If the Russian tanks massed just a few dozen miles away begin moving right up to the Ukrainian border, Oleh Synehubov will receive a phone call, and immediately begin to implement a crisis plan.
“There is a clear plan of action,” said Synehubov, the governor of Kharkiv region, in an interview on Monday at Kharkiv’s imposing, Stalin-era administration building.
He was speaking just an hour before Russian television aired footage of a Russian security council meeting, at which Vladimir Putin set in motion the recognition of separatist republics in east Ukraine and made thinly veiled threats of a major war against the rest of the country.
Kharkiv, a largely Russian-speaking city of nearly 1.5 million inhabitants, sits just 20 miles away from the border with Russia, and is seen as one of the main possible targets for Putin.
Back in 2014, the initial Kremlin plan after the Maidan protests in Kyiv – quickly abandoned as unrealistic – was to make Kharkiv the capital of an east Ukrainian state.
Now, in Belgorod region, just the other side of the border, TikTok videos and satellite imagery show Russian armoured vehicles and troops moving ever closer to Ukraine. At the first sign of “anomalous” activity at the border, said Synehubov, an operation will be launched to warn locals of an impending Russian attack.
“There will be television, radio and internet announcements, messages to mobile phones, sirens will sound, patrol cars and fire engines will go through the city with loudspeakers to tell people what to do,” he said.
Special measures would be taken at military sites and other strategic locations, and efforts would be made to evacuate places such as care homes and schools. The exact plan, whether the orders to people were to find the nearest bomb shelter, or whether an evacuation would be instigated, would depend on the kind of invasion, he said.
“If it’s an artillery attack, then it’s clear everyone has to go to bomb shelters, if it’s…