Once the most radioactive place on the planet, the void of the Chernobyl exclusion zone has been filled with gimmicky parties and stag groups

33 years ago, this month, a failure at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant wiped the Ukrainian town of 55,000 off the map.

At the time a cloud of radioactive material engulfed Europe. The effects of the contamination are thought to have caused 4000 premature deaths and still render an area the size of Luxembourg unsafe for the next 24000 years.

But for some reason this nuclear disaster zone has become a tourist magnet.

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'That thing killed my grandmother...' Not everyone is happy about the sites new party crowd. Photo / Lazer Light, Facebook
'That thing killed my grandmother...' Not everyone is happy about the sites new party crowd. Photo / Lazer Light, Facebook

Two hours from Kiev, the destination has become a site for ravers and party makers and a blossoming disaster-tourism industry.

Around 20,000 tourists entered the former exclusion zone last year.

"Had a wonderful 2-Group tour with a couple of great lads" reads a glowing TripAdvisor review from Canada.

"Only thing that can be better is the lunch," read a review of a similar tour, as if it were a day trip to the park.

There are around fifty such companies advertising a guided tour into the area, which up until recently was stalked by invisible death.

Budget hotels have sprung up in the woods around its fringes for around $40 to $135 a night.

New memories: Artefact wants to inject fun into the humanitarian disaster zone. Photo / Lazer Light, Facebook
New memories: Artefact wants to inject fun into the humanitarian disaster zone. Photo / Lazer Light, Facebook

However, around this dark tourism peak has appeared a number of niche offerings.

One such venture is Artefact.

Last December, hundreds of people attended the art-rave party which took place at the site.

In a blur of hazmat suits and neon glow sticks, the radiation gimmick was even extended to the catering: with isotope themed ice-creams and Chernobyl Mr Whippies.

Tour operators are saying the site is extremely popular with stag-dos and bachelor parties.

The frisson of death and unique location has proved popular with young, male guests to whom activities such as paintballing and zorbing are advertised.

"Everybody smile. Say 'cancer'!" said a morbid photographer to theTelegraph travel editor, Oliver Smith, on a recent tour of the site.

However, there is a feeling of irreverence that some people feel borders on disrespect.

There has been huge backlash from Ukrainians who have lived with the horror of the disaster for decades.

"That thing killed my grandmother … and now it's a disco?" wrote a horrified Russian on the Instagram post of Guardian reporter Tom Seymour.

The dark tourism controversy and backlash has only seen the Artefact festival become more popular.

They have held film screenings of the Russian film Stalker from 1979 which seemed to predict the disaster.

Chernobyl tours: There are around fifty companies advertising tour into the exclusion zone. Photo / Lazer Light, Facebook
Chernobyl tours: There are around fifty companies advertising tour into the exclusion zone. Photo / Lazer Light, Facebook

The festival founder Valery Korshunov told the Guardian "They see this place as too sad and tragic for any kind of event. Others want to change the alienation zone, to fill it with new meanings."

For all its insistence on finding 'new meanings' operators like the Artefact festival have done well out of exploring 'old wounds' in the Ukrainian psyche, and cashing in on them.