Ukraine: how to avoid being shot by snipers
We have received several reports of snipers being present in Ukrainian cities. The footage of a Russian Iskander ground-launched cruise missile hitting the middle stories of an unoccupied Soviet-era apartment building in a suburb of Kyiv, broadcast on 25 February 2022, is such an example. The missile was likely directed at a sniper's nest, that is to say a collection of snipers that had seized the floors of the building in order to ply their trade.
Snipers have long been one of the most dangerous and recurrent features of urban combat, and because they are invisible and impossible to spot from the ground one must assume that in any city where there is or has been street-to-street fighting, there are snipers present. It is impossible to make an assessment of which side the snipers may be fighting for, because snipers tend to sneak into tall buildings unobserved. Moreover snipers often make mistakes and shoot either members of their own side or civilians.
The following advice is applicable to a city under siege generally, even if you have no specific information about snipers. Rest assured that snipers will be there, even if you know nothing of them. Do not think that you are somehow immune from the risk of snipers or that you will be lucky. Sniper fire is entirely random and almost always fatal, by reason of the high muzzle velocity of the bullets sniper rifles fire.
With these stark warnings in mind, we now provide advice to people on how to avoid being shot by sniper fire and otherwise to protect themselves in a city under siege.
The most important principle is to prepare yourself to stay indoors for a long period of time, and not to leave your own apartment save when absolutely necessary.
If you are in a city subject to street fighting (in particular Kyiv), apply broad sellotape to cover the entirety of the glass of your outward-facing windows. This is to prevent backblast from exploding munitions outside turning your windows into potentially lethal shard of incoming flying glass.
Ad hoc fridge: plastic bags on strings hung out of the window that sees least light. Attach them by hooks to the window latch.
Collect tap water now, and store it in plastic bottles. Boil it for three minutes before using it. Fill the bottle to the top - without air between liquid and cap. Stop drinking tap water as soon it dries up (even if it restarts later) or the water becomes brown.
Buy a kerosene stove to boil water in case the electricity / gas is cut.
Buy soluble multivitamin tables to flavour the water. You diet will not be balanced. So these are essential.
Stack up on tins of oily fish and seafood. They last indefinitely without refrigeration and they are healthy.
For dairy products your best bet is pasteurised milk that, in cardboard cartons, lasts indefinitely without refrigeration until it is opened.
Wrapped cheeses also last two to three weeks even if unrefrigerated until they are unwrapped.
Tinned meats (colloquially called "spam" in England) last indefinitely without refrigeration although they taste bad.
Plastic-wrapped bread can last a few weeks until it is opened.
Chocolate biscuits and other sweets last indefinitely.
Create a daily exercise regime within a confined space. Stick to a daily schedule if you are stuck indoors for a long period: wake, shower, exercise, write, read, exercise, eat, television, talk, bed. Limit conversations with other people in a confined space to specific times of day, to avoid driving each other crazy.
Keep computers and mobile telephone batteries constantly charged.
If you have a firearm, it needs oiling. Gun oil is preferable but olive oil will do. Then wrap it in clingfilm and hang it out of the window in a bag with the other foods. Always keep the magazine one short of full, to prevent jams: a far more common problem for semi-automatic handguns than you might imagine if you are not a regular user of firearms. If you are not a skilled marksman, attach an LED laser sighting from a child's toy with glue or even tape but make sure the laser spot is precisely parallel to the barrel.
If you can, buy a silencer for your firearm (technical name: a "suppressor"), and keep it attached to your firearm.
Sleeping tablets: it can be traumatic to got to bed at night, hearing munitions fire. Zoplicone is a good sleeping medication in the so-called "Z-drug" series; in most people it causes seven hours' sleep without drowsiness. A benzodiazepine such as valium, xanax or lorazepam may be used but may include a period of drowsiness in some people. In extreme cases of insomnia or panic, use low doses of an atypical antipsychotic such as quetiapine (seroquel). All these medicines are habit-forming; but subsequent tapering relief from addiction is fairly straightforward under medical supervision after the crisis has passed.
Knocking at the door: have a code with neighbours and friends. Ignore knocking without the code, unless the person identifies themselves as a soldier in which case say "I am coming", check the peep-hole, then let them in. A person with a gun can penetrate any door except one with specialist kevlar lining and locks. (If you have one of those doors, you can ignore soldiers; they can empty an entire magazine into the door and they won't get through.)
Bathe thoroughly every day. It is important for health and psychological welfare.
Set a limit for the amount of alcohol consumed per person per day (e.g. four British units), and do not exceed it.
Hide your car under a tarpaulin with a full tank of gasoline and two large plastic bottles of gasoline ("jerry cans") in the back seat; and a funnel (for emptying the jerry cans into the tank of the car). Leave the car in a discreet place within 100m of your property.
Be ready to leave the apartment in an instant, with travel bags packed. If and when you do leave, ensure there is only one set of keys outside the apartment - on your person - and tape them to the bottom of your foot within the arch of the foot, between the skin and the sock.
Keep curtains closed 24 hours a day. Give the world the impression that the apartment is empty even if it is not. Do not open windows. Do not step out onto balconies. Dim the lights at sundown and use candles or torches.
If you must walk in the street notwithstanding snipers, do it in broad daylight (not fog) so the snipers can see you are a civilian. Snipers have infra-red scopes for shooting people at night, but they just appear as blobs and hence it is more difficult to distinguish civilians from military figures. Recall that being a sniper is a boring job, involving lying prone for hours at a time, and snipers may become trigger happy to relieve the boredom. Snipers often have borderline psychotic personalities.
Use backstreets where the buildings are close together. Avoid open spaces or broad boulevards. Narrow streets see snipers less rarely, and are also less capable of being strafed by helicopter gunfire and less likely to be the location of explosive devices.
However if the environment is peaceful but with a military presence, take main open roads with armour of either side present, walking past it with your hands upturned so the palms are visible, open and exposed.
Send women with long hair, their hair flowing rather than tied back, so it is obvious they are female. Have them pull little shopping carts, even if they are not using them. Avoid anything that might be construed as a military, police or security forces style of dress.
Anyone who goes outside should carry a mobile telephone with WhatsApp locator turned on so that friends or family members can be reassured as to their whereabouts even if they are gone for a long time. (Queues at shops can be hours long.)
Beware of gossip. Discount anything except eye witness testimony (e.g. "I saw helicopters"). Even things you see on the television or read about in the international media can be downright misleading or even false. Do not rely upon others to form your judgments. Chinese Whispers are rampant in wartimes. Do not rely upon Twitter, in particular. Always stay calm.
The main things you might be going out for are: fresh bread; toiletries (soap, toothpaste and razors); and fresh water. Ask someone who has just done it, to learn when stores are open, what the safest route to them is, what they are selling and how much it costs (and in which currency you have to pay).
The Red Army has a bad tradition of civilian rape. Women should dress without makeup, in baggy, unflattering and cheap clothes, with their hair tied back, both when indoors and when venturing outside (save to the extent necessary to identify oneself as female to snipers). Pack all expensive all glamorous items of clothing in a bag. Women should consider carrying a semi-automatic handgun on their persons.