Indiscriminate Killing

Amnesty International, the international, non-governmental human rights watchdog, has reported that hundreds of citizens are being killed in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv by the widespread use of cluster munitions and indiscriminate use of rockets. Yesterday, they published a 44-page, in-depth report titled, Ukraine: “Anyone can die at any time”: Indiscriminate attacks by Russian forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

The title pretty much says it all. It reminds me of a time when I was a new cadet and witnessed a capabilities exercise, or CAPEX, put on by the 82nd Airborne Division. The exercise was widely referred to as the “million-dollar minute” because of the amount of ordnance expended in a relatively short amount of time. But, despite the catchy title, it lasted a lot longer than a minute. I remembered two things from that day over 30 years ago:

  1. Army SF soldiers flying at a high rate of speed while suspended from a rope hanging from a Black Hawk, “I just HAVE to do that,” I thought.
  2. The use of cluster munitions dropped from aircraft leaving Pope Air Force Base.

I’m pretty sure my jaw literally dropped when I saw the devastation they could do in only a couple of seconds. It was one of those events where you could hear everyone saying “wow” under their breath. “No one could live through that,” I thought as entire football-field-sized pieces of land were ripped apart by high explosives and shrapnel.

Old school footage of cluster munitions supposedly being used in Laos. This will give you a clear idea of how devastating they can be. Video courtesy of YouTube and MAG (Mines Advisory Group)

In their document, Amnesty says they have repeatedly uncovered evidence of Russian forces using 9N210/9N235. They have also documented the widespread use of scatterable munitions. These are types of rockets that release smaller bomblets that explode at specific timed intervals.

BBC reporters recently visited five impact sites in residential neighborhoods in Kharkiv, where they found clear evidence of the use of cluster munitions. They leave a signature impression on the areas they are used on. The reporters showed images of markings they found to multiple weapons experts, all of whom agreed they appeared to have been made by that particular type of munition.

An example of the distinctive spalling pattern created by cluster bombs. This photo was taken in a Kharkiv residential neighborhood. Image Credit: Joel Gunter/BBC

Mark Hiznay is one of the experts who examined the photos. He said,

“Those impacts are from cluster munitions, it’s a classic signature. And in one image you can see a remnant of a stabilizer fin from one of the submunitions.”


Cluster munitions have been the subject of controversy for years. One reason is clear from the video above. There is no hiding from them. They are indiscriminately lethal to anything that gets in their way. They also have the particularly nasty habit of not all exploding when they are supposed to. Unexploded ordnance such as this can be devastating for many years to come. Some weapons are so terrible that certain countries pledge not to use them. More than 120 nations have signed a treaty prohibiting the use of cluster munitions. Russia and Ukraine are not among the signatories.

This car, found next to a playground in Kharkiv, shows markings indicative of damage from cluster bombs. Note the multiple shrapnel holes. Image Credit: Joel Gunter/BBC

After two solid weeks of research in the field, Amnesty investigated 41 strikes in Kharkiv. These strikes killed at least 62 civilians and wounded almost 200 others. They killed people while they were shopping, waiting in line for food, or simply taking a walk down the street.

You’ve seen the video and the still images and heard from the experts. You don’t have to have years of experience in the armed forces to realize that dropping these devices anywhere near residential neighborhoods is tantamount to mass murder. And I’m calling out Russia on this one.

They are bombing civilians with zero regard for their lives in an attempt to get the government of Ukraine to give up. Instead, Ukrainian leaders are digging in and fighting back hard. Unfortunately, I don’t see the carnage ending anytime soon.