An oil products storage depot was bombed near the southern Russian city of Belgorod on Thursday, reportedly wiping out eight storage tanks holding about 125,000 barrels of fuel.

Authorities in Belgorod, which lies next to besieged Ukrainian city Kharkiv, said the facility — operated by the largest Russian oil producer, Rosneft — was targeted by two low-flying helicopters.

Rosneft said the attack has not led to any casualties among its personnel at the depot.

Firefighters were struggling prevent a blaze at the depot spreading to another eight storage tanks, news agency reports suggested.

Residents in neighbouring areas are being evacuated to a nearby stadium, according to posts in Russian social network VK.

Rosneft reportedly operates two major fuel storage depots in the Belgorod region, one in the city and another in the town of Gubkin about 100 kilometres to the north-east of Belgorod.

According to the Russian Energy Ministry, Rosneft controls 13 refineries in the country that last year accounted for about 23% of motor fuels produced in Russia, following its takeover of Russo-British oil venture TNK-BP in 2013.

Earlier disclosure notices in the Russian state tendering network said that Rosneft’s regional subsidiaries were appointed to supply fuel to military regiments headquartered in the central and eastern parts of the country.

If confirmed as an attack, the bombing would be the first major war-related incident inside Russia since Moscow ordered its troops to begin a large-scale invasion into the north, east and south regions of Ukraine on 24 February.

Long-range missile attacks have destroyed several such fuel depots on Ukrainian soil since the invasion began and Russian artillery has shelled regional low-pressure gas distribution networks.

On Thursday, Ukraine’s regional gas distributor, Kharkivgaz, said that a shell hit a 28-inch diameter regional pipeline responsible for the delivery of natural gas to about 34,000 customers.

A fire that followed the bombing in the evening of 30 March, was widely seen from the city of Kharkiv as high-pressure gas escaped from the damaged pipeline and burned.

Ablaze: burning natural gas escaping from a high-pressure pipeline in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv after it was reportedly hit by a Russian shell on 30 March Photo: RBC.UA

Although Russian gas flows to Europe via Ukraine are understood to be running above maximal contracted levels in early April, Ukraine’s gas transmission authority, Operator GTS Ukrainy, issued a warning about increasing dangers to the gas transportation network.

“Transit and domestic distribution pipelines are not operated separately in the country’s trunkline network. The gas transmission network is a unified infrastructure system,” the pipeline operator’s executive director Sergey Makogon told the Ukraine24 television channel this week.

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