In what seems to be the Ukrainians giving the Russians a taste of their own medicine, the Ukrainian Armed Forces reportedly fired cluster munition rockets at Russian troops to force them out of a village in Husarivka, Ukraine, according to The New York Times.

Journalists from The New York Times uncovered what remained of a cluster munition rocket near Yurii Doroshenko’s home in Husarivka, some 60 miles south of Kharkiv. Nobody had died from the particular cluster munition they discovered. However, the publication later determined that two people were killed from the usage of the munition in other portions of the village as Ukrainian forces shelled the village to target Russian troops.

The cluster munition was banned from use in wars during the 2007-2008 Oslo Process that created the 2010 Convention on Cluster Munitions. The convention stipulated that all cluster munitions must be destroyed within ten years and that assistance be provided to the victims of these weapons. One hundred ten state parties and 13 countries have signed the agreement, including 24 NATO members and allies. Note that the US, Russia, and Ukraine did not sign the agreement.

The US has also used cluster munitions in the past, specifically during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and an attack on Yemen in December of 2009. Other instances include operations in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Laos, and Lebanon. Generally, these weapons are not supposed to be used as anti-personnel weapons.  They were developed originally to attack material and equipment like aircraft, trucks, depots and ammunition dumps.

The wreckage of BM-27 Uragan MLRS 9M27K-series rocket booster and cargo sections in Mykolaiv for cluster munitions (Rob Lee). Source:
The wreckage of BM-27 Uragan MLRS 9M27K-series rocket booster and cargo sections in Mykolaiv for cluster munitions (Rob Lee/Twitter)

While the US has been diligent in using these weapons as intended and within the confines of international rules governing their use, Russia has repeatedly used cluster munitions in Ukraine in civilian areas. A UN report states that they have utilized cluster munitions at least 24 times in populated areas of Ukraine. Reports that the Russians shelled the densely populated city of Mykolaiv early in March for three separate days sparked the outrage of the international populace, stating that the munition could kill innocent civilians. An attack on March 13 killed nine civilians who were reportedly in line at an ATM. The munitions used in these attacks were reportedly 9M27K-series Uragan cluster munition rockets.

Possibly as an act of retribution, the Ukrainians also fired cluster munitions on their occupiers to give the Russians a taste of their own medicine. These cluster munitions were identified as 220-millimeter Uragan artillery rockets fired sometime between March 6 and March 7, similar to those that the Russians have been using on Ukraine.  This is actually permissible under the rule of “Reprisal” which permits a belligerent to respond in kind to the use of illegal weapons by the other side in a conflict.

Cluster munitions like the Russian 9N235 are rockets with as many as 72 submunitions inside the rocket frame.  The rocket ejects the bomblets above the ground and they spread out to strike the ground before exploding. The bomblets themselves can have sized fragmentation to attack personnel and unprotected targets or larger fragments to attack light armored vehicles like APCs, truck,s and other vehicles or aircraft.

Journalists from the Times said that the large pieces of the rocket were determined to have the structures that dispensed the cluster munitions and that it landed near the Russian headquarters in the village. While it did not hit its target, it was definitely close. They estimated that each rocket carried 30 antipersonnel bomblets. These bomblets reportedly had an equivalent of 11 ounces of TNT.

This marks the first time the Ukrainians have used cluster munitions in the war. Its use of a cluster bomb on their own soil only reveals that they will do anything necessary to take back their territory, even if this means they may kill innocent people in the process. However, they had also used these munitions in the past, particularly in 2015 when they were fighting with separatists in Donbas.

According to the town’s informal leader Mr. Doroshenko, many cluster munitions were fired onto Husarivka and described the frequency of the shelling as “incessantly.” These munitions fell on a small neighborhood with single-story homes. These were the places where the rocket would’ve deployed the bomblets, scattering their destructive warheads to the neighborhood.

It is unknown how many were hit by the munitions. However, the New York Times documented Olexandr Dvoretska as one of those who had been killed by one of the mortar strikes.

“He was discovered dead in the house on the 23rd, and on the 24th, they could barely reach me on the phone to notify me,” his wife Lubov said. “Just as he was, in the same clothes, he was buried inhumanly, like an animal.”

“I never thought it would happen this way,” Lubov yelled. “It never got in my head that I will be left alone at my old age. Alone.”

Another Ukrainian, Volodymyr Strokov, 22 years old, was also killed by the Ukrainian shelling.

Cluster munitions fired on the village have spread destruction over its local population. However, the dangers of the cluster munition do not stop when it’s fired, as 20% of its bomblets fail to detonate upon impact, which leaves them ready to detonate at any given time if disturbed. If a person picks up the bomblet, not knowing what it is or not knowing it is live, it can definitely kill them instantaneously.

Advocacy Director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch Mary Wareham said that it was not surprising that the Ukrainians have used this type of munition. However, she was dismayed that the Ukrainians decided to use it again.

“Cluster munitions are unacceptable weapons that are killing and maiming civilians across Ukraine,” she said.