The terrible nuclear accident at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986 turned Pripyat, Ukraine, into a ghost town. Recently, Twitter user Bruno Zupan posted four Instagram photos of the site—one of a man’s hand holding a Geiger counter, another of a woman posing near a burned-out bus, the third of a woman in a hard hat and face mask, and the fourth of a woman pulling down a hazmat suit to reveal a white thong. Zupan wrote of the photos, “Meanwhile in Chernobyl, Instagram influencers flocking to the site of the disaster.”
The post has drawn both criticism and praise. One of the biggest criticisms is that its claim of influencers flocking to Chernobyl is false.
In her article “There’s Nothing Wrong with Posing for Photos at Chernobyl,” Taylor Lorenz, who writes for The Atlantic, points out that posing at historical sites is how we document our lives today. Lorenz wrote, “For thousands of people who retweeted and responded to Zupan’s tweet, the subtext was clear: Look at these vapid influencers, fishing for likes when they should be respecting the tragic nature of the site.”
The backlash was a result of the perception that these influencers were somehow desecrating sites that hold special meaning. Lorenz continued, saying, “Instagram, with more than 1 billion active users, has become the default way for many, especially young people, to share and document their lives.”
It’s not necessarily the case that these individuals are doing anything disrespectful—though that does at times happen—but rather they are looking for a way to share what their lives are, much like past generations wrote journals or scrapbooked. The challenge is that “people still struggle with how to best format their posts from solemn places.”
Recognising the impact of the HBO miniseries about Chernobyl is having, writer and producer Craig Mazin responded to the controversy, saying, “It’s wonderful that #ChernobylHBO has inspired a wave of tourism to the Zone of Exclusion. But yes, I’ve seen the photos going around. If you visit, please remember that a terrible tragedy occurred there. Comport yourselves with respect for all who suffered and sacrificed.” Shared properly and with respect, these posts can have a positive effect.
Lorenz concludes her article by saying, “While some critics might still view the posts as distasteful and insensitive, most of these users are all trying to say the same thing: I was here.”