How Kyiv residents are reacting to the threat of a Russian nuclear strike on the capital

1 October 2022, 06:40 PM
Measures taken by Kyiv residents, from the practical to the impractical, in response to nuclear strike threat (Photo:Martin Lindsay / Alamy via Reuters)

Measures taken by Kyiv residents, from the practical to the impractical, in response to nuclear strike threat (Photo:Martin Lindsay / Alamy via Reuters)

While some residents of the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv are stocking up on potassium iodide and studying the simulated effects of the explosion on the map, others are joking about having orgy in Kyiv’s Podil district.

NV has looked into out how Kyiv residents are reacting to the Kremlin’s nuclear threats and what the Kyiv authorities will do if there is a nuclear strike.

Mykhailo Zhernakov, the co-founder and chairman of the board of the DEJURE Foundation, is a Kyiv resident who takes seriously the threats of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine.

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At first, Zhernakov read lots of articles on the Internet about what should be done if this happens, and then he started stocking up on supplies.

He stocked up on food, water and adhesive tape to seal the windows and thus protect his home from radioactive dust. In case he has to move in a nuclear damage zone, he bought clothes that can be quickly changed: raincoats, overshoes, gloves, respirators. He also ordered a Geiger counter and bought potassium iodide at the pharmacy without any difficulties, although social networks reported it was impossible.

“There is a non-zero probability that it will happen somewhere here (in Kyiv), and we’ll have to get to evacuation points on our own, so these are the things I consider important,” Zhernakov said.

“It’s better to be prepared and nothing happen than the other way around.”

Many Kyiv residents think similarly. Although Ukraine’s Western partners currently say they see no evidence of Russia preparing to use nuclear weapons, some experts are considering the prospect of Russian striking various targets in Ukraine, including the capital city. So some Kyiv residents are trying to take measures to protect themselves.

Some have appealed to the city authorities to issue individual protection kits to all residents of Kyiv in case of a radiation hazard – a corresponding petition appeared on the website of the Kyiv City Council on Sept. 26 and in the first two days gathered almost 2,000 signatures out of the 6,000 required for consideration. Others are discussing on social networks the potential effects of a nuclear strike at their own homes.

The NukeMap online service makes it possible to assess such effects. The site, which is now especially popular among Ukrainians, was created in 2012 by U.S. scientist Alex Wellerstein, who studies the history of nuclear weapons. This interactive tool helps simulate a nuclear explosion of a certain type and power and shows its impact on the area on the map. In particular, in what radius around the epicenter of the explosion will the greatest destruction occur and where there is a critical threat to people’s lives.

Zhernakov believes his home will be in the zone of damage if there is a nuclear attack on the city center. Realizing this, the Kyiv resident decided that if the attack is known about in advance, for example, if the aggressor state issues an ultimatum with certain deadlines, he will have to find alternative housing. Therefore, he found a house with a basement outside the city where he could move if necessary and spend the dangerous period after the explosion.

The city administration also advises Kyiv residents to take care of their safety in advance. In particular, they recommend that people learn the map of shelters, stock up on bottled water, medicines, hermetically sealed human and pet food, as well as discussing an emergency action plan with relatives.

The Kyiv City State Administration itself has its own plan for all structural divisions in case of biological, chemical and radiation threats. In response to NV’s request, the officials said the city had updated its memo on actions in case of a radiation accident or nuclear strike, informing Kyiv residents about emergency situations, decontaminating areas if necessary, and evacuating Kyiv residents from assembly points.

If a recommendation comes from official sources to take potassium iodide, Kyiv residents are advised to do so, following the announced dosage scheme. The city has purchased the popular drug and handed it over to district administrations, which will issue it at evacuation points.

An upsurge in demand for potassium iodide pills, which, if used correctly after a nuclear explosion, can protect the thyroid gland from internal absorption of radioactive iodine, was seen in Ukraine back in August amid an extremely dangerous situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant due to shelling by the Russian invaders.

Vasyl Hubarets, the corporate communications director of the Darnytsia pharmaceutical company, said retail sales of potassium iodide 125, which the company produces, had increased eightfold against July amid the threat of a radiation leak.

“By the way, a similar situation arose at the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, when there was a radiation threat at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant,” Hubarets said.

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The demand for these pills decreased in September, but after Sept. 21, when Russian dictator Vladimir Putin delivered his speech with another nuclear threat, it increased sharply again, five times during the week from Sept. 21 to Sept. 27 against the previous week, Hubarets noted.

According to him, potassium iodide can be freely purchased in pharmacies now, although maybe not in all of them, or ordered online. Moreover, Darnytsia did not change the selling prices for this drug during the year, and also increased the planned production volumes in August.

Despite most of the components of a nuclear go-bag being available, not all Kyiv residents plan to put one together. Some even criticise those who do. Moreover, a popular joke on this serious topic is spreading on social networks: It says that if there is to be a nuclear strike, the people of Kyiv are to gather on Shchekavytsia Mountain and hold an orgy there. Dozens of memes and caricatures have already been created about the “proposed” event on Shchekavytsia, and some activists decided to take advantage of its credibility for a good cause, namely to organize a training on first aid on the Kyiv mountain on the first weekend of October.

“Of course, the training isn’t an orgy,” the organizers say.

“But there will be ‘scissors,’ groans and tears! After all, we will teach how to stop critical bleeding.”

“Some people, probably as a psychological defense, are joking and downplaying the nuclear threat, but I don’t think this is responsible adult behavior,” Zhernakov said.

However, there are not so many among his friends who, like him, have decided to stock up on change of clothes, respirators and other means of protection.

“It’s good that many people have water and food stocks, but I would like to see it treated more responsibly,” Zhernakov added.

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