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Russia has publicly announced the use of chemical weapons in those Ukrainian cities that it cannot seize by military force. A warning about the possibility of such a scenario appeared in late March, when the Russian military reportedly received antidotes for chemical poisoning. The use of chemical weapons is a war crime and a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which was signed by Russia.

Unfortunately, without the appropriate skills and knowledge, it is not always possible to quickly determine and independently confirm the use of chemical weapons. That’s why it is important to monitor the reports of official sources and strictly follow the instructions that they provide.

Hopefully, you will never need to use this information. We have compiled the basic recommendations of the Public Health Center, the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Paramedic Group, and other human rights NGOs to help you understand how a chemical attack works and how you need to act in order to survive.

A chemical weapon is a munition used to intentionally cause death or harm through its toxic properties.

In the event of a chemical attack, the algorithm of action may differ depending on where the person is. If you are outside, you need to leave the affected area and find a safe place. It is important to move quickly, but not to run, so that your breathing remains slow. If you are indoors, minimize the airflow from the outside to the inside of your house. If you’re in a car, pull over to the side of the road and close all the vents that bring in outside air.

Means of Delivery and Use of Chemical Weapons
air bombs, guided and unguided missiles, mines, torpedoes, land mines, artillery shells, grenades

The symptoms and the algorithm of action depend on the type of chemical warfare agent. Among the most well-known are sarin, chlorine, ammonia, mustard gas, and white phosphorus.


Sarin is a human-made chemical warfare agent (CWA) that paralyzes the nervous system. In 2013, the Russians used sarin in attacks in Syria.

Physical properties:

– a clear, colorless, and flavorless liquid with no odor in its purest form;
– can evaporate into a vapor (gas).

People can be exposed:

– through the respiratory system and skin;
– clothes contaminated with sarin is also a threat because the vapors from it are poisonous to the respiratory system.

How it works:

Causes heart failure and can result in insufficient air entering the lungs. May cause death within minutes.

Attention! Sarin is heavier than air, so it will sink to low-lying areas, posing a greater risk of exposure for people who are close to the ground (basements, lowlands, sewers, etc.).

Symptoms of exposure:

– eye movement is painful, pinpoint pupils;
– fast heartbeat/atypically slowed heartbeat of less than 60 beats per minute;
– labored breathing or its temporary cessation;
– weakness, headache;
– nausea, vomiting;
– runny nose, increased salivation, excessive sweating;
– disorientation, loss of consciousness;
– convulsions and paralysis.

How to protect yourself

Sarin affects the human body in mere minutes, so start acting as soon as possible. Sarin will have less of an effect on the body if you start acting immediately.

If an explosion occurs near the house

Immediately close the doors, windows, vents, and any other openings through which contaminated air can enter. If you have a gas mask or at least safety goggles, be sure to wear them.

If an explosion occurs when you’re outside

Be sure to quickly leave the zone of chemical contamination (do not run!), moving against the wind. The shelter should be located on an elevation (e.g., the upper floors of houses); a car with closed windows can also serve as a shelter. Slow down your breathing to inhale less toxic fumes of sarin.

In case of evacuation after a chemical attack

Be sure to bring a first-aid kit; your clothes should cover your body, so no exposed areas of skin remain.

If you were exposed to sarin

– Remove the contaminated clothing as soon as possible.
– Cut off any clothing that must be pulled over the head so that sarin vapors do not enter the respiratory system. Undressed from the top to the bottom. Seal the contaminated clothes in a plastic bag.
– Do not eat or drink anything.
– Wash your skin thoroughly with soap and water, and rinse your eyes with plain water.
– Do not touch surfaces that may be contaminated.
– If there are people who were exposed to sarin, do not give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to them. Seek medical help from the military or Ukraine’s State Emergency Service.

Personal protective equipment:

– gas mask;
– anti-dust respirator;
– a thick cloth mask (or several folded cotton-gauze bandages).

Diazepam and atropine are antidotes that are necessary for urgent pre-medical care.


Physical properties:

In its pure form, chlorine is a green gas with an unpleasant, suffocating smell.

Symptoms of exposure:

– acute pain behind the sternum;
– dry cough;
– vomiting;
– shortness of breath;
– coordination impairment;
– watery eyes.

How to protect yourself:

If there is a toxic release of chlorine, you need to leave the contaminated area perpendicular to the wind direction.

Attention! Chlorine is heavier than air, вit sinks to low-lying areas, basements, and tunnels, so use the upper floors of high-rise buildings and leave the contaminated location by the elevated areas.

If it’s not possible to leave the indoors:

– tightly close the doors, windows, and all possible openings in the room;
– wear personal protective equipment that includes gas masks, respirators, and cotton-gauze bandages saturated with a 2% sodium solution.


Physical properties:

Has liquid and gaseous states (with a pungent odor).

How it works:

In its liquid state, ammonia can frostbite the skin, leaving burn-like blisters. Inhalation of ammonia vapors can result in burns of the nasopharynx and trachea, cause edema and severe damage to the respiratory tract. Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in the air damages eyesight and can lead to blindness.

Symptoms of mild poisoning:

– sore, dry or tickly throat;
– hoarseness;
– sneezing and coughing;
– mild nausea

Symptoms of severe poisoning:

– shortness of breath;
– a spasm of the vocal cords that makes speaking difficult;
– coughing fits;
– vomiting;
– dizziness;
– sweating;
– redness of the face, watery eyes, eyelid swelling.

How to protect yourself:

In the case of a toxic release of ammonia, you need to leave the zone of chemical contamination in a direction perpendicular to the wind direction.

Attention! Because ammonia is lighter than air, you need to seek shelter in basements and lower floors.

If it’s not possible to leave the zone of chemical contamination::

– close windows and doors, seal the vents (preferably with a cloth soaked in citric acid or a weak solution of vinegar or water), and remain in shelters, basements, or apartments (houses);
– if you stay in an apartment (or house), it’s preferable to go to the bathroom and turn on the shower on a fine spray (water absorbs ammonia from the air); don’t turn on ventilation (it draws in contaminated air).

There is currently no antidote for chlorine or ammonia exposure.

Water remains the best solution. Medical treatment includes the quick removal of the toxic substance in order to provide supportive medical care.

Mustard gas

Sulfur mustard is a type of chemical warfare agent that causes blistering of the skin and mucous membranes on contact.
It was widely used for chemical attacks during World War I.

Physical properties (can have 3 states):

– gaseous;
– liquid;
– solid.

It usually has the distinct odor of mustard or garlic.

Sulfur mustard vapor can be carried over long distances. It can stay in the environment for 1-2 days, and even weeks or months under low temperatures. Mustard gas exposure can have a cumulative effect.

Symptoms of exposure:

– redness, skin itching, the appearance of yellow blisters;
– pain, and swelling of the eyes, tearing, light sensitivity; severe exposure may lead to severe pain or blindness lasting up to 10 days;
– runny nose, sneezing, hoarseness, shortness of breath, and coughing;
– abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, nausea, and vomiting.

How to protect yourself:

– Leave the zone of contamination. If the explosion happened outside, you need to reach an elevated area because mustard gas is heavier than air and will sink to low-lying areas.
– Remove contaminated clothing by cutting it off.
– Wash the affected areas of skin thoroughly with water. If mustard gas gets into your eyes, rinse your eyes with plain water.
– If you have ingested sulfur mustard, do not induce vomiting.

White phosphorus

White phosphorus is used to produce munitions that create smoke screens that mask the movement of troops and targets.

During the Russian-Ukrainian war, Russian troops used phosphorus bombs, which were white phosphorus-filled ammunition. The substance easily ignites upon exposure to oxygen.

Physical properties:

– a wax-like chemical substance with a distinct garlic odor that can be yellowish or colorless.

Symptoms of exposure:

– severe burns and deep skin wounds;
– bone and bone marrow damage;
– tissue necrosis.

If phosphorous is ingested:

– severe mouth burning;
– vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain.

How to protect yourself:

– Do not touch the phosphorus with your bare hands.
– Remove clothing that has phosphorus particles stuck to it as quickly as possible.
– Block the access of oxygen to the damaged areas of the body by moistening the skin and, preferably, removing phosphorus particles under water with tweezers or a non-sharp object.
– Rinse the affected areas of the skin with a solution of baking soda or cold water. Intensive rinsing is the most effective way to remove the substance from the skin.
– Cover burns with wet bandages soaked in saline. You can also submerge the damaged areas in cold water or cover them with a wet cloth.
– The removed phosphorus should be placed in a container with cold water. This will reduce the risk to people around you.
– Avoid using ointments containing fat or oil.
– If you have the opportunity, seek medical help immediately.

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