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Ukraine war drives sudden demand for bomb shelters in Switzerland

Companies that build and repair bomb shelters in Switzerland are being overwhelmed with enquiries since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Demand is so high that raw materials for the shelters are in short supply.

Nuclear bunkers in Switzerland have often become storage areas. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Nuclear bunkers in Switzerland have often become storage areas. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Residents of Switzerland or even visitors will have noticed the yellow nuclear shelter signs that dot the country’s homes and buildings. 

This is not only due to a Swiss sense of preparation and pragmatism, but actually has its origins in a law which mandated nuclear shelters across the country (discussed below). 

In the six weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, companies have reported a dramatic increase in enquiries and requests for nuclear shelters to be built or renovated. 

Reader question: Where is my nearest nuclear shelter in Switzerland?

Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes reports that companies have been “overwhelmed with enquiries”. 

Mengeu AG, a shelter company in the canton of Zurich, told 20 Minutes there had been a “massive increase” since the start of the war, with customers wanting to make sure their shelters are ready and effective should they be needed. 

“People notice that they have a shelter in the house and want to have it repaired so that it would be ready to move into again in an emergency,” Managing Director Christoph Singer told 20 Minutes. 

“But some customers also wanted to know what they would have to take with them to the shelter and whether they could take their pets with them,” says Singer.

Thomas Kull, who heads up shelter company Lunor, said people want to know if their shelters have any defects. 

“Many of these small shelters in single-family homes were built in the 1960s to 1980s and are therefore 40 to 60 years old. From a technical point of view, these systems have reached the end of their lifetime.”

READ MORE: Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on

A result was a surge in demand for raw materials, some of which came from areas now swept up in the war. 

“In addition to the already tense situation due to the corona pandemic, we now need raw materials in Europe that were previously supplied from Ukraine and/or Russia.”

Liliane Staub, from G. Bühler GmbH in Bern, said the war had led to a dramatic change in attitudes. 

“Just a month ago we were smiled at during the shelter checks. Now people are beating down our doors” she told 20 Minutes. 

What are the rules for nuclear shelters in Switzerland? 

50 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the government saw nuclear war and invasion as possible scenarios — so much so, that it passed a legislation in 1963 requiring nuclear shelters in all residential buildings. 

They were to be used “during an armed conflict, especially one involving weapons of mass destruction”, according to the Federal Office of Civil Protection (FOCP), which added that these bunkers “provide a basic form of protection against a wide range of direct and indirect arms impact”. 

READ MORE: What are Switzerland’s nuclear bunkers and does each home need one?

At present these structures are no longer compulsory in single-family houses, though the law stipulates that each resident “should be guaranteed a shelter in the vicinity of her/his place of residence”.

Today, Switzerland has 360,000 communal shelters able to accommodate the entire population in case of need.

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Ukraine and allies lay foundations for reconstruction at Swiss conference

Allies of Ukraine meeting in Switzerland were due Tuesday to adopt a declaration spelling out the principles and priorities of rebuilding the war-shattered country, estimated to cost at least $750 billion.

Ukraine and allies lay foundations for reconstruction at Swiss conference

Leaders from dozens of countries, international organisations and businesses have been meeting in the southern Swiss city of Lugano under tight security since Monday, discussing the best path forward for reconstruction, even as Russia’s war continues to rage in Ukraine.

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Speaking on the first day of the Ukraine Recovery Conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and a long line of government ministers described the massive destruction caused by Russia’s February 24 invasion.

“Reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local task of a single nation,” Zelensky said via video message. “It is a common task of the whole democratic world,” he said.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the recovery “is already estimated at $750 billion”. “The key source of recovery should be the confiscated assets of Russia and Russian oligarchs,” he said.

“The Russian authorities unleashed this bloody war. They caused this massive destruction, and they should be held accountable for it”.

READ MORE: Switzerland extends sanctions against Russia over Ukraine invasion

The conference, which had been planned before the invasion, had originally been slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine before being repurposed to focus on recovery.

Shmyhal laid out the government’s phased reconstruction plan, focused first on the immediate needs of those affected by the war, followed by the financing of thousands of longer-term reconstruction projects aimed at making Ukraine European, green and digital.

Those priorities are expected to be reflected in a final Lugano Declaration setting out the general principles defining a framework for rebuilding Ukraine, which should be adopted when the conference wraps up around midday Tuesday.

As billions of dollars in aid flow into Ukraine, lingering concerns about widespread corruption in the country mean far-reaching reforms will also be seen as a condition for any recovery plan decided.

The former Soviet state has long been ranked among the world’s most corrupt countries by Transparency International.

In Europe, only Russia and Azerbaijan ranked worse.

The Ukrainians have proposed that allied countries “adopt” specific regions of Ukraine, and lead the recovery there to render it more efficient. Britain has proposed taking on the Kyiv region, while a diplomatic source said France would concentrate on the heavily-hit Chernihiv region.

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In all, around 1,000 people are attending the conference, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who let out an enthusiastic “Slava Ukraini” (glory to Ukraine) after insisting on the importance of rebuilding a Ukraine better than before the war.