With the Russian invasion in its ninth month and Kremlin calling for "accelerated action", Ukrainians are actively preparing for the once-unthinkable possibility of a "nuclear war".
Mykhailo Podolyak, presidential adviser, said Ukraine takes this threat seriously because it understands what kind of country they are dealing with. There are strong suggestions that Moscow is considering such an attack as its military falters. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would use all the means at their disposal to win the war.
Moreover, Russia's accusation that Ukraine is preparing a dirty bomb is being taken as a sign that Moscow is itself preparing such a bomb and pinpointing Ukraine.
As such, Ukrainians are bulking up on non-perishable food and iodine tablets, which can help block the absorption of harmful radiation by the thyroid gland if taken before or immediately after exposure to nuclear radiation.
Nuclear Survival Plans
Many Ukrainians are taking Russia's nuclear threats in their stride with a pinch of humour. Their everyday conversations now include phrases like "tactical nuclear weapons", "strategic", "radiation" and potassium iodide pills. They are drawing painful memories and examples, and lessons from the Chernobyl disaster. The last nuclear incident in the region was the 1986 Chernobyl which led to the emission of massive amounts of radioactive material into the environment. The Soviet government had to cut down and bury about a square mile of pine forest near the nuclear plant to reduce radioactive contamination at and near the site. The Chernobyl accident affected wide areas of Belarus, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine.
Svitlana Bozhko was a 26-year-old journalist in Kyiv and seven months pregnant when the Chernobyl incident occurred. Now 62 and still in Kyiv, she hopes that she never has to go through something like that again. But the fears returned when Russian forced invaded Ukraine on February 26. "Once again, the feelings of tragedy and helplessness overwhelmed me."
Roman Tkachuk, head of Kyiv's Municipal Security Department, said they are preparing for the release of radioactivity, with more than 1,000 personal trained to respond. They have a large number of potassium iodide pills and protective equipment for distribution. For those living near the frontline, it's a nightmare. Many are too exhausted to ponder about the new threats as they live through almost constant shelling. Vitalii Kim, the head of regional administration, said they must prepare for the nuclear threat whether they believe it or not. He shared that regional officials are working on various scenarios and mapping evacuation routes.
Western Governments Are Also Preparing
Western governments are also preparing for the worst scenario. They are engaged in prudent planning despite saying that any use of nuclear weapons by Russia would be abhorrent. Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said there would be catastrophic consequences for Moscow if it sought to deploy a tactical nuclear weapon, which can have the power of six or seven Hiroshima blasts. The French President Emmanuel Macron said he would not order a like-for-like retaliation if there was a Russian nuclear strike in Ukraine. He outlined France's fundamental interests would be directly affected at all, if for example, there was a ballistic nuclear attack in Ukraine, in the region.