Environmentalists warned about the dangers of Soviet ammunition depots 15 years ago.

What was the cause of the explosions in Ichnya, in the third largest Ukrainian ammunition depot (military unit A-1479)? What caused the catastrophe that forced 12 thousand people to leave their homes? There are two main versions now: negligence and sabotage. The analysis of the history of such catastrophes testifies that both the negligence and the imperfect security system of such depots are inherited from the Soviet army. It is so painful to admit that our army still remains “soviet” ‒ by technical equipment, standards, and consciousness of the generals.

Under the sign of the red star

Fireworks in depots are not a modern Ukrainian feature. They happened regularly in the USSR. May 13, 1984, there was a powerful explosion on the main naval base of the Northern Fleet of the USSR in Severomorsk (Murmansk region, Russia). Hundreds of soldiers died. Many SS-12 missiles (ballistic, capable of carrying a nuclear charge), SA-1 and SA-3 (anti-aircraft) were destroyed. The fire lasted five days.

Around the same years, powerful explosions occurred at the military depots of the airfield in Belarus near Babruysk and at the Soviet military base in East Germany near Schwerin.

After the collapse of the USSR, on the night of April 9, 1992, ten kilometres from Yerevan (Armenia), the military warehouses of the former Soviet army caught fire. The fire lasted a day. Three people have been injured. Five of the nine sites located here exploded. Losses amounted to more than 1 billion rubles.

On May 14, 1992, in Vladivostok (Russian Federation) there was a fire at the depot, where there were 1.5 thousand carriages of ammunition. The fire lasted two days. 100 thousand citizens were evacuated. The fire completely destroyed nine underground storages and seven open sites.

“Green World” warns…

Back in 1993-1994, the Ukrainian Ecological Association “Green World” declared the danger of ammunition depots inherited from the USSR. Environmentalists then counted in Ukraine more than 100 such repositories. According to the “green”, territory of objects and the amount of ammunition in them unreasonably increased, sometimes 2-3 times. And the borders of the depots were getting closer to settlements. For example, the volume of ammunition in the depot at Shpichentsi (Derazhnyansk district of Khmelnytsky region) increased by 2.3 times, and the distance to the village decreased threefold. The Haysyn depot (Vinnytsya region) was designed for the storage of 800-1100 ammunition carriages. However, in the early 1990s, reserves increased by 1.8 times. From the depot to the nearest settlement is just 1.7 km.

Why did this happen? The Soviet leaders chose Ukraine to store the ammunition, exported by Soviet troops from Central and Eastern Europe. Although our depots were not able to safely accommodate such volumes, none of the Soviet leadership was interested. However, as it turned out later ‒ the new Ukrainian leadership, too.

Де вибухне наступного разу?

Photo: dsns.gov.ua

“And silence in return…” 

The warnings of the experts of the “GW” were not heard. And the first significant disaster occurred ten years after the release of the environmental report.

October 10, 2003, in the depot of ammunition of the 52nd mechanized brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Artemivsk of Donetsk region, a fire broke out. The reason is careless handling of the gas-welding apparatus. 10 of 17 depots burned, nearly 3,000 tons of shells exploded. 66 high-rise buildings and 120 private houses, 5 schools and 3 hospitals were damaged. Two wounded.

Further, the explosions occurred with sad consistency.

Novobohdanivka, Zaporizhya region, 2004-2007

The local depots burned four times.

The largest fire occurred in 2004. Nearly 90,000 tons of ammunition exploded within a few days, the damage radius reached 40 km. The trains to the Crimea went around, were delayed for a day or more. Five people died, 81 were injured. The number of losses – 3,7 billion UAH. The cause of the fire is smoking near the arsenal.

They dismissed the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Oleksandr Zatynayko and the Commander-in-Chief of the Ground Forces Petro Shulyak.

It did not help…

2005 ‒ Fire due to the heat. Five injured.

2006 ‒ The explosion in the depot, a fire. Four injured.

2007 ‒ Explosion during the planned elimination of ammunition. Two died, one wounded. The chief of the Novobogdanivsk military unit and the ranker got six years in prison for official negligence.

Tsvitoha, Khmelnytsky region, 2005

Fire at the arsenal. 9 people injured. The officer of the same part intentionally set fire to the depot.

Lozova, Kharkiv region, 2008

On August 27 the depot, where 95,000 tons of shells were stored caught fire. Ammunition was exploding till 9/11. One person was wounded. The commander of the unit and his deputy were detained.

Kryvyy Rig, 2014

On March 20, military depots with tanks fully fueled and with full ammunition, caught fire. Two T-64s burned out.

“This is already a diagnosis…”

All subsequent catastrophes occurred after it finally became clear that Russia was leading a war against us. It would seem that we must finally restore proper order and create reliable security for the depots, but…

Svatovo, Luhansk region, 2015

On October 29, depots caught fire, where nearly 3,5 thousand tons of shells were stored. Four people died, 59 multi-storey and 581 private houses were damaged. Versions: negligence and act of terrorism.

Novoyanisol, Donetsk region, 2017

September 25. Fire explosions. The cause was called the arson of dry grass.

Kalynivka, Vinnytsya region, 2017

On September 26 the explosions began in a depot that stored 188,000 tons of ammunition, including Smerch, Uragan and Grad rocket launchers. Two people were injured.

Balakliya, Kharkiv region, 2018

March 23. Fire at the largest ammunition depot in Ukraine. Explosions continued for several days in a row. 265 buildings were damaged. The amount of damage ‒ over 200 million UAH. As a result of the detonation of ammunition, there were victims and injured.

And now – Ichnya, Chernihiv region, 2018

October 9. Arsenal of military unit A-1479. Explosions, fire, evacuation of the population.

Де вибухне наступного разу?

Photo: dsns.gov.ua

According to Novoye Vremya, this arsenal was one of the eight largest in the USSR, and now it is the third largest in the country. Tens of tons of artillery shells, explosives, mines and the like. As of 2010, 70% of them were unsuitable for use and were subject to disposal.

The fires in Novobohdanivka have encouraged the officials to accept in 2010 the decision on the utilization of Ichnya ammunition. However, this was not done, and in 2016 this Directive of the Ministry of Defense… was cancelled.

According to some estimates, the arsenal was overloaded by 30%, which is why the boxes with the shells were stored in several dozen open sites. Isn’t it a familiar story?

People’s Deputy Dmytro Tymchuk visited the composition at Ichnya a year ago, just after Kalynivka. And he found a lot of significant shortcomings there, concerning the technical arrangement of the territory, the conditions of storage of ammunition, the improvement of the security system. It was possible to eliminate the shortcomings only with the intervention and assistance of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff, to whom Tymchuk sent a deputy request. The answers of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff were written “under the tracing-paper”, and had a completely “soothing” character: we know everything, everything is in process. Not everything, as we can see…

“I am sure that, provided that it was not a “paper”, but a real elimination of shortcomings and a solution to the problems of the arsenal, the current events could have been avoided”, Tymchuk writes. ” …Svatovo, Novoyanisol, Balakliya, Kalynivka, now Ichnya ‒ it is already a diagnosis. And we need to do something with this. Immediately and by cardinal means”.

I cannot but agree.

Reference: according to the “Green World” data, as of 1993, only in the former Prykarpatsky military district there were two large “central” depots (storage capacity ‒ up to 1,400 carriages), three medium-sized “districts” (up to 600 carriages) and almost 20 “Military” (up to 50 carriages).

Large storage facilities were located in the town of Derazhnya, Khmelnytsky region, and near the town of Gaysyn, Vinnytsya region. Medium ‒ in Slavuta, Khmelnytsky region, Lyuboml, Volyn region, and in Uzhhorod. Small depots ‒ in Khmelnytsky (two), Kamyanets-Podilsky, Mogyliv-Podilsky, Izyaslavl, Volodymyr-Volynsky, Novohrad-Volynsky, Ovruch, Berdychiv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Mukachevo, Lutsk, Ternopil, Sambir, Yavoriv, Kremenets, Chernivtsi, and Dzyhivka village of Vinnytsya region.

If you live in these cities or towns ‒ you should ask if there are any more depots and in what condition they are.

Text by Oleksa Lystopad

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