Today is the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine, the worst nuclear disaster in history, reports the BBC. 30 years later, the Exclusion Zone still poses threats of radiation, and the remaining infrastructure stands as an eerie reminder of the Soviet communities that once thrived here.
On April 26, 1986, an uncontrolled reaction blew the roof off the Chernobyl nuclear plant, pouring out radioactive material that covered not only the disaster site, but parts of Russia and Belarus, and parts of northern Europe as well.
During the initial explosion and clean-up, 31 people died, but in the days, months and years after, thousands more lost their lives.
People close to the disaster site suffered radiation exposure that resulted in rare forms of cancer and babies born with severe deformities. In the most extreme cases, some children have been born with missing limbs, and one was even born with two heads.
The exact number of deaths caused by the disaster is still disputed. In 2005, at a forum on Chernobyl, the U.N. concluded that while fewer than 50 people died during the initial explosion and clean-up, up to 9,000 people could eventually die from radiation exposure. Greenpeace claims that number is closer to 93,000.
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Today, the exclusion zone, and Pripyat as a whole, remain mostly abandoned. But while much focus has been centered on the eeriness of Pripyat and its ghost-like amusement park, according to Atlas Obscura, there's an even creepier part of the Exclusion Zone that not many people know about, deep in the irradiated forest surrounding Chernobyl.
In 1976, during the Cold War, a strange sound began to be picked up by Ham radios around the world. It was a continuous tapping sound that was pinpointed to a location somewhere behind the Iron Curtain. Shortwave radio enthusiasts decided to name it the "Russian Woodpecker."
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was discovered that the Russian Woodpecker was actually radar designed to provide early warning of an intercontinental ballistic missile attack. It was coming from Duga-3 radar in the forest outside of Chernobyl that was constructed to watch for potential U.S. missiles launching at the Soviet Union.
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When the Duga radar base was operating at full force, it had 1,500 military personnel, scientists and technicians working and living there.
They had apartment buildings and even a kindergarten on the base. There was a control center that once operated the radar and was full of electronics, computers, switches and wires.
The instruments are now rusted over and lie in disarray around the lawn. On the walls of the base still hang various anti-American propaganda artworks, including a mural that depicts a U.S. marine terrorizing a Russian woman and her child.
After the disaster at Chernobyl, Duga was forced to be evacuated like the rest of the Exclusion Zone, although the exact date it was fully abandoned is not known. The remaining facility hasn't been touched in years, continuing to exist in the middle of the forest as a ghost town, symbolic of the once powerful influence of Soviet Communism.