Russia-Ukraine War: 'Dystopian' images show Central Europe's 'eerie' bomb shelters amidst Russian nuclear threats

The period of peace that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union lulled governments into neglecting their civil protection plans. Shelters that once promised safety during the nuclear era are more commonly neglected, unsuitable, or museum relics of a bygone time.
Jacek, 37, closes a door to a shelter in the basement of a residential building in Warsaw, Poland, on October 19.
Jacek, 37, closes a door to a shelter in the basement of a residential building in Warsaw, Poland, on October 19. AP

Amid fighting around Ukraine’s nuclear power installations and Russia's implied threats about using nuclear weapons, Poland has ordered an inventory of its shelters.

The main hall in the communist-era bunker in Podborsko, Poland, that was designed to house nuclear weapons.
The main hall in the communist-era bunker in Podborsko, Poland, that was designed to house nuclear weapons.Shutterstock (RFE-RL)

The war has triggered fears across Europe, especially in countries like Poland and Romania, which border Ukraine and would be highly vulnerable to fallout from a nuclear attack on their neighbor.

A Cold War-era shelter under the ArcelorMittal steel plant in Warsaw, Poland. There are some 62,000 air-raid shelters in the country.
A Cold War-era shelter under the ArcelorMittal steel plant in Warsaw, Poland. There are some 62,000 air-raid shelters in the country.AP
These old boots were in the same shelter. Warsaw also drew up a plan to give local fire stations potassium iodide tablets, which can be used to help protect people in radiation emergencies. The stations would distribute them to the population if needed.
These old boots were in the same shelter. Warsaw also drew up a plan to give local fire stations potassium iodide tablets, which can be used to help protect people in radiation emergencies. The stations would distribute them to the population if needed.AP
Ewa Karpinska, a spokesperson for ArcelorMittal, shows a map from the Cold War-era at the shelter under the plant.
Ewa Karpinska, a spokesperson for ArcelorMittal, shows a map from the Cold War-era at the shelter under the plant.AP

Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s thinly veiled threats about his willingness to deploy tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine, “everyone is worried,” Karpinska said. 

After an inspection by officials, the ArcelorMittal plant is now listed as a shelter for Warsaw's residents.
After an inspection by officials, the ArcelorMittal plant is now listed as a shelter for Warsaw's residents.AP
Warsaw’s leaders said the city's subway and other underground shelters could hold all its 1.8 million residents and more in the case of an attack with conventional weapons.
Warsaw’s leaders said the city's subway and other underground shelters could hold all its 1.8 million residents and more in the case of an attack with conventional weapons.AP
While some countries maintain their shelters for emergency use, others have seen some of theirs transformed into museums. Waxworks depict life underground at the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum in Budapest, Hungary.
While some countries maintain their shelters for emergency use, others have seen some of theirs transformed into museums. Waxworks depict life underground at the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum in Budapest, Hungary.AP
With some of Budapest's bunkers no longer usable, officials say that they can rely on its metro. Attila Gulyas, head of a transport union, said: “Up to 220,000 people can be protected by the shelter system in the tunnels of metro lines 2 and 3.”
With some of Budapest's bunkers no longer usable, officials say that they can rely on its metro. Attila Gulyas, head of a transport union, said: “Up to 220,000 people can be protected by the shelter system in the tunnels of metro lines 2 and 3.”AP
A portrait of Josip Broz Tito hangs in his underground "Atomic War Command" in Konjic, Bosnia-Herzegovina. It's existence during the Tito era was only known to the Yugoslav president, four generals, and a handful of soldiers who guarded it.
A portrait of Josip Broz Tito hangs in his underground "Atomic War Command" in Konjic, Bosnia-Herzegovina. It's existence during the Tito era was only known to the Yugoslav president, four generals, and a handful of soldiers who guarded it. RFE-RL
Built to withstand nuclear war, the bunker cost $4.6 billion to construct -- the equivalent of more than $20 billion today. The Konjic site is now a modern art gallery.
Built to withstand nuclear war, the bunker cost $4.6 billion to construct -- the equivalent of more than $20 billion today. The Konjic site is now a modern art gallery.AP
“The global environment right now is unfortunately very similar to what it was like (during the Cold War), burdened by a very heavy sense of a looming conflict,” said Selma Hadzihuseinovic, who represents a government agency that manages the site.
“The global environment right now is unfortunately very similar to what it was like (during the Cold War), burdened by a very heavy sense of a looming conflict,” said Selma Hadzihuseinovic, who represents a government agency that manages the site. RFE-RL
Hadzihuseinovic said the bunker could be returned to service in a new war, but with nuclear weapons having become far more powerful it would not be “as useful as it was meant to be when it was built.”
Hadzihuseinovic said the bunker could be returned to service in a new war, but with nuclear weapons having become far more powerful it would not be “as useful as it was meant to be when it was built.”RFE-RL
Tourists sit in a boat on an underground lake at Salina Turda, a former salt mine that has been turned into a tourist attraction in central Romania. It is now listed by emergency authorities as a potential civil defense shelter.
Tourists sit in a boat on an underground lake at Salina Turda, a former salt mine that has been turned into a tourist attraction in central Romania. It is now listed by emergency authorities as a potential civil defense shelter. AP
Another view of the salt mine at Salina Turda.
Another view of the salt mine at Salina Turda.AP

Sorin Ionita, a commentator with the Expert Forum in Bucharest, Romania, said many consider a Russian nuclear strike improbable as it would not "bring a big military advantage to the Russians."

(KB/RFE-RL)

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