30,000 evacuated after 'sabotage' blasts at Ukraine arms depot

Smoke and flames rising over a weapons storage site, which contained some 83,000 tonnes of munitions, in the Vinnytsia region in Ukraine. A fire broke out at the depot on Tuesday night, causing artillery shells at the facility to explode one after an
Smoke and flames rising over a weapons storage site, which contained some 83,000 tonnes of munitions, in the Vinnytsia region in Ukraine. A fire broke out at the depot on Tuesday night, causing artillery shells at the facility to explode one after another, police said.PHOTO: REUTERS

KALYNIVKA (Ukraine) • The Ukrainian authorities evacuated more than 30,000 people yesterday from the central Vinnytsia region, after a huge arms depot caught fire and set off explosions in what prosecutors said was a possible act of "sabotage".

It was the second major incident affecting a large Ukrainian weapons storage site this year.

Kiev blamed a deadly fire in March on Moscow and its Russian-backed insurgents fighting Ukrainian forces in the war-racked east - a charge both parties denied.

The military prosecutor's office of the pro-Western former Soviet republic said it was opening an investigation into possible "sabotage at a military facility".

Immediate reports mentioned no fatalities and only two minor injuries from the blasts at a facility the Ukrainian military said stored some 83,000 tonnes of munitions.

Military spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the arms depot was "one of the country's largest".

An AFP reporter said explosions in the town of Kalynivka in the Vinnytsia region, located some 175km south-west of Kiev, could be heard every five to 10 minutes, and that streets of the town of 20,000 were nearly deserted.

"People suffered heavy damage," a resident who identified herself only as Antonina told AFP. "Some homes had their windows and doors completely blown out," she said.

President Petro Poroshenko underscored the seriousness of the situation by telling his top military brass and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman to report to him directly after visiting the site.

Mr Groysman said in televised remarks from the scene: "This is the arsenal of the Ukrainian army, and I think it was no accident that it was destroyed."

The military General Staff later issued a statement saying an initial inspection showed that "around 70 per cent of the storage facility was not damaged by the fire".

The army's high command wrote on Facebook that the fire broke out at around 10pm on Tuesday. Police spokesman Yaroslav Trakalo told the Pravda news outlet the flames caused artillery shells in the facility to explode one after another.

The police said over 30,000 people had been evacuated from areas surrounding the storage facility. "In addition, 180 patients were evacuated from Vinnytsia area hospitals," Ukraine's Emergency Ministry said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2017, with the headline '30,000 evacuated after 'sabotage' blasts at Ukraine arms depot'. Print Edition | Subscribe