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Controversial ‘Cluster Munitions’ Used in Ukraine, Humanitarian Groups Say

Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Cluster munitions, a highly controversial weapon banned by many countries, were used by the Russian military against at least two civilian targets during its invasion of Ukraine, says two international humanitarian organizations.

The bombings killed seven people and injured 11 others. Russia has also previously been known to use cluster munitions in warfare, likely as recently as Syria two years ago. 

Steve Goose, arms director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement: “Russian forces should stop using cluster munitions and end unlawful attacks with weapons that indiscriminately kill and maim.”

Once fired, cluster munitions open in midair and rain down hundreds of smaller “bomblets” over a large area the size of a few football fields.

The munitions are known to be difficult to control and will strike individuals indiscriminately. This is the reason why international human rights groups say they shouldn’t be used anywhere near civilian populations, or at all.

As many as an estimated 40% of submunitions may also fail to detonate on impact, leaving unexploded bombs and posing more risk to the people nearby. 

In 2008, a global treaty banning the use of cluster munitions was signed by more than 100 countries, but neither Russia nor Ukraine agreed.

Cluster munitions hit Ukrainian hospital and a preschool

On Thursday, a Russian ballistic missile carrying cluster munitions struck outside a hospital in the city of Vuhledar, located in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, says Human Rights Watch.

The attack reportedly occurred around 10:30 a.m. local time. Human Rights Watch interviewed a doctor and a hospital official after the attack and examined photographs of the aftermath. 

Casualties rose to four while ten were injured. Six of the injured individuals are health care workers. The hospital, an ambulance and other nearby vehicles were also damaged. 

“I was on the first floor of our two-story building. I heard a loud explosion outside. We ran into the hallway. Luckily, we didn’t have many patients,” Natalia Sosyura, the hospital’s chief doctor, told Human Rights Watch. 

“We all fell to the floor.”

In a separate attack on Friday, Amnesty International reported that cluster munitions fell on a preschool in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Okhtyrka in Sumy Oblast. Three people, including a child, died while another child was wounded.

Russian forces likely carried out the attack, Amnesty International said, since they had operations nearby and have been known to use cluster munitions. The group also said that it may constitute a war crime.

Agnès Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said in a statement: “There is no possible justification for dropping cluster munitions in populated areas, let alone near a school.”

She added, “This attack bears all the hallmarks of Russia’s use of this inherently indiscriminate and internationally-banned weapon, and shows flagrant disregard for civilian life.”

Amnesty International said drone footage showed four munitions striking the roof of the preschool and three more landing on the street outside.


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