Since HBO aired its limited miniseries, Chernobyl, there has been a renewed interest in the disaster that occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986. As people now flock to the area and tourism is booming as a result of the TV series, it has since been discovered that a top-secret military facility located nearby also shut down as a result of this disaster.
According to News.com.au, a once top-secret Cold War facility located in the forest just a few miles away had to be shut down after the Chernobyl disaster due to the exclusion zone set up as a result of radiation. Known to the USSR military as the Duga array or the Duga radar array, the West knows it by the nickname “Russian Woodpecker.”
This facility contained the Duga radar which some now visit during their trip to Chernobyl and the exclusion zone. According to CNN, this radar can be seen for miles around and was “once one of the most powerful military facilities in the Soviet Union’s communist empire.” Now, it sits abandoned just like everything within Chernobyl’s exclusion zone.
At the time, the Duga radar was designed to give Russia a few extra minutes should the Cold War between itself and the U.S. result in an attack on Russia. Since the radar was so big, it could search out a much bigger area and relay information regarding imminent attacks.
The top-secret Duga array was once listed as a children’s camp in order to maintain is secrecy during its time in operation. Built in 1976, no one knew of the existence of the radar at the military facility other than those select few and those who could see it in Chernobyl. Although, for local residents, its official use was still likely a mystery.
Duga radar: Enormous station is hidden in forests of Chernobyl https://t.co/5jU9pKayqQ— Al Marote (@wa1lbg) March 1, 2019
However, “strange rapidly repeating interference began to be noticed on some radio frequencies,” according to News.com.au. Military experts managed to locate the source of the sound to be somewhere north of Kiev, which is now in Ukraine. At the time, though, it was a part of Moscow-ruled USSR. Because of the repeated tapping like that of a woodpecker, the signal that was known to jam some frequencies became dubbed the Russian Woodpecker.
When the Chernobyl disaster happened, the Duga array had to be evacuated, just like everywhere else within the exclusion zone as the area was blanketed in radioactive dust. However, in its heyday during the Cold War, no one could approach the Duga radar without dire consequences. Even today, a single guard is present at the location, according to Luke Johnson, who visited the site and wrote about the Duga array for Atlas Obscura.
While the site was evacuated in 1986 due to the Chernobyl disaster, it is believed that the last Russian Woodpecker transmission occurred in 1989.
The limited miniseries, Chernobyl, is currently airing on HBO.