Thursday, 12 July 2018


4th - 5th June 2018

Duga radar site
5 miles south-west of Chernobyl is an extraordinary construction; part of the the 'Duga' Soviet cold-war era radar array. Built in 1976 and operating until 1989, it was a very powerful Over The Horizon (OTH) radar facility to identify and track any incoming aircraft and missiles. Range; about 2500 miles. Of course this was a Top Secret establishment in a strictly prohibited zone approached on a fortified single track road through the forest. In fact, what you see here is just the receiver and monitoring end. The mega-powerful transmitter part was 50km to the north-east and would burn your balls off if you got too close to it. I believe the system's code name was 'Steel Yard', but known to radio hams and others as 'The Russian Woodpecker'. This was because it transmitted infuriating tapping noises heard on radio receivers in the West. There is/was a similar model in eastern Siberia.

Right: Entry to the site. We were followed throughout this visit by a mongrel dog called Boris who, apparently, is a local mascot and accompanies all tours. The lady in our group who liked to feed the strays duly plied it with dog-food. No wonder it followed. It knows which side its bread is buttered.

Left: The array is 900 metres long and the taller masts are 500 ft high. People have climbed them, of course, as indeed had Nicholai our guide, but the authorities have now removed the bottom lattice sections to make it more difficult. I cannot think of anything I would rather do less. Some thrill-seekers have even 'base-jumped' (by parachute) from the top. Very windy up there, I was told, and when the wind does blow it makes a strange humming noise heard for miles around.

Right: There was even the odd radiation warning sign in evidence, although the readings were normal. The radiation cloud from the nuclear power site must have passed overhead.

Left: A service or inspection passage ran underground the whole length of the array. I think that the dog Boris is leading us here.

Right: The control centre 'ops room'. The computers, of ancient design, took up enormous space. Everywhere the floors of the rooms were covered in broken glass. This did not deter Boris. He even followed us up ladders to stand on the roof.

Left: One of the ex-computer terminals.

This site could be seen for miles. I took this photo from the roof of an apartment building in Pripyat, about 7 miles away. Was this on our target list in that period?

We left the 10km zone on return where a further  'scan' was carried out (left). We had dutifully stamped our feet earlier to remove any lingering radio-active material. I did ask how many scans had resulted in a 'failed' reading. The annswer was 'possibly' one a year. I suspect even that was an exaggeration. Anyway, all good entertainment.

The next port of call was inside the 30km zone at one of the previously evacuated villages. There was considerable hassle amongst the locals when this evacuation was first decreed. Apparently the villages on the western side of the approach road were contaminated. Those on the east side were not. Initially, the authorities were only going to evacuate the western villages. However those residents strongly objected saying that if they went the eastern villagers would pillage their properties. An understandable argument perhaps. Anyway it was then decided to evacuate the whole lot, hence the 30km clearance zone.
A few stubborn and determined villagers, unhappy with their resettlement, where they were often treated badly and with the suspicion that they were themselves 'contaminated' resolved to return. They were allowed to do so as there were very few of them and they were prepared to take the risk. Nobody was allowed back into the 10km zone.
We were taken to visit one such 'returner'. His name is Ivan Ivanovich who is now in his 80's and lives alone since his wife died a couple of years ago. He has two sons who occasionally come to visit. The village, and I've forgotten its unpronouncable name, has three re-occupied houses. The residents of two of which hate each other! Our visitee being one of them. What a hermit-like existence. No shops, but a mobile 'store' calls by once a month. He does have a mobile phone and TV (which is currently broken and nobody easily available to fix it....similar to where I live perhaps). If he has a medical problem he relies on the small clinic in Chernobyl.  He lives off a very basic state pension (about $90 per month). He is getting wobbly on his feet but has sensibly stockpiled a vast quantity of firewood (no shortage of that in the region), and it gets very cold in the winter, to last him out because he is now incapable of chopping the wood. He keeps hens which takes up most of his time. A very lonely life I imagine, but he seemed content enough. Impromptu visits from the likes of us presumably offer him a bit of light entertainment (from whom he receives a few 'tips' to help his finances).

Right: Self with Ivan at his rather spartan home which he had built himself. He enjoyed reminiscing about his life. He had been a Sergeant in a Chemical Unit of the Soviet army and served in various operational theatres in the 1950s, although got a bit muddled when trying to remember them. After leaving the army he got a job as a security guard at the nuclear facility. 
The mosquitos here were fierce. I gave him the remains of my recently bought supply of repellant for which, I think, he was grateful.

Then back to the 30km check-point where we were duly signed out. I bought a few souvenirs at the shop; base-ball cap, mug and key-ring which I will probably never use.

So that, for me, was a most interesting and educational tour of the Chernobyl area. I hope it interested you. Well worth a visit.

Back to Kiev and the Rus Hotel through mammoth traffic jams in the rush hour which took about 3 hours. We had two ladies in our group who had to go to the loo at least every 2 hours. Poor them, I suppose, but it caused a couple of painfully tedious diversions. It reminded me of why I prefer to travel alone.

Before I forget, I previously waxed lyrical about the ladies in Kiev being, on the whole, extraordinarily attractive; slim and elegantly dressed. The next morning at breakfast I was somewhat disillusioned. She (left) is Ukrainian and had a fit looking man with her and two delightful children. Whatever turns you on I suppose.

Uneventful return flight to London, Airwick Gatport, with Ukrainian Airlines. I took some photos of a couple of people on the aircraft who were remarkably weird...and will consider showing them in a future 'blog' when they won't be so easily attributable.

"Da Vye!", as they say in Ukrainian, "Lets go!"
Where next? Soon to be revealed.

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