Pandemic and Russian threats prompt more Swedes to prepare for doomsday scenarios

Recent threats from Russian President Putin and the COVID pandemic are showing the world how swiftly society can grind to a halt. In Sweden, with its bid to join NATO and the war in Ukraine, citizens are being encouraged to get ready just in case. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Speaking of nuclear weapons, recent threats from Russia's President Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons have sent a shudder across the world, conjuring visions of Armageddon and nuclear fallout, echoes of the Cold War.

    The COVID pandemic certainly showed the world how swiftly society can grind to a halt. Most people managed to survive that, but how would they cope with other catastrophes. In Sweden, with its bid to join NATO and the war in Ukraine, citizens are being encouraged to get ready just in case.

    As special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Sweden, what's called prepping has gone mainstream.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Sweden is one of the Sweden is one of the last places you would expect Armageddon. It hasn't been at war for over 200 years, but the state is urging citizens to prepare for catastrophe.

  • Person:

    Although Sweden is safer than many other countries, there are still threats to our security and a dependence. Everyone who lives in Sweden shares a collective responsibility for our country's security and safety. If you are prepared, you are contributing to improving the ability of the country as a whole to cope with a major strain.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    One of the fundamental differences between the United States and Sweden is that, out of necessity, Americans are much more self-reliant.

    There is a social contract here, and in return for paying some of the highest taxes in the world, the Swedes and other Scandinavians expect the state to take care of them from the cradle to the grave. But the COVID pandemic exposed the flaws in that system and undermined public trust.

    What's more, the prospects of the war in Ukraine spilling across borders into other countries has accelerated the need for people here to be more self-sufficient.

  • Lotta Dalenius, Prepper:

    Lovely axe.

    I want to survive and I want my kids to survive. And I will do anything I can to protect both me and them.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Lotta Dalenius is preparing for emergencies ranging from a power outage to doomsday.

  • Lotta Dalenius:

    We have people from Ukraine here in our little village. It's good to be reminded that you can't take everything for granted all the time. You have to just be prepared that things can happen.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    In tranquil Southern Sweden, fear of war has increased since the nation signed up to NATO.

  • Lotta Dalenius:

    Of course, we should be frightened of Russia. They have a frame of mind to bring back the old empire.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    If disaster strikes, Lotta will either say, Armageddon out of here and head to her cabin on the west coast, or grab her emergency kit.

  • Lotta Dalenius:

    This is just some of the good to have a nice to have and some must-haves. You will have to have a real good knife. You can use it for everything, protecting yourself, or if you want to make food or have to build a shelter or whatever.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    What is that thing?

  • Lotta Dalenius:

    It's a small kitchen. There is the frying pan.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    It's like a Russian doll.

  • Lotta Dalenius:

    Yes, it is. Here, you have the — to make your coffee and stuff in here. You put your gas burner in here, and then you can just boil coffee.

    It is basically outdoor stuff. You don't need special prepping stuff.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    There is a substantial difference between Swedish small-town practitioners and American YouTuber The Sensible Prepper.

  • Person:

    Without rule of law, if things really kind of go sideways, there is a lot of people out there that become desperate. They want food or they want to do whatever. Or they're just nefarious and they just want to cause trouble. I just would highly recommend, guys, that you stock up on ammo now.

  • Fredrik Qvanstrom, Prepping Supplies Store Owner:

    Yes, we have freeze-dried peppers, 15 year shelf life. And then we have, like, butter with long shelf life, apricot jam.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Tins of peas, curried rice, but no ammo, not a single round in the booming online prepping store run by Fredrik Qvarnstrom.

  • Fredrik Qvanstrom:

    Every time something happens in the world, like there is a war or a pandemic or terrorist bombings, and things like that, sales go up.

    We have a lot of water purification equipment. There are a lot of lakes and rivers in Sweden. So, if you purify the water with some kind of equipment, it's — the water is drinkable. When I started, I believed the normal customer would be a man living in the outskirts, far away from the cities. But it's not like that.

    I have people all over Sweden. A lot of them are living inside the cities, like in flats.

  • Martin Svennberg, Prepping Blogger:

    People tend to remember those typical preppers with guns surviving in the woods. But I am not one of those crazy preppers. I'm just an ordinary man wanting to make sure that my family can live a good life.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Martin Svennberg is heading to one of his food stashes in the basement of a Stockholm apartment block that doubles as a bomb shelter.

    What are you preparing for?

  • Martin Svennberg:

    Well, I don't know. Everything. A crisis can be several different things. It can be war. It can be a pandemic, obviously.

    But it can also be being out of a job, or it can be to — I also prepare for inflation. So this is just a buffer. So, if something happens, I actually have time to adjust my way of life or adjust something and then consume the buffer.

    Here, we have sugar and salt. All these boxes are filled with baking supplies, dry — powdered milk, flour as well.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Are you being hysterical?

  • Martin Svennberg:

    No, I'm not hysterical. But it has become a way of life for me to be prepared in different ways. But I don't have any guns.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Earlier this summer, Svennberg spent 24 hours confined to his apartment without electricity. It was an attempt to teach his 16-year-old son, Maximilian, how to survive without the conveniences of modern life.

  • Maximilian Svennberg, Trainee Prepper:

    It was fun, but, yes, it became boring after a while. It was kind of difficult for me, because I'm kind of addicted to my phone. And without electricity and, like, charging, it was pretty difficult to sit and do nothing, because I'm not used to that.

  • Filip Arnberg, Director, National Center For Disaster Psychiatry:

    I wouldn't go so far to say that there's an increased level of fear in the public society.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    If disaster strikes, the Swedish government will turn to psychiatrist Filip Arnberg for advice on how to handle the country's collective mental state.

  • Filip Arnberg:

    In all crisis management, even when it comes to human behavior and our psychology, we have to realize that most of the preparations that we can do is are things that we have to do before the crisis.

  • Martin Svennberg:

    Flour. A lot of flour.

  • Filip Arnberg:

    So I think, overall, it is a good idea to increase the awareness among the public.

  • Martin Svennberg:

    Something to make the water taste good.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Back in Lotta Dalenius's house, that means having a well-stocked freezer.

  • Lotta Dalenius:

    Butter, you buy it on sale, and then you freeze it. Very good.

    Stuff like that. I bake my own bread and put it in here. You have to have, like cake, as well. If you have to flee from here, then you can't bring all this stuff. You have to take what's important. I will take my axe. If the end of the world is coming, well, take a glass of wine and just relax. We're not going to make it anyway.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The main takeaway is the hope that the day preppers are getting ready for never comes.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Sweden.

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