The southern Russian steppe in summertime typically offers a soul-lifting panorama of wheat fields and sunflowers, swaying in the breezes, and vast empty spaces. It is Russia’s big sky country, rural and calm.
Normally, that is. One morning this spring, the serenity in this village deep in the Russian countryside near the Ukrainian border was broken by a loud, rumbling explosion intense enough to send out window-shattering shock waves. Soon, residents said, Russian soldiers appeared running through the wheat fields, some in their underwear, waving their arms wildly and yelling, “Save yourselves however you can!”
The panicked soldiers were not under attack, as it turns out, but were fleeing a fire in a well-stocked ammunition depot at a nearby Russian military base, recalled a local dairy farmer who, worried about harassment, offered only his first name, Anatoli. By that point, he said, artillery shells had begun whistling away from the base and into the fields.The military said that a short-circuit in an armored vehicle started the fire. As a precaution, officials closed a major highway many miles away. Three villages, including this one, were evacuated. No one was killed, though six soldiers were injured and 30 military vehicles were destroyed.