Arms depot blasts spark fire, panic

Resident Valentyna Petrenko, 52, looks out of a broken window at her house near the scene of explosions at an ammunition depot in the Ukraine
Resident Valentyna Petrenko, 52, looks out of a broken window at her house near the scene of explosions at an ammunition depot in the Ukraine
Image: Reuters

More than 12,000 people were evacuated after ammunition stored at an arms depot in northern Ukraine began exploding early on Tuesday and set off a huge fire, authorities said.

Security services said they were investigating possible sabotage in the incident at a defence ministry depot near the village of Druzhba, 135km northeast of Kiev.

Emergency services said they had no information on any deaths, and regional authorities said more than 60 people required medical help for smoke inhalation.

Grey and white smoke rose up from the horizon on Tuesday morning, while explosions were going off every one to two minutes.

A defence ministry official said the fire was raging in five storage areas, covering about 10% of the area of about 700ha.

The fire and explosions began in the early hours of the morning at the No 6 depot, the emergency services said.

Four explosions went off in different parts of the depot before a fire broke out, Ukraine’s general staff deputy head Rodion Tymoshenko said, suggesting it could be sabotage, a thinly veiled jab at Russia.

Kiev forces have been fighting pro-Russian separatists in the east since 2014.

More than 12,000 people were evacuated from the area at risk, emergency services said.

President Petro Poroshenko called a meeting of security forces heads and promised to give residents all the necessary help, his spokesperson said.

Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman travelled to the scene and chaired a meeting of emergency services officials.

“The main thing is to preserve people’s lives. Whatever’s destroyed, we will rebuild,” he wrote on Facebook.

Authorities closed the airspace in a 30km radius around the site, as well as rail and road traffic.

More than 100 firefighters worked at the scene, while the defence ministry sent in a firefighting tank.

The ministry said the intensity of the explosions had lessened and the current explosions were from rifle ammunition, not shells.

Tymoshenko denied a claim by the emergencies services that the depot contained 88,000 tons of ammunition, saying the real total was a secret.

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