Ukraine Used Cluster Bombs, Evidence Indicates – The Times

A casing carrying cluster munitions that landed in a shed. Press officers for the Ukrainian military denied that their troops had used cluster weapons in the conflict.Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

A casing carrying cluster munitions that landed in a shed. Press officers for the Ukrainian military denied that their troops had used cluster weapons in the conflict.Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

The Times finally admits that “The [Ukrainian] army’s use of cluster munitions, which shower small bomblets around a large area, could also add credibility to Moscow’s version of the conflict, which is that the Ukrainian national government is engaged in a punitive war against its own citizens.”

DONETSK, Ukraine — The Ukrainian Army appears to have fired cluster munitions on several occasions into the heart of Donetsk, unleashing a weapon banned in much of the world into a rebel-held city with a peacetime population of more than one million, according to physical evidence and interviews with witnesses and victims.

Sites where rockets fell in the city on Oct. 2 and Oct. 5 showed clear signs that cluster munitions had been fired from the direction of army-held territory, where misfired artillery rockets still containing cluster bomblets were found by villagers in farm fields.

The two attacks wounded at least six people and killed a Swiss employee of the International Red Cross based in Donetsk.

If confirmed, the use of cluster bombs by the pro-Western government could complicate efforts to reunite the country, as residents of the east have grown increasingly bitter over the Ukrainian Army’s tactics to oust pro-Russian rebels.

Further, in a report released late Monday, Human Rights Watch says the rebels have most likely used cluster weapons in the conflict as well, a detail that The New York Times could not independently verify.

 Rebels extracting a casing that was carrying cluster munitions in Ilovaysk, Ukraine, on Monday. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Rebels extracting a casing that was carrying cluster munitions in Ilovaysk, Ukraine, on Monday. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

The army’s use of cluster munitions, which shower small bomblets around a large area, could also add credibility to Moscow’s version of the conflict, which is that the Ukrainian national government is engaged in a punitive war against its own citizens. The two October strikes occurred nearly a month after President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine signed a cease-fire agreement with rebel representatives.

“It’s pretty clear that cluster munitions are being used indiscriminately in populated areas, particularly in attacks in early October in Donetsk city,” said Mark Hiznay, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch, in emailed comments after the report was completed. “The military logic behind these attacks is not apparent, and these attacks should stop, because they put too many civilians at risk.”

Press officers for the Ukrainian military denied that their troops had used cluster weapons during the conflict and said that the rocket strikes against Donetsk in early October should be investigated once it was safe to do so. They also said that rebels in the area had access to powerful rocket systems from Russia that could fire cluster munitions.

However, munition fragments found in and around Donetsk and interviews with witnesses indicate that the cluster munitions that struck Oct. 2 and Oct. 5 were most likely fired by Ukrainian troops stationed southwest of the city, according to Human Rights Watch and a review by The Times. Witnesses there reported seeing rocket launches from those troops’ positions toward the city at times that coincide with the strikes.

Human Rights Watch says in its report that cluster weapons have been used against population centers in eastern Ukraine at least 12 times, including the strikes on Donetsk, during the conflict, and possibly many more. The report said that both sides were probably culpable, in attacks that “may amount to war crimes” in a grinding conflict that has claimed at least 3,700 lives, including those of many civilians.

The report, which included incidents uncovered by The Times, says there is “particularly strong evidence” that Ukrainian government troops carried out the two October attacks against Donetsk.

An August cluster-munitions attack on the village of Starobesheve, which was in Ukrainian Army hands, was probably carried out either by pro-Russian rebels or by Russian troops, the report says.

Beginning in October, a series of strikes against Donetsk using certain cluster weapons fired from Uragan rockets came from the southwest of the city. The timing of at least two rocket launches from the same location corresponded to cluster munition strikes that hit Donetsk from a southwesterly trajectory, according to Human Rights Watch and The Times.

Shelling of cities has been common in the conflict, and the cease-fire agreement has not ended the violence. A chemical plant on the outskirts of Donetsk was struck Monday, and the resulting shock wave shattered windows for miles around.

A rocket with an intact payload of cluster munitions lies in a field in Novomikhailova, Ukraine.Credit Andrew Roth/The New York Times

A rocket with an intact payload of cluster munitions lies in a field in Novomikhailova, Ukraine.Credit Andrew Roth/The New York Times

On the morning of Oct. 5, Boris V. Melikhov, 37, was chopping wood outside his house in the Gladkovka neighborhood of Donetsk when he heard the loud clap of an explosion from the street.

His first sensation was “a strong push in the back,” and he sprawled onto the grass. More explosions followed, showering Mr. Melikhov with dust and dirt. Unable to stand, he crawled toward a spigot in the garden, bleeding profusely and desperate for water.

“I felt the blood running down my back, down my leg,” he recalled in an interview last week from his bed in a hospital, where his uncle took him after the attack. Doctors there found several identical metal fragments in his leg, chest, shoulder and hand.

Hundreds of such fragments, each about the size of a thumbtack, were sprayed out by at least 11 cluster bomblets that exploded on Mr. Melikhov’s street that morning. The 9N210 bomblets are carried in surface-to-surface Uragan (Hurricane) rockets that are fired from the backs of trucks and have a range of roughly 22 miles.

Part of one of the rockets smashed into a street a few blocks away, and the impact crater indicated it had come from the southwest.

The same morning, sunflower farmers near Novomikhailovka, a small village about 20 miles southwest of Mr. Melikhov’s house, saw rockets sailing almost directly overhead toward Donetsk. Local people said in interviews that the army had been launching Uragan rockets from there for more than a week.

“Trust me, when it is day after day after day, you get to know your Grad launches from your Uragan launches,” said one farmer, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution for discussing Ukrainian military positions. Grads are another kind of rocket used by both sides.

Villagers said they had also seen rockets with cluster bomblets up close. They said several of the rockets misfired on Oct. 3 and landed in the sunflower fields south of the village with their payloads intact.

A reporter photographed three malfunctioned rockets there, and two of them contained submunitions like those that injured Mr. Melikhov. The same type of weapon struck the Donetsk headquarters of the Red Cross on Oct. 2 in an attack that killed an administrator, Laurent DuPasquier, 38.

 

Human Rights Warch blames Kiev army for indiscriminately killing civilians with missiles

Viktor Stepanenko (69 years) by his house in the township of Snezhnoye that was destroyed by a Ukrainian rocket. (RIA Novosti)

Viktor Stepanenko (69 years) by his house in the township of Snezhnoye that was destroyed by a Ukrainian rocket. (RIA Novosti)

The Ukrainian army is using indiscriminate Grad missiles to attack densely populated areas in Donetsk, which violates international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch alleged. It also blamed militia for taking cover in those areas.

The rights organization confirmed four rocket attacks by the Ukrainian military, or Kiev-allied paramilitary, on residential areas in or near Donetsk, which resulted in at least 16 civilian deaths and many more wounded. The attacks were carried out with Grad multiple rocket weapon systems, highly indiscriminate weapons that cannot be used against populated areas.

Judging by the trail of impact the rockets left, “in four attacks they were coming from areasd under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Ole Solvang, researcher and security adviser for Human Rights Watch told RT.

“We were not able to see any kind of possible military target in that area and it’s quite clear that this is a residential area. Everybody that we spoke to said that there had been no fighters, no weapons in that area,” Solvang added.

The group released a statement on Friday.

“Although Ukrainian government officials and the press service of the National Guard have denied using Grad rockets in Donetsk, a Human Rights Watch investigation on the ground strongly indicates that Ukrainian government forces were responsible for the attacks that occurred between July 12 and 21,” HRW said.

The interior of an apartment in a residential building destroyed in an artillery attack by the Ukrainian army in the village of Peski in the Donetsk region. (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

The interior of an apartment in a residential building destroyed in an artillery attack by the Ukrainian army in the village of Peski in the Donetsk region. (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

Kiev routinely denies causing civilian deaths in its conflict with armed militias in the east of the country and put the blames for such deaths on the militias themselves. But the attack sites investigated by HRW clearly point to the Ukrainian military.

“The attacks’ proximity to the front line also makes it unlikely, and in some cases impossible, that insurgent forces were responsible for the attacks. In two of the attacks, rockets hit on or near insurgent bases and checkpoints at the same time as they hit residential areas, indicating government forces were responsible,” the report said.

Ukraine: Unguided Rockets Killing Civilians

HRW didn’t report any evidence that militias were responsible for any Grad attacks on civilian-populated areas, but warned that they should avoid operating in those areas. The group also blamed them for failing to keep civilians out of harm’s way.

“Insurgent forces have failed to take all feasible precautions to avoid deploying in densely populated areas, thereby endangering civilians in violation of the laws of war,” it said. “In one case, separatist forces moved their base closer to the center of the town when Grad rockets struck their base and a nearby residential area. Violations of the laws of war by one side to the conflict do not justify violations by the other side.”

Solvang described two major problems with using Grad rockets.

“One – they’re unguided, so you cannot target them precisely. There is a pretty big area where a rocket can land if you just shoot it off. Secondly, very often they’re used in salvos, so the ones who use them – they shoot off up to 40 – or maybe more – at the same time. And that means that they’re going to cover a big area at the same time,” he said.

“And when you use these kinds of weapons in populated it’s a really high risk for civilians to be injured and killed, and that’s what we saw in the Petrovsky district,” he added.

A dweller of an apartment building damaged during an artillery attack by the Ukrainian Security Forces in Donetsk suburb, inside his destroyed apartment. (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

A dweller of an apartment building damaged during an artillery attack by the Ukrainian Security Forces in Donetsk suburb, inside his destroyed apartment. (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

Belligerent parties in Ukraine must keep in mind that they are responsible for keeping their hostilities within international humanitarian law, HRW warned.

“Ukrainian authorities should order all their forces, including volunteer forces, to immediately stop using Grads in or near populated areas, and insurgent forces should avoid deploying in densely populated areas,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Commanding officers on all sides should recognize that one day they could face legal consequences for their actions.”

Earlier the International Red Cross officially declared the hostilities in eastern Ukraine a civil war, which opened the way for prosecuting atrocities committed there in international courts.

 Belligerent parties in Ukraine must keep in mind that they are responsible for keeping their hostilities within international humanitarian law, HRW warned. “Ukrainian authorities should order all their forces, including volunteer forces, to immediately stop using Grads in or near populated areas, and insurgent forces should avoid deploying in densely populated areas,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Commanding officers on all sides should recognize that one day they could face legal consequences for their actions.” Earlier the International Red Cross officially declared the hostilities in eastern Ukraine a civil war, which opened the way for prosecuting atrocities committed there in international courts.

Belligerent parties in Ukraine must keep in mind that they are responsible for keeping their hostilities within international humanitarian law,HRW warned. 

Grad is a Russian-made rocket launcher used by the Ukrainian military, which fires volleys of unguided missiles from multiple tubes mounted on a rack. The weapon is meant to cause massive damage to enemy positions, with individual rocket capable of killing unprotected soldiers in a radius of up to 28 meters from impact.

Kiev troops are continuing their attacks on cities held by militia forces, using their aviation and heavy artillery to barrage defense forces. The outgunned militias try to compensate by maneuvering and taking cover among city buildings. The army is hesitant to advance into hostile urban areas, where their superiority in armor and heavy weapons would be irrelevant.

Solvang said that HRW was calling on both the Ukrainian government and separatists to stop using grad rockets in populated areas.

“Neither side really seems to take enough precautions to make that sure civilians are not killed or injured,” he said.