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Ukraine ammunition depot explosions cause mass evacuation

29 September 2017

A large fire at an ammunition depot in central Ukraine triggered a series of massive explosions on September 27, prompting the evacuation of about 30,000 people. The depot is situated near the town of Kalynivka in Vynnytsya Oblast, 200 km south west of the capital, Kiev. During the night, a military base near the ammunition dump caught fire, causing officials to shut off the facility’s electricity and gas supply.

Stock image
Stock image

Airspace around the site was closed and train traffic diverted. According to the Defence Ministry, 83,000 tonnes of munitions were kept at the depot including rockets, tank and artillery shells.

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, called for an urgent meeting of the country’s top officials to discuss the incident. Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said the cause was due to “external factors”. A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Security Service told Unian news that the fire was being treated as a deliberate case of sabotage.

This latest incident comes just seven months after a similar incident in Balakliya near Kharkiv, Ukraine. The March 23 munitions blast prompted the evacuation of 20,000 people—an incident later blamed on a Russian drone attack.  In December 2015, drones dropped 14 thermite grenades on the Balakliya facility but Ukrainian soldiers extinguished the subsequent fire before it could take hold.

Two other attacks on ammo dumps took place in February 2017 and in October 2015, an explosion at an ammo dump in Svatovo storing 3,000 tonnes of munitions damaged 1,700 nearby homes.

Ukraine and Russia are currently embroiled in a bitter border dispute that, in addition to these alleged attacks of sabotage, has seen targeted cyberattacks on Ukraine’s power grid.

Prosecutors have launched an investigation into the Vynnytsya blaze. Chief military prosecutor Anatoly Matios told journalists that the site’s alarm system was out of order and its security team lacked sufficient manpower and up-to-date equipment. Security staff were poorly paid and, for the most part, elderly, he said.

Ukraine’s military capabilities had been seriously affected by the destruction of ammunition depots over the last two years, Matios said.

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