Coffee or Die Magazine on Ukrainian Civilian Preparedness

Inside a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, in December 2021. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

‘Emergency Suitcases’ and Mass Evacuation Plans: Ukraine Preps for Worst-Case Russian Attack appeared in Coffee or Die Magazine in January. It’s a lengthy piece detailing Ukrainian civilian preparations and preparedness recommendations as the country faced the build up to the current Russian invasion. Some recommendations seem fairly optimistic such as recommending that a citizen’s emergency suitcase not exceed 50kg (110lb). This must assume a vehicular evacuation, as that is far in excess of what most civilians could carry very far. Some portions of the article are excerpted below.

The walls are freshly painted inside this Cold War-era fallout shelter located deep underground in Ukraine’s capital city. Even so, the aged wood paneling, as well as an outdated rotary phone, offer evidence that this facility was one of hundreds built by Soviet authorities in Kyiv during the 1950s and 1960s at the height of the Cold War. At that time, an American nuclear strike against the Soviet Union was the looming threat. On this day in late December 2021, the threat of a Russian blitz has spurred Kyiv city authorities to designate this shelter, and thousands more across the city, as places where civilians can seek refuge.

Standing inside a ventilation equipment room, Anatolii Lazurenko, civil security chief of the Kyiv City Council’s Shevchenko District, reflected on the historical irony of this shelter’s contemporary utility.

“You understand that life moves very fast,” Lazurenko told Coffee or Die Magazine. “We — the Soviet Union — used to see the United States as our enemies, but now they are our friends. And now our so-called Russian brothers are our enemies. This is unfortunately our reality.”

Situated beneath a district government building across the street from the 19th-century National Opera of Kyiv, this emergency shelter was originally designed to house 60 people. Yet, in a pinch, the facility can hold some 300 people, Lazurenko said. From ground level, a nondescript metal door opens into a staircase that descends multiple stories underground. The shelter has a special air ventilation room (originally intended to protect against radioactive fallout) and is connected to the city’s water main. Lazurenko said daily deliveries of food and medical supplies would sustain occupants in the event of a drawn-out Russian bombardment or siege.

“This security structure is ready to be used as intended,” Lazurenko said…

The Kyiv City Council has posted an interactive online map, which shows the locations of the roughly 5,000 official locations where residents can shelter from a military attack. Of that number, 514 shelters are purpose-built facilities dating back to the Cold War where people can remain for days on end.

Known as dual-use facilities, the remaining 4,500 shelters include basements, underground parking lots and passageways, as well as Kyiv’s 47 metro stations.

However, many of Kyiv’s ad hoc, dual-use shelters have fallen into disrepair and are not ready for use in an emergency. And for the shelters that are available, many are only useful for immediate safety during an attack — they are not equipped to house occupants for more than a few hours…

On its website, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine outlines in detail the steps civilians should take in the event of “emergency situations of a military nature.”

Each citizen should prepare an “emergency suitcase” ahead of time, the service advises. This should be a backpack with a capacity of at least 25 liters, a little more than 6.5 gallons, containing “clothing, hygiene items, medicines, tools, personal protective equipment, and food.” The service also recommends carrying important documents and cash in the backpack.

“The emergency suitcase is intended for the fastest possible evacuation from the zone of emergency,” the service says, adding that the bag’s overall weight should not exceed 50 kilograms, or about 110 pounds…

The [State Emergency] service also advises citizens to stock up on food and first-aid supplies, as well as flashlights, candles, cooking gas, and lamps. Important documents should be consolidated and packed away in advance…