In the years of the Cold War, hundreds of shelters were constructed in Latvia, where the Soviet nomenclature and military personnel were to take shelter in the event of a nuclear war. After regaining independence, the State formally took care of these civil protection facilities, but in fact no investment and maintenance took place.
During the 2008 crisis to save funds, the government revoked the status of a civil protection facility for the remaining 300 bunkers, allowing landlords to handle them at their discretion. Most were privatized, demolished, flooded, collapsed or used for other purposes, such as a shop, warehouse, or museum.
At the end of the 80s, there were around 20 shelters in Rīga, each of which could accommodate hundreds of people, some over 1,000. Today, there are only four bunkers, and none of them can be used for the original purpose.
The largest of these, the former Soviet Army command post, is located under Grīziņkalns. But it has been leased to the information-technology company DEAC since 1999, as the more than 500-square-meter vast underground chambers are a very suitable place to store data servers.
The bunker on Radio Street 1 has been leased to an adjacent café and serves as a warehouse. In the bunker on Šarlotes Street 1, a shooting gallery has been installed, but it is not working at the moment, and the door is closed. An electricity sub-station is built in the bunker on Meierovica Boulevard 1.
The lease agreements provide that, in the event of a crisis, the municipality can break them and use a bunker for civil protection. To assess whether the bunkers are suitable, Riga City Civil Protection Plan spokeswoman Linda Ozola has instructed the Riga municipal police to identify the situation. The process is ongoing.
In the case of military threats, both the Riga City and the Latvian State civil protection plans place emphasis on informing and evacuating residents, rather than on shelters. Therefore, the place of evacuation lies on the shoulders of the individual.
“We don't have such official infrastructure in Latvia right now. “But if we look at scenes and photographs from Ukraine – the place where people shelter from the shootings is the basements of residential houses,” said Linda Curika, public relations advisor to the Minister for the Interior.
Therefore, citizens must rely on themselves and check basements to see if they are accessible and suitable.