KIEV, Sept 27, 2017 (BSS/AFP) – A fire tore through a major munitions depot in Ukraine on Tuesday, setting off artillery shells, forcing the closure of airspace for 50 kilometres around and the evacuation of residents, officials and reports said.
The fire broke out at around 10pm (2000 GMT) near the town of Kalynivka in the central Vinnytsia region, the Ukrainian army high command said on Facebook.
It was the second major incident affecting a Ukrainian weapons depot this year. And while the cause was not immediately clear, military authorities were investigating the possibility of sabotage or negligence.
Police spokesman Yaroslav Trakalo said the fire had caused artillery shells at the facility to explode one after the other, news outlet Pravda said on its website.
It was not immediately clear how extensive the damage from the explosions was but local media described the depot as one of the largest in the country.
Local authorities said they had ordered the evacuation of Kalynivka and two neighbouring villages, while urging people not to panic.
“Airspace has been closed in a radius of 50 kilometres (30 miles) around the area of the fire,” deputy infrastructure minister Yuriy Lavrenyuk said on Facebook.
Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman arrived at the site shortly after midnight to coordinate the emergency response, his office said.
The city of Vinnytsia, the administrative centre of the region, was not in danger, its mayor said.
Some road and rail traffic in the region had been affected by the blast.
In March, at least one person was killed when an arms depot exploded in the town of Balakliya, in the east.
Authorities at the time pointed the finger at Moscow and pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukrainian troops in the east, and said they were considering the possibility that the fire was caused by explosives dropped from a drone.
Vinnytsia lies around 200 kilometres west of Kiev, far away from the area where Ukrainian troops have been fighting pro-Russian rebels since 2014 in a conflict that has left more than 10,000 people dead.
Kiev and many Western countries accuse Moscow of supporting the insurgents, which Russia vehemently denies.
The conflict broke out after Moscow annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, soon after the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych following mass protests in Kiev.