Ukrainians seek answers as blasts deal ‘serious blow’ to defence

Political and military leaders under scrutiny after latest arms depot explosion in Ukraine

Pressure is mounting on Ukraine’s political and military leaders after the second major explosion this year at a key ammunition depot, which one of the country’s senior officials described as a “serious blow” to its defence capabilities.

More than 20,000 people were evacuated from around the Kalynivka arms depot in central Ukraine after explosions and fires erupted on Tuesday night, six months after a series of enormous blasts destroyed the Balakliya ammunition facility in the northeast.

"In the course of this year we have lost a large amount of ammunition. The country has suffered the most serious blow to its defence capability since the start of the war," Oleksandr Turchynov, the secretary of Ukraine's national security council, said on Thursday.

Since spring 2014, 10,000 people have been killed in fighting between government forces and Russian-led separatists who control parts of eastern Ukraine.


“For me . . . responsibility is a matter of principle. Starting from the chief of the general staff and going through the whole line of those who are responsible for the defence of our country,” Mr Turchynov added.

“We have shown that we are not capable of defending our strategic arsenal. And so a question arises about the quality of the defence of our country. And while senior officials do not answer for failure to perform their functions well, we will constantly count our losses.”

Outspoken deputy

Mr Turchynov's comments came after outspoken deputy Anton Gerashchenko called for the removal of the chief of Ukraine's general staff, Viktor Muzhenko.

“Viktor Muzhenko’s position should be taken by a young and responsible officer . . . who can lead a process of real, not fake, reforms of our army and navy,” Mr Gerashchenko said.

“If the supreme commander continues to pretend that nothing is happening after these explosions at arms depots . . . and does not make personnel changes at the very top, then it would be criminal for the security of our country.”

Mr Gerashchenko is close to interior minister Arsen Avakov, while Gen Muzhenko is seen as an ally of Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko; long-standing tension and political manoeuvring between Mr Poroshenko and Mr Avakov are intensifying with the approach of presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019.

It is not clear if the explosions were caused by accident, negligence or sabotage, but Gen Muzhenko denied responsibility and accused critics of trying to undermine confidence in Ukraine’s military and “fulfil their own political ambitions”.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe