There are very exciting things in the forests around Chernobyl. Duga was super secret “over-horizon radar” that would detect nuclear missiles from the US already at the launch. Join a tour of the powerful abandoned construction.
Duga-russian-woodpecker-chernobyl-2Since the beginning of the 1960s, the Soviet Union had been working on a warning system that could detect airborne threats early. The challenge for the scientists was that no visual contact would be needed, but the system could detect, for example, a nuclear missile fired from Alaska. This only a few seconds or minutes after launch.Duga-russian-woodpecker-chernobyl-3

In 1976, the construction was completely done. Near the Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine, a giant transmitter and receiver (Duga-1) were ready to catch up with the enemy’s activities. In southern Ukraine, there was a similar plant (Duga-2). The Duga radar outside Chernobyl was depicted on Soviet maps as a summer camp for children.

Lots of complaints worldwide

As soon as the radar came into use, complaints against the Soviet began to flow. The rest of the world did not know what it was, but the sudden occurrence of major disturbances in radio traffic and television broadcasts quickly triggered suspicions against the Soviet Union.Duga-russian-woodpecker-chernobyl-4
The transmitter in Duga could send up to 10 MW, so even transatlantic aircraft were affected by communication problems. In total, thousands of complaints were received against the Soviet state of Ukraine.

How did they know who the complaints should be addressed? Both NATO and radio amateurs managed to quickly position the transmitter through triangulation to northern Ukraine.


If you’re not afraid of heights you can find ladders to climb on.

Unknown Usage

What the enormous facility filled for a purpose was initially unclear. NATO had the nickname “Steel Work” for the high metal structure, and it was suspected that it was an “over-horizon radar”.Duga-russian-woodpecker-chernobyl-6

Many myths arose around Duga-1. Some thought it was used to interfere with western radio and television broadcasts. However, that theory was quickly contradicted, as Russian broadcasts also suffered from problems.

Others thought it was a way to interfere with submarines. Lesser anchored speculation about experiments with mind control and weather effects also occurred.Duga-russian-woodpecker-chernobyl-7

The “Russian Woodpecker”

The name, the “Russian Woodpecker”, originated through the transmitter’s distinctive audio signal for those who engaged in shortwave radio. Below is a recording of how it could sound.

The signal ends

In 1989, the radio waves were heard even less. Why is there no official answer for yet. Duga-1 was a huge costly building and a prestige project for the Soviet Union. The cold war had certainly cooled slightly, but at the same time, the technology had developed more to satellite-based monitoring systems. And don’t forget that the former super-radar was only a few kilometers from the Chernobyl meltdown.Duga-russian-woodpecker-chernobyl-8

The site is today guarded and consists of a huge steel skeleton that stretches 150 meters up in the air. There is also a data center in the area, where 1500 people worked to process the radio waves.Duga-russian-woodpecker-chernobyl-9

Video from my visit at Duga, Chernobyl

Do you like abandoned radar facilities? Read more about a visit to the secret radar Skrunda-1 here.