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Narva Bastion Victoria designated as operational public shelter

Casemates of the Bastion Victoria in Narva.
Casemates of the Bastion Victoria in Narva. Source: Sven Zacek

The Victoria bastion in Narva, erected at the end of the 17th century, is designated as a functioning public shelter again, while the Estonian Rescue Board and Naiskodukaitse (Women's voluntary defense organization) promote home preparedness and basement redesign.

The history of Narva teaches that to pray for peace is good, but to be prepared for anything is better. Such is the fate of a border town. During wartime, many Narva residents were also able to find safety in the cold, unpleasant casemates of the Victoria Bastion, built at the end of the 17th century. How and under what conditions people hid there during the Second World War is shown in today's exhibit.

Today, however, the casemates have once again been granted shelter status.

The bastion has survived many wars in its 300-year history, and in the early 21st century, it was completely restored. The front wall of the Victoria Bastion is 16 meters high. The inner wall is more than three meters thick.

"The fact that this sign reads 'Public shelter' (Estonian: Avalik varjumiskoht) does not necessarily mean that this place is a functioning bomb shelter. It only serves as a temporary shelter," said Denis Bjorklund, the Bastion's casemate guide.

"So in case of an emergency, this sign has to be visible and we are obliged to provide temporary shelter. But fortunately, it's not intended to be a permanent shelter," he added.

In 1941, the war took many Narva residents by surprise. In July and August of that year people crowded into the old fortifications.

"Several hundred to a thousand people were reportedly hiding in the casemates of the Victoria Bastion. To imagine the conditions that people had to endure here is horrifying," Bjorklund said.

The Estonian Rescue Board advocates for a greater number of public shelters. A considerable portion of Stalinist architecture incorporated explosion-resistant shelters in their basements; for instance, the house at Malmi 4 in Narva is typical Stalinist architecture with its sturdy doors and concrete walls that could withstand a powerful blast wave. Everything had deteriorated over time, so the housing association applied for and was awarded funds from the Rescue Board to finance the necessary repairs.

Entrance to the Bastion Victoria exhibit. Source: Angelina Ivanova

Solid concrete, two exits, and even a bathroom are quite common in those buildings, but there are very few of them. So rescuers suggest that any ordinary basement, even one with windows, could be turned into a temporary shelter.

"It would be best to wait out the danger in a shelter with plenty of drinking water, food and first aid supplies," said the head of the Narva rescue team Denis Dushkin.

The best advisor in this matter, however, is Naiskodukaitse (a women's voluntary defense organization), which has created the mobile application "Be Prepared!" (Estonian: "Ole Valmis!"). It will warn you of threats and provide you with advice on what to do, for example, in the event of a power outage or if you are lost in the woods. You will also find information on fire and water safety, natural disasters, disruptions to critical services, cyber security, and other threats. ​

"Sometimes, in an emergency, you can't go anywhere, so you need to have certain things at home: food, candles, heaters, for example. And if you have to leave quickly, you need to know what to take with you: documents, money, preferably cash, not just cards. All this information is in the app. The more aware people are, the easier it will be to deal with a crisis situation," Naiskodukaitse instructor Natalia Mischuk, said.

During the budget negotiations last summer, the Estonian Ministry of the Interior requested €198 million to build new shelters; however, the money was not granted. Instead, a network of publicly accessible temporary shelters, established jointly by the Land Board (Maaamet) and the Rescue Board (Paasteamet), has been digitally mapped and is accessible here.

The Victoria bastion is the most powerful out of the seven bastions in Narva that were erected according to E. Dahlbergh's plan at the end of the 17th century. In the body of the bastion there are two-floor casemates that are 2-3 meters high and 2 meters wide.

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Editor: Irina Kireeva, Kristina Kersa

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