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- Russia is apparently firing cluster munitions at the city of Kherson, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
- Cluster bombs contain multiple explosive submunitions that spread across a targeted area.
- Ukrainians survived Russian occupation “only to be subjected to new indiscriminate attacks,” per HRW.
Russian forces retreated from the city of Kherson last month, but they continue to terrorize the civilian population they left behind, Human Rights Watch charged Tuesday, accusing Moscow of using widely prohibited cluster munitions against targets with no military value.
The attacks have killed at least 15 people, the group said, and “might constitute a war crime.”
An early war win, Kherson was the first and only regional capital that Russia captured after its Feb. 24 invasion. In September, the Kremlin claimed to have annexed the city and surrounding province only to order troops to retreat across the Dnieper River less than six weeks later.
Since that humiliating setback, HRW said its researchers had personally witnessed “intensified” attacks on Kherson and visited bombing sites consistent with the use of cluster munitions. In one instance, the weapon appears to have been fired into a populated area in Kherson with no Ukrainian soldiers in sight, according to witnesses who described seeing a man and a woman who had feet blown off near a bus station.
HRW staff visited the site on November 22 and “saw pools of blood from both victims,” the group said in a statement, as well as three “munition impact sites” that tracked with the use of cluster bombs. They also spoke to witnesses of nearby attacks, including one near a high-rise apartment building, that resulted in civilian casualties.
“Residents of Kherson survived eight months of Russian occupation, and are finally free from fear of torture, only to be subjected to new indiscriminate attacks, apparently including cluster munitions,” Belkis Wille, associate crisis and conflict director at HRW, said in a statement.
Cluster bombs, which can be fired from the ground or dropped from the air, contain multiple explosive submunitions that spread across a targeted area, which critics argue makes them inherently indiscriminate. Submunitions that do not explode upon impact can also pose a risk for years after a conflict ends.
As of August 2022, Ukraine was the only country in the world where cluster bombs were being actively deployed, according to the Cluster Munition Coalition, a monitoring organization. Russia has used the weapons “extensively” since invading, the group said. Ukrainian forces also appear to have used them on at least three occasions.
More than 100 countries have signed a treaty prohibiting the use of cluster munitions. However, Russia, Ukraine and the United States have refused to join the agreement.
In addition to cluster munitions, Russia has also been accused of leaving landmines behind in Kherson, some in the form of apparent booby traps. According to the Associated Press, a main road in Kherson was blocked off with a sign that warned “Mines Ahead” — but it was the detour that was rigged with explosives.
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