ON THE MORNING of July 22 last year, a Ukrainian woman living in the town of Izium, then occupied by invading Russian troops, was killed in shelling launched by the Ukrainian military. The bomb that killed her was no ordinary weapon.
According to investigators from Human Rights Watch, who visited the scene of the attack, her death was caused by a cluster munition, a weapon much of the world has moved to ban due to the indiscriminate harm that they cause to civilians. The salvo was allegedly fired from the Ukrainian side, according to witnesses, and detonated near the woman’s home, killing her and her dog.
“The attack was very scary. Very loud. I was outside and there were a lot of explosions. The wife of my ex-husband came and told me to hurry to get inside,” one witness told Human Rights Watch, according to a report released late Wednesday night. Another witness, who viewed the victim’s body in the aftermath and helped bury her in a local cemetery, said that her “face and body were severely mutilated by the explosion.”
As the Ukraine war drags on, the Biden administration is now reportedly in the final stages of deciding whether to send more of the bombs to the Ukrainian military. The decision to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine would likely be seen as a setback to nonproliferation efforts aimed at stopping use of the weapon.
The report by Human Rights Watch analyzing the impact of previous cluster munition attacks carried out last summer by the Ukrainian military found numerous dead and wounded civilians in Izium who were hit by exploding cluster bomblets.
“Ukrainian cluster munition rocket attacks in the city of Izium in 2022 killed at least 8 civilians and wounded 15 more,” the report said, adding that the true number of casualties was likely greater, as many wounded people had been taken to Russia for medical care and not returned.
Although investigators found forensic evidence pointing to Ukrainian culpability, the Ukrainian defense ministry said in a written letter to Human Rights Watch that “cluster munitions were not used within or around the city of Izium in 2022 when it was under Russian occupation.” The town was liberated by Ukrainian forces in the fall of that year.
The Ukrainian military is currently engaged in a much larger counteroffensive aimed at reclaiming other territories captured by Russia following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the country in early 2022.
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