KYIV, Ukraine — A bomb is about to explode.
Callers have communicated a variation of these words to Ukrainian police at least 300 times in the past month, a series of false bomb threats that officials say are designed to instill panic and fear.
With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s borders and the West warning that war could break out any day, the bomb threats have added to the growing sense of anxiety in that country. of 44 million inhabitants.
While the Pentagon warned Friday that Russia has now mustered enough troops to launch a full-scale invasion of the country, analysts said Russian aggression aimed at destabilizing the government could take many forms. And it is the collapse of the state from within – encouraged by Russian efforts – that Ukrainian officials have called the clearest and most present danger.
Ukraine’s January bomb threat rate was six times higher than last year’s average.
Ukrainian police say they have checked more than 3,000 buildings since early January in response to more than 300 bomb threats by telephone. So far, the threats have all proven false, causing disruption but no damage or loss of life.
In one declarationthe country’s security service said the objective was obvious: to create chaos, sow fear and undermine the government.
The threats mainly targeted schools and shopping malls, forcing evacuations and closures and, in some cases, keeping children away from classes for days.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky wrote on social media that the bogus bomb threats came mostly from Russia, Russian-held territory in eastern Ukraine, and Russian allies, including Belarus.
The threats come as Ukraine prepares for more cyberattacks – which could range from efforts to cripple the country’s infrastructure to propaganda campaigns aimed at spreading fear and confusion.
A Ukrainian government website was recently hacked and a message was posted: “Be afraid and expect the worst”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly expressed concern that internal destabilization may pose an even greater danger than an invasion. Panic, he said, puts the economy at risk.
It was this concern that prompted him to publicly call on the United States and other European leaders to calm their rhetoric about the imminence of war. At the same time, he blamed Russia for bomb threats and efforts to stir up trouble in Ukraine.
“Why do you do that?” Mr. Zelensky said at a press conference in comments to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, in which he mentioned both the military buildup on the border and the wave of bomb threats. “To threaten us? What is this sadomasochism? What’s the fun of that? Of someone who is afraid?
Russian officials have repeatedly denied any interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs. And they say they also had to deal with their own wave of bomb threats, which forced Russian schools and shopping malls to evacuate tens of thousands of people. They blamed Ukraine for the push.
In Ukraine, false bomb threats disrupted classes in dozens of schools, and some Ukrainians blame the government for the problem.
“It’s getting scary,” said Anastasia Kuznetsova, a mother from Kryvyi Rih, a city in central Ukraine. Her 9-year-old daughter was unable to attend school for almost two weeks this month due to repeated bomb threats against the building.
Olena Ronzhyna, mother of a 12-year-old from Cherkasy in central Ukraine, said people were upset and blamed the government.
“The kids have been home for almost a month,” she said.
Yet Ms Ronzhyna thinks that if Russia hopes to harm Ukraine by undermining trust in its government, it won’t work. Ukrainians have always been very proud of their deep distrust of their government, and they like to criticize it harshly and openly.
“We never trust any of our governments,” she said. “From the first day after an election.”