Ukraine ammunition storage facility fire causes evacuation of 20,000
24 March 2017
Around 20,000 people have been evacuated from the area around the Balakliia ammunition storage facility in the eastern Kharkiv region of Ukraine after it caught fire on the morning of March 23. Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak accused the Russian military or its separatist rebel proxies of setting off the fire, possibly via a drone attack.
Everyone within a 10 km radius of the dump is being evacuated, the Interfax news agency quoted an aide to President Petro Poroshenko as saying. Around 600 firefighters struggled to douse the flames and explosions at the tank and artillery ammunition storage site, sending clouds of thick grey smoke into the sky.
The Balaklia facility, which held about 138,000 tonnes of ammunition, covers 370 hectares and is located about 100 km from the frontline of Ukraine's war against Russian-backed separatists. It was guarded by around 1,000 soldiers, some of whom reportedly heard the sound of an aircraft just before the explosions.
Military spokesman Oleksander Motuzyanyk said security around other bases was being reinforced. Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman was due to fly to the area.
A third of the base is still burning and all airspace within 50 km has been closed off, Poltorak said, adding that the attack would not significantly affect Ukraine's military capacity.
Saboteurs previously tried to destroy the same base using drones in 2015, another military spokesman, Yuzef Venskovich, told the 112 TV channel.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict between Ukraine and the separatist rebels since 2014, and a ceasefire agreed in Minsk in 2015 is routinely violated.