In Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv, the dilapidated condition of bomb shelters is dissuading residents from seeking refuge.
A decaying door precariously covers the broken steps leading to one such shelter in the eastern part of the city. Local inhabitants enter the vast space with torches, originally equipped with toilets, water tanks, two separate entrances, and a ventilation system, designed decades ago. However, with the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia, and Moscow’s persistent attempts to strike Kyiv, this Cold War-era shelter has ceased to function. Situated beneath an abandoned building, the shelter lacks lighting, and its ventilation shaft is obstructed by garbage, with only a few homeless individuals seeking refuge there.
“This shelter has remained in this state for the past 10 years,” revealed Oleksandr, a local resident of 43 years.
Kateryna Shylo, a 42-year-old mother-of-three residing near the Suleiman Stalsky Street shelter, remarked, “This is an authentic bomb shelter. If it were cleaned up, it could accommodate 350 people, which is almost equivalent to two blocks of flats.”
Residents express frustration at the authorities’ neglect of these purpose-built shelters, despite an official initiative to inspect and improve the facilities.
This concern grew more pronounced following a recent tragedy on June 1, when a mother, her 9-year-old daughter, and another woman lost their lives due to missile debris while attempting to enter a locked shelter in a Kyiv clinic during nighttime strikes.
Consequently, a commission led by Kyiv’s Mayor, Vitali Klitschko, inspected over 4,600 air-raid shelters in the city this month. The commission determined that 65 percent were still usable, while an additional 21 percent required repairs and 14 percent were deemed unsuitable for their intended purpose. Almost one-third of the shelters necessitated contacting someone with a key to gain access.
During the Soviet era, bomb shelters were constructed throughout the city and received regular maintenance due to the looming threat of nuclear war. However, over time, many of these shelters fell into disrepair. The shelter on Suleiman Stalsky Street was illegally privatized and changed hands multiple times. It no longer appears on the public map of shelters.
Nevertheless, as Shylo mentioned, “At the onset of the war, people sought refuge here—there was no alternative.”
He added, “In the initial months following Russia’s invasion in February 2022, residents attempted to improve the shelter by bringing in beds, chairs, and benches. However, they were constantly faced with the challenge of cleaning up human waste in a space shared with homeless individuals and drug addicts. Additionally, the conditions were extremely cold for those sleeping there.”
Shylo concluded, “We simply grew weary of it.”
Oleksandr suggested that officials should employ legal means to influence the owner to restore the premises to a proper condition.
The bomb shelter in question is classified as “class 2,” which denotes the second-highest level of protection against a blast wave. This classification makes it considerably safer than basic cellars, which are the most rudimentary form of shelter.
Constructed in 1982, the shelter was designed to accommodate up to 350 people and spans an area of 234 square meters. “There was everything there: bunk beds, and even gas masks,” recalled Ganna Skirsko, a 67-year-old who used to clean the shelter.
However, a district official named Pavlo Babiy stated in a letter to a resident, shared with AFP, that restoration would cost 1.8 million hryvnias ($51,000) and was deemed “economically unfeasible.”