An Instagram model who became embroiled in controversy for geotagging her sexy photos from the site of the Chernobyl disaster now says she was never even there.
Veronika Rocheva started making headlines over the weekend after her photos began being shared by Twitter users who were critical of tourism to the Exclusion Zone near Pripyat, Ukraine. Rocheva’s picture was one of four that was widely circulated on the social media platform, along with a caption that suggested she was an “influencer” who was only “flocking” to the site to gain popularity.
The 23-year-old, who says she was harassed and bullied as a result of the tweets, is now apologizing for the confusion, claiming she wasn’t even in Pripyat when the photos were taken, but rather thousands of miles away.
Rocheva added that she never expected such backlash, but was simply inspired to tag the photo with “Pripyat” after being inspired by the HBO series documenting the events that transpired at the Chernobyl power plant.
“We didn’t want in any way to hurt or insult people that went through such a horrendous tragedy,” she said. “We pay deepest respect to the story of Chernobyl.”
The tweet containing Rocheva’s photo — along with three others allegedly taken by Chernobyl tourists — began going viral earlier this week, garnering less-than-positive responses from social media users who found the photos to be disrespectful.
“Someone seriously in their underwear… anything for likes,” one person wrote of Rocheva, who is pictured stripping off a hazmat suit to reveal a bra and thong underneath.
Craig Mazin, the creator of HBO’s “Chernobyl” also chimed in, asking tourists to be respectful of the tragedy that unfolded.
Bruno Zupan, who first shared the pictures on Twitter and labeled the subjects “influencers,” later clarified that he was not intending to shame anyone, and discouraged users from lashing out at the people in the photos.
As The Atlantic also noted most of those photos weren’t taken by influencers at all, but rather visitors who toured the area with one of the multiple agencies that offer trips through the Exclusion Zone. One of the pictures was taken a decade ago, as well.
The controversy also likely stems from recent reports that tour operators near the site of the Chernobyl disaster say they’re seeing increased demand of up to 40 percent over last year’s numbers — and they’re crediting the boost to the release of HBO’s “Chernobyl” miniseries.
“Many people come here, they ask a lot of questions about the TV show, about all the events. People are getting more and more curious,” tour guide Viktoria Brozhko told Reuters.
The 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine sparked a widespread environmental disaster. Thirty workers died either from the explosion at the number four reactor or from acute radiation sickness within several months. The accident exposed millions in the region to dangerous levels of radiation and forced a wide-scale, permanent evacuation of hundreds of towns and villages in Ukraine and Belarus.
There are varying estimates for the final death toll from Chernobyl, due to the long-term effects of radiation. In 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency estimated the total death count from the disaster at around 4,000, whereas the World Health Organization has estimated 9,000 deaths. A recent study out of Belarus, meanwhile, estimated that number at 115,000.
Fox News’ James Rogers contributed to this report.