The haunting wail of air raid sirens are now a familiar part of everyday life in Ukraine, and while those watching events from abroad may assume this sound sends everyone running to a shelter, this is far from the case.

What does an air raid alert actually mean?

Although loud, dramatic and audible to everyone, an air raid alert itself contains very little actual information about what’s happening.

The most that can be deciphered from the sound of sirens blaring in a city such as Kyiv is that there is either an incoming threat or the possibility of one.

In relatively safer parts of Ukraine, away from the frontlines, such as the capital, in the majority of cases an air raid alert doesn’t end up in an actual Russian attack.

How do people know whether to take shelter or not?

Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, a cottage industry of Telegram channels has formed that provide people in Ukraine with the extra information about air raid alerts that can’t be conveyed in a siren.

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Some of these are official government and local authority channels, but many are run by an incredibly dedicated army of volunteers.

Rather than run to the nearest shelter, the first thing most people in Ukraine do when they hear an air raid siren is to check Telegram for more precise information.

The Monitor channel, for example, can warn if there are kamikaze drones cruising through Ukrainian airspace…

Or if a bunch of cruise missiles are in the sky and heading your way…

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Latest from the Institute for the Study of War.

So is there always something dangerous in the skies when an air raid siren sounds?

Not always, and one type of alert in particular has become a real frustration during the course of the war.

The Russian MiG-31 is a supersonic interceptor aircraft that is capable of carrying Kinzhal ballistic missiles.

Because these missiles travel at very high speeds and have a long range, every time a MiG-31 takes off from a Russian military base near Ukraine, an air raid alert is issued across the entire country, sometimes lasting for hours.

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In the vast majority of cases, these alerts do not result in a Russian missile attack.

So people just ignore it and carry on?

Many do, but a lot of businesses in Ukraine have a safety policy of closing during air raid alerts so the warnings triggered by MiG-31s are highly disruptive to the Ukrainian economy.

Russia has learned that it can shut down a large chunk of Ukrainian business simply by putting one MiG-31 in the air and leaving it to fly around for a while.

Is Ukraine doing anything to fix this?

President Zelensky has instructed the Ministry of Defense to find a solution to the long-lasting air raid alerts due to MiG-31 flights, saying that vast improvements in Ukraine’s air defenses “allows us to somewhat modernize the response without unnecessarily shutting the country down.”

But Ukraine’s Air Force which is in charge of monitoring threats, says that for now it will continue assessing the MiG-31 take-offs in the same way.

Colonel Yuriy Ihnat, spokesperson for the Air Force Command, said in an interview on Wednesday: “Sometimes we have intel that the MiG took off carrying a missile, sometimes – without one, and sometimes there is no such intelligence at all.

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“We have no right to take risks here.”

He added that this information will continue to be raised in the current manner and as for what alert is issued, this “will be decided at the highest level.”

Although they are working on a solution, details have yet to be announced. Ihnat said that the relevant agencies are looking into it, but it is “no easy task.”

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