By Juanjo Galán
Helsinki, Apr 26 (EFE).- Russia’s threats against Finland’s increasingly likely bid to join Nato have stirred fears of a conflict similar to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine but the Nordic nation, with its mammoth network of bunkers and ample equipment, feels prepared for such an eventuality.
Since World War II, Finland has built around 54,000 bomb shelters in its most populous areas with a capcity to shelter up to 4.4 million people, or 80% of the nation’s population.
One of the most modern is the cavernous Merihaka civil defense shelter, which has been hewn into the granite substratum near downtown Helsinki’s Hakaniemi square.
In times of peace, this 14,750-square-meter bunker is home to an underground parking lot, a sport center, a gym, several floorball pitches and a children’s playpark.
In a hypothetical time of war, however, the space can be converted into a bomb shelter with room for 6,000 people in less than 72 hours, as is the case for all of Finland’s shelters.
“We are now in a state-of-the-art shelter built in bedrock and that means that it can hold conventional, even to some extent nuclear weapon impacts,” Kimmo Kohvakka, director general at the interior ministry’s department for rescue services, told Efe.
The shelter is installed with filtration systems to block radioactive particles and other harmful substances from chemical or biological weaponry, Kohvakka explained.
A TROUBLESOME NEIGHBOR
Finns have watched Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with concern, fearing Moscow could plot something similar against their country, which shares an 1,340-kilometer border with Russia.
Kohvakka believes Finland is more prepared, however.
“There’s certainly been an increase in worry, that’s a clear fact that Finnish population has reacted to the situation, but on the other hand we are quite trusty that in our case, should any kind of scenario happen, we are ready for whatever might come,” he said.
Finland’s conflict with the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1944 laid the foundations for the country’s comprehensive approach to national defense.
Jani Pitkänen, a commander of the rescue services in Helsinki, summed it up: “Because of our history, civil defense and preparedness are part of our nature.”
“In Helsinki, with a population of 650,000 inhabitants, we have around 5,500 shelters with a total capacity of 900,000 people, so we have plenty of space for all residents and also passengers.”
Under Finnish planning laws, new buildings, apartment blocks and offices measuring over 1,200 square meters must provide a civil defense shelter.
As a result, around 85% of the country’s shelters are private property that, in times of peace, are repurposed into parking spaces, storage units or leisures centers.
The 1939 Soviet invasion left a painful imprint on Finnish society that has spurred the nation to preemptively secure enough resources to confront all potential catastrophes from natural disasters and war to pandemics.
As such, the country’s reserves of essential products like fuel, medicine, masks, cereals and seeds are constantly maintained to a level that could sustain the population for several months.