Casualties feared after alleged Ukrainian chemical plant attack
Retreating Ukrainian forces have allegedly blown up a tank allegedly containing hydrochloric acid, at a chemical plant in the Lugansk People's Republic (LPR) town of Rubezhnoe, which has emerged as a flashpoint in the ongoing military conflict.
The tank explosion was aimed at a populated area, controlled by local fighters, the LPR's militia claimed on Tuesday.
“[These] terrorist actions might lead to mass civilian casualties,” the force warned on its Telegram channel, adding that authorities are currently collecting information about any casualties resulting from the incident.
The LPR has also accused Ukrainian media of “actively spreading fakes” that Donbass fighters had blown up the tank themselves. They said Kiev has been doing this in order to cover up “the criminal terrorist actions” of its own forces.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Kiev-nominated governor of Lugansk, Sergey Gaidai, stated in his Telegram channel that a Russian projectile had hit a nitric acid tank in the area, and called on local residents to stay indoors and close all doors and windows, as well as to prepare wet face masks.
“Nitric acid is dangerous if inhaled or swallowed,” he warned. It is unclear if he was referring to the same incident or to a different one. Ukrainian authorities have not commented on the allegations leveled by the Donbass militias so far. Neither have Russian officials or the country's military.
The incident occurred on Tuesday at the ‘Zarya’ chemical plant, once one of Ukraine’s leading chemical enterprises. Videos reportedly taken at the scene and published by the RIA news agency show thick, orange-tinged smoke billowing over the area, which has some residential buildings.
The plant has storage facilities for sulfuric and hydrochloric acid. When released into the atmosphere, strong hydrochloric acid might produce a toxic fog affecting people’s eyes and airways. If mixed with various oxidizers like potassium permanganate, it releases highly toxic chlorine gas.
In early March, Moscow warned the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) about potential false-flag attacks staged by the Ukrainian radicals that might involve the use of toxic chemical agents. “Ukrainian radical groups aided by the American security services have developed several potential scenarios of using toxic chemicals to stage various false flag attacks,” Russia’s statement to the OPCW said at that time.