(Kyiv, June 30, 2023) – The Ukrainian government should act on its expressed commitment not to use banned antipersonnel landmines, investigate its military’s use of these weapons, and hold those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said today. The government statement, at a June 21, 2023 meeting of the Mine Ban Treaty in Geneva, came nearly five months after Ukrainian officials said they would examine reports by Human Rights Watch and other groups that Ukraine’s forces used these weapons in operations to retake territory occupied by Russian forces.
Since publishing a report in January, Human Rights Watch has uncovered additional evidence regarding Ukrainian use of these indiscriminate weapons during 2022.
“The Ukrainian government’s pledge to investigate its military’s apparent use of banned antipersonnel mines is an important recognition of its duty to protect civilians,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “A prompt, transparent, and thorough inquiry could have far-reaching benefits for Ukrainians both now and for future generations.”
Since the start of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Russian forces have used at least 13 types of antipersonnel mines in multiple areas across Ukraine, killing and injuring civilians. Human Rights Watch has published four reports documenting Russian forces’ use of antipersonnel landmines in Ukraine since 2022. Russia, which has not joined the Mine Ban Treaty, violates international humanitarian law when using antipersonnel mines because they are inherently indiscriminate weapons.
Human Rights Watch reported on January 31 numerous cases in which Ukrainian forces fired rockets carrying thousands of PFM-1 antipersonnel mines, also called “petal” or “butterfly” mines, into Russia-occupied areas in and around the eastern Ukrainian city of Izium between April and September 2022. Human Rights Watch verified 11 civilian casualties from the mines, including one death and multiple amputations of lower legs, based on interviews with victims and their family members. In a statement issued the day the report was released, the Ukrainian government committed to “duly study” the report.
Antipersonnel mines explode by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person, and can kill and injure people long after armed conflicts end. PFM mines are small plastic blast mines that are fired into an area, land on the ground, and detonate when pressure is applied to the body of the mine, for example when someone steps on, handles or moves it. Some PFM mines self-destruct, exploding randomly up to 40 hours after being used.
Since publication of its report, Human Rights Watch has discovered further evidence of Ukrainian use of antipersonnel mines in 2022. It shared the findings with the Ukrainian government in a May 28, 2023, letter along with questions, but has not received a response.
In May 2023, an individual working in an area of eastern Ukraine where the Ukrainian government restored control after Russian forces left posted photos online showing multiple remnants of artillery rockets. They said the remnants were recovered from agricultural land during clearance operations. After close inspection of the markings on the remnants, Human Rights Watch identified two 9N128K3 warhead sections of 9M27K3 Uragan 220mm rockets, which each contain 9N223 “blocks,” or stacks, of 9N212 PFM-1S antipersonnel blast mines in cassettes.
Each Uragan 9M27K3 mine-laying rocket is designed exclusively to carry and disperse 312 PFM-1S antipersonnel mines. The markings on all the images of rockets examined show that they were produced in 1986 (from batch numbers 14 and 16) at the USSR munitions factory designated #912. In addition to the GRAU Index numbers that matched warheads used to carry PFM-1S antipersonnel mines, Human Rights Watch also identified handwriting on the side of one warhead section. Analysis of the writing determined that the first word is the Ukrainian word “Від,” which translates as “from.” A second phrase, written in Latin script, relates to an organization in Kyiv.
Human Rights Watch identified, through a search of information publicly available, a person who said they run the named organization. The person had also made public posts on a social media platform indicating that they had donated funds to the Ukrainian military in 2022 by way of a Kyiv-based nongovernmental group supporting Ukraine’s war effort. Another Ukraine-based group posted pictures showing similar messaging written in Ukrainian on an Uragan 9M27K3 mine-laying rocket.
An image posted on social media that bears the watermark of the Kyiv-based nongovernmental group by a person who says they run the organization that made the donation, shows the same warhead section of an Uragan 9M27K3 mine-laying rocket in the image posted by the individual of the rocket recovered from the agricultural land. Human Rights Watch determined that the markings specifying the same batch, year, and factory, and the handwriting and handwritten phrase match. The post, dated August 2022, also shows the warhead sections of two other Uragan 9M27K3 rockets with phrases written on them.
At least 15 images have been posted online of the Uragan 9M27K3 mine-laying rockets from these two fundraising efforts, showing at least 15 mine-laying rockets.
The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty comprehensively bans antipersonnel mines, and requires destruction of stocks, clearance of mined areas, and assistance to victims. Ukraine signed the Mine Ban Treaty on February 24, 1999, and ratified it on December 27, 2005. Russia has not joined the treaty but violates international humanitarian law when using antipersonnel mines because they are inherently indiscriminate. The Mine Ban Treaty entered into force on March 1, 1999, and its 164 states include all NATO member states except the United States, and all European Union member states.
Ukraine’s investigation of PFM antipersonnel mines use should address the evidence that Human Rights Watch and others have provided. It should be aimed at holding those responsible for the mine use to account. The inquiry should also issue recommendations concerning the efforts that the Ukrainian government should take to identify and assist victims. This includes providing appropriate and timely compensation, and medical and other assistance, such as prosthetics where appropriate, and ongoing rehabilitation needs, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch co-founded and chairs the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), 1997 Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate.
"Ukrainian authorities concerned for their civilians’ protection have an interest in getting to the bottom of how, when, and where these mines were used," said Goose. "And doing all they can to stop them from being used again."