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Why Are Ukrainian Arms Dumps Going Up in Flames?

The destruction of a large ammunition depot last month underlines the vulnerability of the country’s lightly protected stockpiles of aging materiel.

9 October 2017

A huge fireball lit up the sky on the night of 26 September at an outdoor arms depot in Kalynivka, in the central Vinnytsia region. A series of blasts and fires destroyed about 32,000 metric tons of artillery shells.


Together with the similarly catastrophic destruction of a second arms depot last spring, the loss of material represented the worst blow to Ukraine’s combat capability in the conflict with separatists in the east that has been going on since 2014, Security and Defense Council secretary Oleksandr Turchynov said in late September, RFE/RL reports.



Some officials blamed the blasts on sabotage, although Military Prosecutor Anatoliy Matios on 28 September denied reports about “subversive groups” operating in the region, the Kyiv Post reports.


Sabotage was also blamed for the explosion in Balaklia last spring, in which one person was killed, and two other ammo-dump explosions in the past two years, RFE says, adding that officials suggest Russia was involved.


The SBU intelligence service believes a drone dropped a Russian thermite hand grenade on the arms dump at Balaklia, resulting in the destruction of 70,000 metric tons of munitions. The dump in eastern Ukraine, said to be one of the world’s largest, was also reportedly attacked by drones in December 2015. On that occasion soldiers succeeded in extinguishing fires started by the grenades.


No deaths were reported in the Kalynivka blasts. About 30,000 people were evacuated within a 10-kilometer radius of the dump, and thousands of houses sustained roof damage or broken windows, the Kyiv Post wrote.



  • Unofficial sources claim more than 150 arms depots are scattered across Ukraine, many hastily built when Soviet troops began pulling out of Central Europe in the in the early 1990s. Most of the sites are open to the elements, Unian writes.


  • Inspectors who visited the Kalynivka dump four times said little could be done to prevent accidents, Unian cites the newsmagazine Tyzhden as reporting.


  • Some media reports said the fires at the dump did not reach sites where missiles for Uragan multiple rocket launchers are stored, preventing even greater destruction.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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