Thirty-five years after the disaster, the name Chernobyl still evokes desolation. Everyone has seen images of the nearby city of Pripyat, abandoned one spring day in 1986 and never lived in again.

But the reality is not nearly so isolated. Pripyat and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone saw over 100,000 visitors in 2019, mostly international tourists. A number of tour companies exist solely to bring people to see the grim and empty city, its abandoned circus site and radar array, and of course, the massive crypt containing the still-lethal reactor.

“Chernobyl is the most successful tourist destination in Ukraine,” said Yaroslav Yemelyanenko, the director of Chernobyl Tour. “Before the quarantine, the number of tourists has doubled every year.” Chernobyl Tour offers walking tours, buses, kayaking and riverboat trips that pass directly below the reactor, and extreme ATV rides through the forest that was once Pripyat.

But 2020, of course, put a stop to most tourism in the world, and Ukraine-Russian tensions hampered it still further for this region. On top of that, a forest-fire tore through the area, destroying a small ghost village and the abandoned Soviet youth camp near the city. The 35th anniversary of the disaster approaches, and tourism is still quite limited, forcing tour operators to get more creative.

One such creative effort comes from Ukrainian International Airlines. For the anniversary, passengers will be flown from Kiev to Chernobyl in style for a unique air view of the infamous site.

“To be honest, this tour was made possible only due to the pandemic,” said Bohdan Skotnykov, UIA’s head of project for the flight. “There is an available aircraft and our team has some free time to do creative projects.” Passengers will also be able to visit the cockpit of the plane, an Embraer 195 passenger jet, and visit with the pilot. Tickets will cost 2,790 Ukrain hyrvnia, or approximately $106 US.

Photo: The city of Pripyat, Ukraine, abandoned after the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in 1986. Credit: Shutterestock