To lose one ammunition depot may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness. To lose seven to fires followed by catastrophic explosions over the last 14 years, as Ukraine has done, looks like height of negligence and incompetence.
The latest tragedy struck the military ammunition depot at Vinnytsya Oblast’s Kalynivka, 238 kilometers southwest of Kyiv. It caught fire and was hit with a series of massive blasts from the detonation of shells and rockets on Sept. 26.
The Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, was quick to qualify the incident as an act of sabotage.
Although the SBU offered no evidence to back up its claim, sabotage is a possibility, of course, given Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine since 2014. Since the start of the Kremlin’s war, there have been four cases of fires and explosions at large ammunition depots. Three of those occurred in the last six months alone.
But when looking at these incidents in the context of Ukraine’s previous ammunition depot disasters, the ones that occurred in peacetime, there are other explanations than Russian sabotage units.
The blasts at Bakhmut back in 2003 were caused by sparks from a welding torch that soldiers were using to cut up scrap metal for sale. There were four incidents at Novobohdanivka in Zaporizhzhya Oblast, every year from 2004 to 2007, caused by hot weather setting off a smoke grenade, the incorrect handling of damaged ammunition and accidental fires caused by smoking in the depot. The explosions at the depot in Lozova, in 2008, were caused by an accidental fire in a warehouse that set off ammunition stored nearby. The commander and deputy commander of the depot were jailed for negligence, though soon freed.
The investigation into the blasts at Kalynivka is just starting. It may turn out that Russian or other sabotage is to blame, but self-sabotage — through laxity and neglect — is also a possibility given the history of such incidents. With Ukraine now into its fourth year of war and still unable to produce any ammunition by itself, the country cannot afford to allow more such incidents to occur.