A travel company is advertising trips to Ukraine so tourists can see what it's like to live in the middle of a war zone
- Tourism site, Visit Ukraine, is providing tours of war-torn cities in Ukraine.
- The site says visitors can see shelled buildings, bomb debris, and destroyed military gear.
A travel company is inviting tourists to visit Ukraine and see what it's like to live in the midst of war.
Last month, the online site Visit Ukraine began offering guests guided tours in Ukraine, including expeditions through Kyiv, Bucha, Irpin, and Kharkiv - all cities directly impacted by Russian forces.
Visit Ukraine's CEO Anton Taranenko told Insider that the company has provided several dozen tours since the site was updated and booked more than 200. Much of the interest has come from Ukrainians who were displaced during the war or had moved to other countries earlier on. Though, over a dozen Americans have booked tours as well, he said.
Ukraine is currently under the highest travel advisory level due to the ongoing conflict with Russia. The US Department of State has urged all US citizens to exit the country immediately and has warned it will not be able to assist Americans in Ukraine.
The tourist site has not received any official approval from Ukrainian government. While it is not recommended, it is still technically possible to enter Ukraine through several locations in Europe.
The site says that people who sign up for "Brave City" tours will be able to see shelled buildings, bomb debris, and destroyed military equipment. Travelers still could face risks of active land mines and air raids.
Taranenko said Kyiv is the safest city to visit as many people have resumed normal activities, but admits it's not "100% safe."
Taranenko told Insider he doesn't see the tours as any more risky today than millions of tourists' visits to Chernobyl before the war began.
Visit Ukraine tours are typically comprised of about 10 people led by a guide and take about 3-4 hours. The tour guides act as translators and guards, providing detailed instructions on avoiding land mines and information on where to go if air raid sirens sound.
Ultimately, Taranenko said a tourist's safety depends on how closely they are willing to follow directions. In Bucha, where bombs could explode at any time, failing to follow directions could mean death.
"For example, when we'd take people to Chernobyl the guide would tell them: 'Listen, do not go this way or that way because then you will be exposed to more radiation,'" Taranenko said. "But, people will still do whatever they want."
The CEO said that while for many the tour is about reconnecting with their country, for others, it's a matter of "dark tourism."
"Some like that bit of dangerous," Taranenko said. "There are always those type. They want to see it in real life."
'It's not all what you see on TV'
On the website, the company appears to lean into this narrative.
In a list of the reasons to take a tour through Bucha and Irpin, the site says visitors will be able to see the results of "the most massive civilian massacres that took place during the Russian attack on Ukraine."
The site also provides other tours including "Nature" and "Family Tours." Meanwhile, other areas, including Mariupol and Mykolaiv, are completely off limits for tourists as they are either under Russian control or suffering continuous attacks from Russian forces.
Ultimately, Taranenko said the site is about showing the brave spirit of the Ukrainian people. He said the funds from the tours, which cost about €50 per person, support war refugees.
"We show the brave, strong people living in Ukraine. You can feel the atmosphere," he said. "It is not all what you see on TV. We are just people living our lives with hope that the war will soon be over."
"If tourists can come to Ukraine, enjoy our amazing city, and tell friends about it, maybe, they too will understand the pride we have in our country, our independence," Taranenko added.
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