Ukrainian authorities suspect sabotage is behind explosions that tore through an ammunition depot early Tuesday, sending fireballs into the sky and causing the evacuation of over 12,000 people.
No casualties were reported at the depot 176 kilometres east of the capital of Kyiv. Explosions were happening at a rate of two to three a second at one stage, according to the Defence Ministry.
Ukraine has in the past pointed the finger at Russia for such incidents as relations between the two countries have plunged following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and support for separatist forces in the Donbass region.
Without providing evidence, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister linked the explosions to a decision pending in Istanbul this week to allow Ukraine to establish an independent national church, something Russia fiercely opposes.
A Reuters witness later saw powerful explosions continuing at the depot that shattered windows in surrounding village houses. Meanwhile, explosions could also be heard in a nearby wood where some ammunition appeared to have come down.
The fact explosions were set off at intervals in different parts of the depot pointed to sabotage, a Defence Ministry spokesperson said.
“Two simultaneous explosions, and after five minutes two more explosions [in another part of the depot] suggest it was military sabotage,” Rodion Tymoshenko said at a news briefing.
Smoke rises after the explosion at the ammunition depot of a military base on Tuesday near the town of Ichnya, about 170 kilometres east of Kyiv. (Vlad Musienko /Prime Minister Service Pool Photo via AP)
Authorities closed airspace in a 30-kilometre radius and suspended road and rail transport. The emergency services reported that gas and electricity supplies to the area had been disrupted.
“The rumble started at 3 a.m. It rumbled three times, then I woke up and ran to my family and started waking them up,” said Valentyna Petrenko, who lives in the nearby village of Druzhba.
“We crept into the basement. We took documents, papers, everything we could, blankets, pillows and stayed in the basement.”
Not the first of its kind
Hundreds of people and equipment were deployed to the site, a statement by emergency services said, joined by Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman and the head of Ukraine’s armed forces, Viktor Muzhenko. President Petro Poroshenko had called for a report.
Several large fires have hit ammunition and weapons depots in recent years, an additional drain on Ukraine’s military. Fighting between Ukrainian troops and Moscow-backed separatist rebels has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014.
A local resident talks with police and national guard officers in the village of Parafiivka near the explosions. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)
Last year, massive explosions at a military depot in the Vynnytsya region, 270 kilometres west of Kyiv, forced authorities to tell 24,000 people to leave.
In other news, a cyberattack has affected the internet services of Ukraine’s state fiscal service since Monday evening, the service said Tuesday. It has disrupted programs used by millions of people for procedures such as filing taxes.
A statement on the organization’s website identified it as a denial-of-service attack.
Ukraine has suffered a number of high-profile hacking attacks in recent years that have targeted critical infrastructure, including the electricity grid or institutions such as the Finance Ministry.
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