When Mykola Reshetnuk first heard the blasts at just after 3 in the morning, he just buried himself deeper in his blankets and stayed in bed. But with the deafening reports seeming to get closer and closer, the 57-year-old Ukrainian got worried and left. And with good reason.
Seconds later, a shell tore through his house.
Reshetnuk, a pensioner, doesn't live in a war zone. Instead, he is one of around 12,000 residents forced out of their homes after ammunition stored at a military depot near the town of Ichnya, about 135 kilometers northeast of Kyiv, began exploding early on Oct. 9, 2018, sparking a huge blaze that the Defense Ministry suggested was the result of "military sabotage."
After the deployment of repurposed tanks and aircraft to the scene, officials said on Oct. 11, 2018, that the depot fire had finally been "extinguished completely."
"I rushed out. I was hiding over there, in a ditch," he told RFE/RL one day earlier, motioning to the side of a nearby road spotted with rubble and debris. "Everything was blasting, exploding around me."
Off in the distance, explosions periodically punctuated his words.
As the smoke clears from the blaze, Reshetnuk and others may be forgiven for feeling like they live in a combat zone.
Rows of houses for kilometers around the Chernihiv region depot bear the scars of incoming armaments that were launched by the heat of the blaze.
Charred frames of homes that were occupied just days ago continued to smolder as people returned to survey the damage.
A couple walked their bikes down one of the town's narrow roads, careful to avoid the potholes from the hundreds of shells that rained down and now lay littered about the town.
"Did you get everything?" shouted one Emergency Services employee as crews armed with metal detectors and shovels scanned nearby yards after reports that some unexploded devices were still embedded in the ground.
They doubled back on his command, fearing the damage one overlooked hole in the ground could wreak on an unsuspecting victim. No casualties have been reported from the fire, and officials are hoping to keep it that way.
"From 3 a.m. to 8 a.m., we were hiding in the cellar. It was impossible to get out," said Reshtnuk's neighbor, Serhiy Ishchenko.
"We returned and the neighbor's house and fence were in flames. All we could do was try to contain it so that the blaze wouldn't spread to other buildings."
Pointing to how the explosions appeared to go off at intervals in different parts of the depot, Ukrainian authorities blamed saboteurs.
There have been other major explosions and fires at Ukrainian arms depots in recent years, amid fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, a few hundred kilometers southeast of the depot site.
The war has killed more than 10,300 people since it began after Russia seized Crimea in 2014 and fomented separatism following the ouster of Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled after months of pro-European unrest in Kyiv.
Cease-fire deals signed in Minsk in September 2014 and February 2015 have failed to end the bloodshed despite near-constant dialogue among European, Russian, and U.S. officials over ways to resolve the four-year crisis.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
In March 2017, a massive firestorm at a munitions depot near the eastern city of Kharkiv prompted the evacuation of about 20,000 residents within a 20-kilometer radius of the site.
And in September 2017, more than 30,000 people were forced from their homes after artillery warehouses on a military installation exploded in the Vinnytsya region, southwest of Kyiv.
Authorities have frequently blamed the blasts on sabotage, and the government has allocated 100 million hryvnyas ($3.6 million) for the protection of the country's ammunition-storage facilities.
But that does little for Reshetnuk as he surveys the damage to his home.
"The furnace is the only thing left here. Where will I keep myself warm now? What will I do in winter? How will I rebuild my house? My monthly pension is just 1,400 hryvnyas," he says, spreading his hands to the sky to show how his house no longer has a roof.
This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.
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