Government leaders in the besieged Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk in the Donbas region are urgently telling residents to stay inside their homes and shelter in place after huge plumes of smoke containing Nitric acid was released into the air.
Ukraine says the contamination happened after Russian forces struck a tank containing nitric acid at a large chemical plant. Emerging videos on social media show thick orange smoke in the form of a mushroom cloud rising high into the air over the city, reminiscent of the deadly Beirut port warehouse explosion of 2020 that involved ammonium nitrate. The below is among the first unverified clips of the Severodonetsk tanker explosion aftermath:
The local governor of the Luhansk region, Sergiy Gaiday, alleged that pro-Russian forces "hit a tank with nitric acid at a chemical plant",
He warned residents further that "Nitric acid is dangerous if inhaled, swallowed and in contact with skin," and added: "Do not come out of shelters!"
Additionally, according to the AFP, he ordered citizens who have remained even as Russian forces have penetrated deep into the city to "prepare protective face masks impregnated with soda solution". There are an estimated 15,000 civilians still in the city amid heavy fighting.
The Russian military has offered a possible contrasting version of events, saying it remains that Ukrainian forces are in control of the plant:
Pro-Moscow separatist authorities said the tank had "exploded" on territory controlled by Ukrainian forces.
"At the Azot chemical plant, a container with chemicals was blown up. Preliminarily, it is nitric acid," Rodion Mironchik, a representative of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People's Republic, said on Telegram.
But there's a likelihood that the tanker and highly volatile chemical or possibly fertilizer it contained was shelled as Russia attack Ukrainian frontline positions.
⚡️During an air strike on Severodonetsk, the Russians hit a tank with nitric acid at a chemical plant, – the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration Serhii Haidai says. pic.twitter.com/Rj6MQsFcGe— Flash (@Flash43191300) May 31, 2022
Russian forces have meanwhile reportedly seized most of Severodnetsk city in eastern Ukraine, which represents the last Ukrainian stronghold and major city of the Luhansk region. Less than 24 hours ago, multiple international outlets reported Russian forces had gained half the city.