Chernobyl and an increased influx of visitors to the still-radioactive Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Most of these visitors are social media influencers, keen on using sites such as abandoned buildings, the infamous power plant, the city sign, and the unused Ferris wheel as unique photoshoot backdrops, to increase their popularity and follower counts. While some pictures pay due respect to the tragic history of the site, many have been criticized for being irreverent and inappropriate.
A quick search for the #Chernobyl hashtag and Pripyat location on Instagram reveals pictures of individuals smiling and striking poses at various places Pripyat, reducing the site to little more than an aesthetically appealing and on-trend backdrop for the entertainment of their followers.
Instagram user nz.nik, in particular, sparked outrage with a series of photos in which she poses topless, with a hazmat suit dangling provocatively off her shoulders.
Twitter user lettipop posted a collage of various Instagram posts from Chernobyl, lamenting the lighthearted, disrespectful attitudes of influencers who had visited the site.
“If you look for photos by location Chernobyl on Instagram, you can find this kind of stuff”, tweeted lettipop, adding “I don’t know about you but I see a place like this and I do not stop crying for days. I do not know how you can stomach doing these kinds of photos”.
In addition to what critical social media users have described as the disrespectful, insensitive, and opportunistic nature of the photos, others have raised concerns about safety aspects. While the disaster site has been open to tourists since 2011, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has stated that radioactive isotopes at the site “still linger [but] are at tolerable exposure levels for limited periods of time”.
The recent trend of Chernobyl pictures among influencers, meanwhile, suggests that little remains sacred in the quest for ‘likes’ and followers. Following the social media frenzy, Craig Mazin, writer-producer of HBO’s Chernobyl, was forced to speak out, urging visitors to the site to remain respectful and mindful of its tragic past.