News publications and other organizations are encouraged to reuse Direct Relief-published content for free under a Creative Commons License (Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0 International), given the republisher complies with the requirements identified below.

When republishing:

  • Include a byline with the reporter’s name and Direct Relief in the following format: "Author Name, Direct Relief." If attribution in that format is not possible, include the following language at the top of the story: "This story was originally published by Direct Relief."
  • If publishing online, please link to the original URL of the story.
  • Maintain any tagline at the bottom of the story.
  • With Direct Relief's permission, news publications can make changes such as localizing the content for a particular area, using a different headline, or shortening story text. To confirm edits are acceptable, please check with Direct Relief by clicking this link.
  • If new content is added to the original story — for example, a comment from a local official — a note with language to the effect of the following must be included: "Additional reporting by [reporter and organization]."
  • If republished stories are shared on social media, Direct Relief appreciates being tagged in the posts:
    • Twitter (@DirectRelief)
    • Facebook (@DirectRelief)
    • Instagram (@DirectRelief)

Republishing Images:

Unless stated otherwise, images shot by Direct Relief may be republished for non-commercial purposes with proper attribution, given the republisher complies with the requirements identified below.

  • Maintain correct caption information.
  • Credit the photographer and Direct Relief in the caption. For example: "First and Last Name / Direct Relief."
  • Do not digitally alter images.

Direct Relief often contracts with freelance photographers who usually, but not always, allow their work to be published by Direct Relief’s media partners. Contact Direct Relief for permission to use images in which Direct Relief is not credited in the caption by clicking here.

Other Requirements:

  • Do not state or imply that donations to any third-party organization support Direct Relief's work.
  • Republishers may not sell Direct Relief's content.
  • Direct Relief's work is prohibited from populating web pages designed to improve rankings on search engines or solely to gain revenue from network-based advertisements.
  • Advance permission is required to translate Direct Relief's stories into a language different from the original language of publication. To inquire, contact us here.
  • If Direct Relief requests a change to or removal of republished Direct Relief content from a site or on-air, the republisher must comply.

For any additional questions about republishing Direct Relief content, please email the team here.

Gimme Shelter: Ukrainians Make the Most of the Soviet Underground


Ukraine Relief

Kyiv residents shelter in a subway station on February 26, 2022, two days after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of Kyiv City Council)

UKRAINE – A network of Soviet-era shelters across the country has functioned as a refuge for Ukrainians since the 2022 invasion by Russia, and the shelters are as vast as they are varied. A former subterranean Soviet shooting range, a nightclub, hospital basements, and subway stations all serve the purpose.

A full-scale war raged as Russia assaulted its neighbor by land, sea and air, forcing Ukraine’s population to hide from the bombing and shelling wherever possible. Many lives were still lost due to the lack of underground shelters or because shelters were locked, as happened on June 1 in the capital, Kyiv.

“Shelters must be accessible,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said later on national television. “The situation like last night in Kyiv, when people came to the shelter, and it was closed, must never happen again.” Three days later, media reported that 1,078 shelters had been inspected in the city, half of which were found to be in a non-operable condition – either unsuitable for use or locked.

Legacy of the Soviet Planners

Ukraine had actually been well prepared by the former Moscow-led Soviet authorities. For decades, planners built deep shelters under public buildings against potential attacks by mainly Western enemies. Many of these were Cold War-era radiation shelters, while others dated to WWII and earlier.

“They protected first against the Nazis, then the Americans and now against the Russians,” said the head of a medical organization that recently converted part of a long-disused bomb shelter in the eastern city of Kharkiv. Ten feet (three meters) below ground and with a thick concrete ceiling and walls, it now makes an ideal secure storage for valuable refrigerated medicines, including those provided by Direct Relief.

Some 350 miles (560km) to the west, in the city of Zhytomyr, a subterranean shooting range built under a school for Soviet military preparation courses underwent a huge transformation. Today, the long cavern and adjoining rooms totaling 13,000 square feet (1,200 m2) form a state-of-the-art shelter, refurbished since 2016 with UNICEF funding to enable 1,250 children to study even during emergencies.

Once a Soviet shooting range, this shelter under a school in Zhytomyr has few equals in Ukraine (Nick Allen/Direct Relief)

The school’s director says she did not exactly have a premonition of impending full-scale war but a “sense of alarm” after hearing stories of colleagues about students scrambling for cover during shelling in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, which Moscow-backed rebels seized in 2014.

So she started a superior conversion of the basement, complete with a small kitchen and medical center – just in case. This paid off after the February 24, 2022 invasion, as Zhytomyr was subjected to multiple bombing raids and missile strikes.

“We would spend hours down here in winter, and we also let in neighbors, dogs, too – what else are you going to do during a bombardment?” says the director, who envisions that after the war, the shelter will function as a “second school” with a wide range of activities and sports classes.

Ukrainian authorities say almost 3,800 educational institutions have suffered from bombing and shelling, 365 of which were destroyed completely. According to the UN’s children agency, UNICEF, only a third of Ukraine’s schoolchildren currently study in-person, while the rest study online.

In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Mayor Ihor Terekhov recently declared his intention to build Ukraine’s first completely underground school, without giving details.

However, schools and other institutions aside, public discipline has ebbed as wailing sirens warn of possible strikes, often several times a day. People got tired of traipsing below ground at all hours when often nothing happens, and many no longer react to the alarms – sometimes with tragic results.

“Ukrainians are already used to living in war conditions,” Ukraine’s DSNS civil defense service says on its website. “However, it is extremely important for everyone to remember that you should never get used to ignoring the Air Alert signal! The enemy is counting on this!”

Not Quite a Bomb-Shelter

There is a crucial distinction between an ukryttia and a bomboskhovyshche in the Ukrainian language, rendered in English as shelter and bomb shelter, with a corresponding difference in sturdiness, depth and effectiveness.

Igor Gresko, the director of the hospital in Okhtyrka in the northeastern Sumy region, must strike a balance between the two in safeguarding his staff and patients: Built in the mid-1980s, the five-story building has a large, partially reinforced basement complex just below ground level that can serve as a shelter – but only up to a point.

“If something really heavy hits the hospital, then it’s a grave,” he says in a blunt appraisal of its protective qualities. Nevertheless, he is obliged to evacuate patients to the ukryttia during threats to the town located 25 miles (40 km) from the Russian border.

Okhtyrka administration’s health department director Olena Lanina (right) and senior medical nurse Liudmila Gusak stand in the shelter’s improvised operating theater. (Nick Allen/Direct Relief)

Much of the hospital’s equipment is outdated and in desperately short supply, but it still managed to set up an emergency operating theater underground, complete with an incubator for newborns.

“It has to be at least as good as what we have upstairs,” says Gresko, only hours after the latest security alert, when explosive-laden suicide drones buzzed overhead until they were shot down: “No one slept much last night in Okhtyrka,” he adds.

Giving is Good Medicine

You don't have to donate. That's why it's so extraordinary if you do.