As Russia continues to amass its military forces near Ukraine's borders, foreign politicians and journalists alike say that an attack can happen at any moment.
Throughout the country, many Ukrainians have been preparing: taking first-aid courses, joining the territorial defense squads and learning where the nearest bomb shelters are.
But when it comes to bomb shelters, Ukrainians are facing an unpleasant surprise.
In Kyiv, officials boast that the city has 4,500 underground locations that can be used as bomb shelters. But in reality, many of them are in a dire state and hard to access.
The Kyiv Independent visited 10 bomb shelters to check if Kyiv residents will have the chance to use those underground locations marked as shelters on the official map.
Bomb shelters on paper: plentiful
Kyiv's authorities said they have begun preparations to secure the capital's over 3 million population in case the capital is attacked.
Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Jan. 25 that the city's Cold War-era bomb shelters are prepared to accommodate citizens seeking refuge. He added that the Kyiv metro, originally designed to withstand a nuclear strike, will be used as the main shelter.
The metro system is equipped with air-tight nuclear blast-resistant steel doors, air ventilators, and water purification systems.
There are 4,500 smaller bomb shelters located in residential, government, and private buildings throughout the city to provide sufficient protection. That's where most people will take cover in case of an emergency and those are the place neglected by the state. The city authorities provided an online map indicating locations and the types of shelters available.
The city also has around 500 vaults at the critical infrastructure objects, such as factories and hospitals, designed to protect its workers and equipment.
Authorities told Kyiv's residents that they shouldn't all rely on the metro system for protection; options closer to them should be considered. However, finding shelter in a clump of buildings proved difficult, even in broad daylight and without an ongoing conflict overhead.
Bomb shelters in reality: locked, abandoned, neglected
The reality of Kyiv's bomb shelters contrasts with the picture painted by the city authorities, as the Kyiv Independent discovered when it checked out 10 supposed bomb shelters.
The majority of the buildings marked as having a bomb shelter had no arrows or signs indicating their whereabouts. None of the tenants knew where the bunker was or even existed when asked.
One of the buildings on the map, located at 1/22 Cheska Street, provided a telephone number that belonged to the alleged keyholder of the shelter situated in that specific building.
Upon calling the number and asking about the bomb shelter, the owner, an elderly woman, said that she did not know anything about any bomb shelter and requested to "stop calling," implying there had been many inquiries.
"I told you numerous times I do not know anything about any bomb shelter," the woman replied. The government-provided number appeared to be incorrect.
Meanwhile, locations with easily identifiable shelters were locked, with no indication of how to access them.
The next shelter on the list, located at 10A Akademika Filatova St., had freshly painted orange arrows, leading to the back of the residential building.
The space was similar to any other building in Kyiv. Rugged cement stairs led down to an entranceway and a hallway that led to the administrative office, a bathroom, and several unmarked office doors.
A large wall with a styrofoam plate covering one side of the wall was placed near the entrance. Removing the cover revealed a dark corridor with dirt floors, rusty walls, and crumbling ceilings.
Random items, like masks and an office chair, were lying around the room. The room gave off an eerie and uncomfortable feeling. It was forgotten and abandoned.
The next two rooms of the shelter were worse. While they were empty and had no excessive garbage, they had a dirt floor and bare walls, exposing massive cement blocks that made the space unsafe.
Down the corridor was the third room. The area was in terrible condition and had construction bags, debris, and recently discarded office equipment boxes piled in the room.
The shelter was clearly abandoned. It was not in the state to house many residents for an extended period, which was said according to Kyiv's official shelter map.
The Kyiv Independent attempted to speak with the administrator of the building but the only worker present stated that she was not aware of any shelter being present on-site and asked the team to leave the building immediately.
Ukrainian and foreign reporters have been making rounds showing that many of Kyiv's shelters are unprepared, abandoned, or used as offices. Ukrainian media reported that one bomb shelter in Kyiv is used by a strip club – the Penthouse club at 58 Velyka Vasylkivska St. The club told the media it would let in people seeking shelter in case of an attack.
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