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30 Jul, 2009 06:02

North Korean antics keep Russian shelters at the ready

With North Korean rockets flying just a few hundred kilometers away, Russia’s Far Eastern city of Vladivostok has found a way to keep Stalin-built bomb shelters operational. Just in case.

The soil under Russia's Far Eastern city of Vladivostok houses more than 200 underground bomb shelters.

Most of these shelters now remain abandoned. However, with a neighbor as unpredictable as North Korea, the region is renting some of them to nightclub owners in a bid to keep them working in case of emergency.

Due to its semi-military status, Vladivostok has more bomb shelters than many other Russian cities, but their condition leaves much to be desired. In fact, the local authorities have already warned that less than half of the city’s 266 bunkers could offer refuge in the event of a nuclear strike.

One of the shelters, built in the 1940s, was the planned refuge for the highest party and military officials. It used to boast oak doors and expensive furniture – everything you could need to wait out danger in style.

“Unlike standard bomb shelters where people would be sitting in their hundreds with no space to stretch their legs, this facility had separate rooms for family members, servants and staff,” said Artur Romanenko, director of the Vladivostok Digger Club. “They could live here for two months with no contact with the outside world.”

Much of this underground luxury has long since gone. After being decommissioned in 2000, the shelter was raided by looters. Telephone cables are gone and the generator was stripped of its silver and copper parts.

However, “If need be,” Romanenko says, “this facility still could provide refuge”.

“Of course it needs serious renovation but it’s still standing firm,” he added.

For part of the 20th Century, Vladivostok lived in fear of a Japanese invasion, providing enough reason and funds for construction and maintenance of bomb shelters. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the money dried up, turning the bunkers into budgetary black holes. The solution has come from an unexpected source.

From stores to bakeries to night clubs, dozens of bomb shelters across Russia have been rented out – a practice that officials say pays healthy dividends.

“Renting out these shelters helps towards the maintenance costs, but at the same time they are ready to accept victims in case of emergency,” said Yury Sidelnikov from the Emergency Situations Ministry.

So being stuck underground is sometimes not the worst place to be, especially when living next door to North Korea.