Ukraine suspects sabotage after ammo depot explosions

DRUZHBA, Ukraine, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Ukrainian authorities suspect sabotage lay behind explosions that tore through an ammunition depot in the early hours of Tuesday, sending fireballs into the sky and causing more than 12,000 people to be evacuated.

No casualties were reported at the depot, located about 110 miles east of the capital, Kiev. Explosions were happening at a rate of two to three a second at one stage, according to the defense ministry.

Ukraine has in the past pointed the finger at Russia for such types of 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, which Russia fiercely opposes.

17 PHOTOS
Explosion at Ukrainian defense ministry ammunition depot
See Gallery
Explosion at Ukrainian defense ministry ammunition depot
Smoke and flame rise from the Ukrainian defence ministry ammunition depot explosion in the eastern Chernihiv region, Ukraine in this still image taken from a video on October 9, 2018. REUTERS TV/via REUTERS
A local resident looks on in the settlement of Druzhba, located near the scene of explosions at a defence ministry ammunition depot in the eastern Chernigov region, Ukraine October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A local resident talks with police and national guard officers in the village of Parafiivka, located near the scene of explosions at the Ukrainian defence ministry ammunition depot in the eastern Chernihiv region, Russia October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
Local resident Valentyna Petrenko, 52, looks out of a broken window of her house in the settlement of Druzhba, located near the scene of explosions at a defence ministry ammunition depot in the eastern Chernigov region, Ukraine October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
A car is left abandoned on a road in the settlement of Druzhba, located near the scene of explosions at a defence ministry ammunition depot in the eastern Chernigov region, Ukraine, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Evacuees look on in the village of Parafiivka, located near the scene of explosions at a defence ministry ammunition depot in the eastern Chernigov region, Ukraine October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Vladyslav Musiienko/Pool
Local resident Valentyna Petrenko, 52, shows a broken window of her house in the settlement of Druzhba, located near the scene of explosions at a defence ministry ammunition depot in the eastern Chernihiv region, Ukraine October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
Smoke rises after a fire and explosions hit the Ukrainian defence ministry ammunition depot in the eastern Chernihiv region, Ukraine October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Vladyslav Musiienko/Pool
A woman, who was evacuated after arms depot explosion near the town of Ichnya, north of Ukraine, more than 170 kilometres (100 miles) from Kiev on October 9, 2018, sits in a temporary evacuation center organized in kindergarten in the town of Pryluky. - Some 12,000 people were evacuated after ammunition stored at an arms depot in northern Ukraine began exploding early Tuesday and set off a huge fire, authorities said. Emergency services said they had no information on any deaths or injuries in the incident at a defence ministry depot near the village of Druzhba, around 135 kilometres (84 miles) northeast of Kiev. (Photo by Genya SAVILOV / AFP) (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises after a fire and explosions hit the Ukrainian defence ministry ammunition depot in the eastern Chernihiv region, Ukraine October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
A damaged fence of a residential house is pictured in the settlement of Druzhba, located near the scene of explosions at a defence ministry ammunition depot in the eastern Chernihiv region, Ukraine October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko listens to Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak during a meeting with representatives of security services on explosions at an ammunition depot in the eastern Chernihiv region, in Kiev, Ukraine October 9, 2018. Mykhailo Markiv/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Smoke rises after a fire and explosions hit the Ukrainian defence ministry ammunition depot in the eastern Chernigov region, Ukraine October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Vladyslav Musiienko/Pool
Smoke rises after a fire and explosions hit the Ukrainian defence ministry ammunition depot in the eastern Chernigov region, Ukraine October 9, 2018. (Photo by Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People, which were evacuated after arms depot explosion near the town of Ichnya, north of Ukraine, more than 170 kilometres (100 miles) from Kiev on October 9, 2018, sit in a temporary evacuation center organized in kindergarten in the town of Pryluky. - Some 12,000 people were evacuated after ammunition stored at an arms depot in northern Ukraine began exploding early Tuesday and set off a huge fire, authorities said. Emergency services said they had no information on any deaths or injuries in the incident at a defence ministry depot near the village of Druzhba, around 135 kilometres (84 miles) northeast of Kiev. (Photo by Genya SAVILOV / AFP) (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents displaced by explosions at the Ukrainian defence ministry ammunition depot in the eastern Chernihiv region at an evacuation center in the village of Parafiivka, Ukraine October 9, 2018. (Photo by Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People, which were evacuated after arms depot explosion near the town of Ichnya, north of Ukraine, more than 170 kilometres (100 miles) from Kiev on October 9, 2018, react in a temporary evacuation center organized in kindergarten in the town of Pryluky. - Some 12,000 people were evacuated after ammunition stored at an arms depot in northern Ukraine began exploding early Tuesday and set off a huge fire, authorities said. Emergency services said they had no information on any deaths or injuries in the incident at a defence ministry depot near the village of Druzhba, around 135 kilometres (84 miles) northeast of Kiev. (Photo by Genya SAVILOV / AFP) (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

A Reuters witness later saw powerful explosions continuing at the depot. The blasts shattered windows in surrounding village houses while explosions could also be heard in a nearby wood where some ammunition appeared to have come down.

The fact that explosions were set off at intervals in different parts of the depot pointed to sabotage, a defense ministry's spokesman said.

"Two simultaneous explosions, and after five minutes two more explosions (in another part of the depot) suggest it was military sabotage," Defence Ministry spokesman Rodion Tymoshenko said at a press briefing.

Authorities closed airspace in a 30 km 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, a resident 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."

Hundreds of people and equipment were deployed to the site, a statement by the 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.

Last year, massive explosions at a military depot in the Vynnytsya region, 270 km west of Kiev, forced the authorities to evacuate 24,000 people.

20 PHOTOS
Military depot in the Vinnytsia, Ukraine explodes in 2017
See Gallery
Military depot in the Vinnytsia, Ukraine explodes in 2017

Smoke and flames rise over a warehouse storing ammunition for multiple rocket launcher systems at a military base in the town of Kalynivka in Vinnytsia region, Ukraine September 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

Smoke and flames rise over a warehouse storing ammunition for multiple rocket launcher systems at a military base in the town of Kalynivka in Vinnytsia region, Ukraine September 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yurii Basiuk)

A resident evacuated from villages located near a military ammunitions depot that exploded is seen in the school gymnasium in Vinnytsia, Ukraine September 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

Smoke and flames rise over a warehouse storing ammunition for multiple rocket launcher systems at a military base in the town of Kalynivka in Vinnytsia region, Ukraine September 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

A destroyed house is seen near the warehouse storing ammunition for multiple rocket launcher systems at a military base in Kalynivka, Vinnytsia region, Ukraine September 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

Residents evacuated from villages located near the warehouse storing ammunition for multiple rocket launcher systems at a military base that exploded are seen in the school gymnasium in Vinnytsia, Ukraine September 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) ride on the road as smoke rise over a warehouse storing ammunition for multiple rocket launcher systems at a military base in the town of Kalynivka in Vinnytsia region, Ukraine September 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

Local residents walk to the evacuation bus, near the warehouse storing ammunition for multiple rocket launcher systems at a military base in Kalynivka, Vinnytsia region, Ukraine September 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) ride on the road as smoke rise over a warehouse storing ammunition for multiple rocket launcher systems at a military base in the town of Kalynivka in Vinnytsia region, Ukraine September 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

A destroyed car is seen as National Guards patrol the area near the warehouse storing ammunition for multiple rocket launcher systems at a military base in Kalynivka, Vinnytsia region, Ukraine September 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) ride on the road as smoke rise over a warehouse storing ammunition for multiple rocket launcher systems at a military base in the town of Kalynivka in Vinnytsia region, Ukraine September 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

Ammunition depots in the town of Kalynivka in Vinnytsia region caught fire on Tuesday evening, which has been followed by explosions of bombs, shells and other types of ammunition. After the first explosions were reported at 22:00 local time on Tuesday, September 26. more than 27 thous. inhabitants were evacuated out of the caution area. (Photo by Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
An elderly man and his dog wait to be evacuated, September 27, 2017. Ammunition depots in the town of Kalynivka in Vinnytsia region caught fire on Tuesday evening, which has been followed by explosions of bombs, shells and other types of ammunition. After the first explosions were reported at 22:00 local time on Tuesday, September 26. more than 27 thous. inhabitants were evacuated out of the caution area. (Photo by Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Emergency workers feed two kids before the evacuation, September 27, 2017. Ammunition depots in the town of Kalynivka in Vinnytsia region caught fire on Tuesday evening, which has been followed by explosions of bombs, shells and other types of ammunition. After the first explosions were reported at 22:00 local time on Tuesday, September 26. more than 27 thous. inhabitants were evacuated out of the caution area. (Photo by Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The damaged house in a nearby village of Pavlivka is seen burnt following an explosion at an ammunition depot in Kalynivka town, not far from Vinnytsia, Ukraine, September 27, 2017. Ammunition depots in the town of Kalynivka in Vinnytsia region caught fire on Tuesday evening, which has been followed by explosions of bombs, shells and other types of ammunition. After the first explosions were reported at 22:00 local time on Tuesday, September 26. more than 27 thous. inhabitants were evacuated out of the caution area. (Photo by Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People evacuate from the town of Kalynivka following munition explosions at the nearby military depot on September 27, 2017. Ukranian authorities evacuated nearly 30,000 people September 27 from the central Vinnytsya region after a huge munitions depot caught fire and set off artillery shells and blasts prosecutors were treating as an act of 'sabotage'. It was the second major incident affecting a Ukrainian weapons storage site this year. Kiev blamed the first one in March on Moscow and its Russian-backed insurgents fighting Ukrainian forces in the war-wrecked east -- a charge both sides denied. / AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
People wait near the security forces check point near Kalynivka town to be allowed to take some their belongings from abandoned homes, September 27, 2017. Ammunition depots in the town of Kalynivka in Vinnytsia region, Ukraine, caught fire on Tuesday evening, which has been followed by explosions of bombs, shells and other types of ammunition. After the first explosions were reported at 22:00 local time on Tuesday, September 26. more than 27 thous. inhabitants were evacuated out of the caution area. (Photo by Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - This photo taken on September 27, 2017 near Kalynivka shows explosions at a military munitions depot. Ukranian authorities evacuated nearly 30,000 people September 27 from the central Vinnytsya region after a huge munitions depot caught fire and set off artillery shells and blasts prosecutors were treating as an act of 'sabotage'. It was the second major incident affecting a Ukrainian weapons storage site this year. Kiev blamed the first one in March on Moscow and its Russian-backed insurgents fighting Ukrainian forces in the war-wrecked east -- a charge both sides denied. / AFP PHOTO / Sergei SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - This photo taken on September 27, 2017 near Kalynivka shows explosions at a military munitions depot. Ukranian authorities evacuated nearly 30,000 people September 27 from the central Vinnytsya region after a huge munitions depot caught fire and set off artillery shells and blasts prosecutors were treating as an act of 'sabotage'. It was the second major incident affecting a Ukrainian weapons storage site this year. Kiev blamed the first one in March on Moscow and its Russian-backed insurgents fighting Ukrainian forces in the war-wrecked east -- a charge both sides denied. / AFP PHOTO / Sergei SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo taken on September 27, 2017 near Kalynivka shows explosions at a military munitions depot. Ukranian authorities evacuated nearly 30,000 people September 27 from the central Vinnytsya region after a huge munitions depot caught fire and set off artillery shells and blasts prosecutors were treating as an act of 'sabotage'. It was the second major incident affecting a Ukrainian weapons storage site this year. Kiev blamed the first one in March on Moscow and its Russian-backed insurgents fighting Ukrainian forces in the war-wrecked east -- a charge both sides denied. / AFP PHOTO / Sergei SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kiev; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Richard Balmforth)

Read Full Story