Time has come to change image, says president
One of the most infamous place names in Europe is about to become an unlikely tourist destination after Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree to transform the area around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster into a visitor attraction.
A fire and explosion at the site in what was then part of the Soviet Union in April 1986 saw a huge cloud of radioactive smoke shroud the surrounding area and contaminate an estimated 50,000 square kilometers of land.
In the immediate aftermath 31 people died but an accurate assessment of the lasting health and pollution impact on areas of land across Europe remains incalculable, although the World Health Organisation estimates that the incident could be linked to as many as 9,000 deaths.
"Chernobyl has been a negative part of Ukraine's brand," said Zelensky, as he announced plans for improved mobile phone reception and new walking trails to encourage visitors. "The time has come to change this."
The newly elected president made the announcement at the inauguration ceremony of a new metal dome which has been built over the remains of the reactor, 275-meter wide and 108-meter tall and costing $1.7 billion, to prevent further radioactive pollution escaping from the site.
The fact that 45 countries contributed financially to the project, as well as the European Union and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, reflects the full international impact of what happened at the site.
The name Chernobyl has been thrust back into the spotlight recently because of the success of a television drama series based on events at the site in 1986, which the deputy director of the plant, Alexander Kovalenko, told journalists "more or less reflected the drama of the situation. But in real life it was much worse".
This publicity has resulted in an increase in visitors to what was already a popular destination for adventurous tourists, despite the high contamination levels, but now the government has chosen to formally embrace it and redevelop it.
"We will create a green corridor for tourists," Zelensky went on. "Chernobyl is a unique place on the planet where nature (has been) reborn after a huge man-made disaster. We have to show this place to the world: to scientists, ecologists, historians (and) tourists."
The aftermath of the explosion saw more than 110,000 people moved from their homes in a 30 km-radius around the site, with residential neighborhoods abandoned as a ghost town, left to nature and the local animal community, which has given scientists an unexpected opportunity for wildlife monitoring. One surprise caught on camera was the first sighting of brown bears in the area in a century.