Russian forces have used at least six types of cluster munitions inside Ukraine in attacks that caused hundreds of civilian casualties and violated international prohibitions on indiscriminate weapons, Human Rights Watch said in a new report Wednesday.
Most incidents have taken place in Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions, including in populated areas. Ukrainian forces have also used cluster munitions “at least once” during the conflict, Human Rights Watch said.
“Russian forces’ repeated use of cluster munitions in populated neighborhoods in Ukraine causes immediate and long-term civilian harm and suffering and needs to stop,” said Mary Wareham, arms advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Ukraine should also stop using these brutal weapons before more civilians are harmed.”
Cluster munitions are banned under the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions — but neither Russia nor Ukraine signed on to the treaty.
The bombs are often delivered by much larger missiles, artillery, or aircraft, after which they open midair and scatter dozens or hundreds of smaller bomblets indiscriminately over a wide area. Those bomblets, many of which contain metal fragments, also explode, spraying shrapnel in all directions. Sometimes the smaller submunitions fail to detonate, Human Rights Watch said, “leaving duds that act like landmines, posing a threat to civilians for years or even decades.”
The report cited at least 12 instances where the apparent use of cluster munitions killed or wounded civilians in Ukraine. Among them was one of the war’s deadliest strikes, a Russian missile attack on a busy train station in eastern Ukraine in April. At least 50 people were killed.
According to weapons experts, U.S. officials and images from the scene, Russia launched the attack on the railway station in Kramatorsk with a Tochka-U ballistic missile carrying 50 9N24 submunitions.
Witnesses said an initial explosion was followed by four to five blasts they believed were caused by “cluster bombs” that struck outside the building where a large crowd had assembled for an arriving train.
Washington Post reporters in March also saw the remnants of cluster munitions littering fields outside the northern city of Chernihiv.
“I think it was intentional that they hit civilian targets,” Valentyn Osypenko, who suffered leg wounds when three cluster munitions fell in his backyard, said at the time.
“We don’t know what we did to deserve this,” his wife, Svitlana, said.