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With Ukraine in mind, Latvia is teaching its people what to do in case of war

With Ukraine in mind, Latvia is teaching its people what to do in case of war
© @sargs.lv  

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As Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to fuel worries about Moscow’s aggressive stance, Latvia issued a manual telling civilians what to do if war breaks out, or simply put, how to prepare for a potential hour X and what to do when it happens.

“We are preparing for any threat that may occur”

The “How to act in case of war” manual issued by the Ministry of Defense is 94 pages long and was published in the spring of 2024. Although it was created by specialists of the Ministry and the Latvian Army, it is based on the experience of Ukraine. As Uldis Ķevers, head of the Civil Defense Department of the State Fire and Rescue Service, told “Veridica”, Ukraine has the kind of experience that no one in Europe has had since the Second World War. In other words, Ukraine's experience has been adapted to Latvia's situation. In fact, the Latvian manual borrows from a booklet called “In case of emergency and war” published by the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security. Ukraine and Latvia are not unique in that field: similar manuals can be found in neighboring countries: Lithuania, Estonia, Sweden, and Finland.

@sargs.lv

„We are preparing for any threat that may occur”, Ķevers said. The institution he represents would participate in the organization of resistance in case of war, for example by evacuating people.

Since the full-scale invasion of Russia in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the State Fire and Rescue Service has also been working on making shelters where people can hide, especially, during air attacks. Experience in the improvement of shelters is another issue in which Latvia takes over Ukraine's experience.

The foreword of the manual emphasizes that civil defense, or citizens’ preparedness for crisis, is part of the general defense of the country. “It is raising awareness of national security issues, the ability to handle weapons, more active involvement in national defense, the ability to take care of oneself and others” the manual says and continues: “Ukraine's experience must be taken into account and its lessons learned must be used to prepare Latvian society for the worst possible scenario - a military invasion”. The manual also states that the aggressor may not declare war. Instead, there may be a hybrid war – for instance, communications and internet could go down while armed groups would emerge.

72-hour bag and what to do in critical situations

The manual is divided into several chapters. One of them contains advice on how to protect oneself, the family, and the pets, how to prepare for X hour in general, and another – what to put in the so-called 72-hour bag. It is a bag that should contain the necessary things for three days and which theoretically should be ready in every resident’s home right now. There should be water and food for 72 hours and various practical things – medicine, cash, blankets, multifunctional knife, scissors, flashlight, spare batteries, matches, disinfection pills, etc – in total, several dozen things. It is expected that after 72 hours the government and the army will be able to help people. However, there is an acknowledgment in the manual that in reality the water and food reserves should be more than just for three days. Other chapters teach how to act in case of shootings, chemical or air attacks, what to do in a siege, how to protect oneself from disinformation and cyberattacks, how to develop psychological resilience etc.

@sargs.lv

The Ministry of Defense told “Veridica” that Latvia’s security does not and cannot depend only on the army and NATO. “A developed culture of crisis preparedness is a prerequisite for society’s resilience and the country’s survivability. It is the joint readiness of the entire society to act in the event of crisis and war, the ability to continue to provide critical functions and services, as well as to support the National Armed Forces in defense operations”.

The Ministry thinks that the manual will not lose its relevance. “Each citizen must acquire and improve knowledge and skills to be able to protect not only himself but also his family, community, and country during a crisis or war,” the ministry explains. At the same time, it recognizes that war evolves and changes. For example, the use of drones is currently relevant. Accordingly, with time, the manual may need to be supplemented with new knowledge and aspects.

Are Latvians ready for the “hour X”?

Both the Ministry of Defense of Latvia and the State Fire and Rescue Service claim that Latvian citizens are interested in civil defense. In various public events around Latvia organized by the rescue service, the Latvian army, and other institutions, interest is said to be high.

Even more, in a survey conducted in 2023, Ķevers points out that 37% of residents stated that they know what to do in the event of a military or terrorist attack. This is less than the number of those who know how to act in cases of natural disasters – 74%. However, knowledge that is useful in natural disasters, such as clearing debris or dealing with explosions in residential buildings, can also be useful in the event of war.

However, Ķevers admits that people have evaluated their own knowledge; moreover, there is no data for how the people react in real situations. In other words, if a war or a hybrid war breaks out in Latvia, the behavior of the population is unpredictable. Ķevers assumes that perhaps those living in the countryside are better adapted themselves for a military invasion. They are prepared for power outages, which already tend to happen in storms, and they usually have larger food reserves.

@sargs.lv

Also, the Ministry of Defense, on the one hand, points out that, according to a survey 90% of people in Latvia think that everyone must know what to do in case of war, on the other hand, admits that society must acquire more knowledge and skills. But it is precisely for this reason that a manual has been published that is freely available on the Internet.

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Kaspars Germanis

Kaspars Germanis




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