Visiting the site of an attack by pro-Russian rebels in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk on February 10, President Petro Poroshenko said: “It is savages who use cluster munitions against civilians.”
The Ukrainian president’s words echoed the Russian reaction to a Human Rights Watch report in October that documented Ukrainian government use of cluster munitions in Donetsk. The Ukrainian forces’ use of cluster munitions showed the “barbaric nature” of Kiev’s military operations in the eastern Ukraine, said a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman.
If the information war around the conflict in Ukraine has made us numb to the terms "irony" and “hypocrisy," this last round should jolt everyone back to their senses. In recent months, I have documented the use of cluster munitions in both areas controlled both by the government and the rebels, and the deaths and maiming of dozens of civilians from this terrible weapon.
Cluster munitions are nasty weapons. The bomblets, also known as explosive submunitions, can cover an area as large as a football pitch and are incapable of distinguishing between civilians and combatants. Additionally, many of the bomblets do not explode on impact, posing a risk to civilians as de facto landmines.
I documented cluster munitions strikes that hit two government-controlled towns on February 10: Kramatorsk, where the attack killed at least 6 civilians and wounded 33, and Gordovka, a smaller town west of Donetsk, injuring 5 civilians. Just today there are reports that cluster munitions struck Artemivsk, another government-controlled city.
There are also reports of recent cluster munitions hitting areas controlled by the Russian-backed rebels. Photos and video from rebel-controlled Luhansk indicate that cluster munitions struck the city on February 12. Cluster munitions struck the city also in January, killing at least two civilians.
A treaty banning these weapons was signed by 116 countries. If Ukrainian and Russian authorities really mean what they say, they should do the same.