Army depot blaze in Ukraine kills five

The fire ravaging artillery depots at a military base in southeastern Ukraine since yesterday has killed at least five people, the Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry reports. Firefighter brigades and rescue teams still cannot approach the scene, with ammunition fragments being scattered around violently.

The Ukrainian Defense Minister, Yevgeny Marchuk, could not say when the blaze was likely to be extinguished. "When this will be possible to do remains unclear," he said in a telephone interview for the national television network Inter. At this point, it is impossible to reach the scene without putting people at risk, he explained. Teams with special protective gear have now been called for from Kharkiv, Krivoy Rog, and other Ukrainian cities, he said.

The ammunition fragments are being scattered within the radius of 10 to 40 kilometers from the epicenter. The nearest village is only five kilometers away. Eleven communities have found themselves in the dangerous zone. Five thousand of the local inhabitants have reportedly been evacuated and provided with temporary lodgings and medical aid.

Traffic on the railroad and the highway linking Kharkiv and Simferopol has been suspended for security reasons. Trains and motor vehicles will have to use bypass routes until the fire is contained.

A Ukrainian governmental commission, led by Vice Premier Andrei Klyuev, has been sent into the disaster area to coordinate rescue operations.

Specialists from the Russian Defense Ministry's Artillery Department are also coming along to help, a ministry source reports. An AN-26 jet, with a team of twenty artillery specialists on board, took off from the Chkalovsky air field, outside Moscow, earlier today, and is now en route to Ukraine, the source said.

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