UARU
Ukraine Town Faces Devastation After Explosion at Europe's Biggest Arms Depot
28 March, 2017

After their evacuation, the residents of Balakliya are returning to their dilapidated houses.

On March 23rd at 2:45 am, people were awoken by the sounds of loud explosions. On the outskirts of Balakliya, a city in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine, a pillar of flames rose up into the sky, rockets and shells flew like fireworks. It burned the largest ammunitions warehouse in Ukraine. As a result of the high temperatures, shells and rockets exploded and were scattered tens of kilometers around the military base.

This was not the first fire at the military warehouse near Balakliya, as 18 months ago here there was an arson attempt. They managed to extinguish the fire quickly.

Single explosions were still being heard at the site. Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

This time, the situation is more complicated. According to Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak, the fire burnt through at least 50% of the ammunition.

Despite the fact the the Ministry of Defence issued a statement claiming that the fire had been extinguished, single explosions were still being heard at the site. Hromadske journalists visited the city and saw first-hand where the bombs had fallen and the damage they caused.

Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

We travel around the area of Balakliya and the road leading up to the military base. At destroyed gas station there are fragments from the heavy missiles, and a little further away there is a warhead, which miraculously managed to miss the gasoline tank.

Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

Such missiles can be seen almost every 100 meters: around multi-storey apartment blocks, in backyards, and in school playgrounds.

Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

In the building of a secondary school in Balakliya, almost all of the windows have been shattered, classrooms and corridors have been damaged by the blast and shrapnel. Teachers and school staff are trying to remove plaster and glass from the floor. They do not want to talk to journalsist, they say, not right now.

Almost all of the windows in the school have been shattered. Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

In the suburbs, the situation is worse. The estate here is in fact littered with unexploded material. In the yard of one of these houses, we meet a woman. Mrs. Valentina lives in a house on the outskirts of Balakliya with her husband, who has prosthetic legs. Her children died a few years ago, so there is no-one to rebuild her destroyed home. She hopes for help volunteers.

Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

The city is without water and power, so those who haved remained there prepare food on a fire, and carry buckets of water from the wells.
The situation in the city centre differs from the suburbs. Here only the odd window has been broken. The shells did not reach this far.

Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

The road is almost empty, occasionally we meet people out to buy food or water. Almost all the shops are closed, the centre only has one supermarket. Cashiers explain that the shop is powered by a generator, which is a rarity in Balakliya.

Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

At the same time, there are a lot of solidiers from the Armed Forces, the National Guard and police officers. Armed vehicles drive around the city, and in the cetntre there is a Red Cross truck.

There are a lot of solidiers and police officers. Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

Armed vehicles drive around the city. Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.

Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.


There is a Red Cross truck in the town centre. Photo by Dmytro Replyanchuk/ Hromadske.