Artillery vehicle

Dozens of Bucha civilians were killed by metal darts from Russian artillery | Ukraine

Dozens of civilians who died during the Russian occupation of the Ukrainian town of Bucha were killed by tiny metal arrowheads from shells of a type fired by Russian artillery, medical examiners said.

Pathologists and coroners carrying out autopsies on bodies found in mass graves in the area north of kyiv, where Russian occupation forces have been accused of atrocities, said they found small metal darts, called darts , embedded in people’s heads and chests.

“We found several very fine nail-like objects in the bodies of both men and women, as did other of my colleagues in the area,” Vladyslav Pirovskyi, a Ukrainian medical examiner, told the Guardian. “It’s very difficult to find any in the body, they are too thin. The majority of these bodies come from the Bucha-Irpin region.

Experts from the forensic service of the French National Gendarmerie and Ukrainian doctors transporting bodies of civilians killed in Bucha.
Photography: Alessio Mamo

Independent weapons experts who reviewed photos of the metal arrows found in the bodies, seen by the Guardian, confirmed they were darts, an anti-personnel weapon widely used in World War I.

These small metal darts are contained in tank or field gun shells. Each shell can hold up to 8,000 darts. When fired, the shells explode when a time-delay fuse explodes and explodes above the ground.

The darts, usually between 3cm and 4cm in length, emerge from the shell and scatter in a conical arc about 300m wide and 100m long. Upon impact with a victim’s body, the dart can lose its rigidity, bending into a hook, while the back of the arrow, consisting of four fins, often breaks off, causing a second injury.

According to several witnesses in Bucha, flechette shells were fired by Russian artillery days before forces withdrew from the area in late March.

How darts work

Bucha resident Svitlana Chmut told the Washington Post that she found several nailed to her car.

Although human rights groups have long called for a ban on darts, these ammunition are not banned under international law. However, the use of imprecise lethal weapons in densely populated civilian areas is a violation of humanitarian law.

According to Neil Gibson, a weapons expert with the British group Fenix ​​Insight, who reviewed photos of the darts found at Bucha, the metal darts came from a 122 mm 3Sh1 artillery shell, used by Russian artillery.

“Another uncommon and rarely seen projectile,” said Gibson on Twitter. “This time it is the Russian equivalent of the American “Beehive” series of anti-personnel projectiles (APERS)… It functions like a real shell projectile, but is filled with darts and a wax binder. “

Darts have been used as ballistic weapons since World War I. Dropped by new aircraft of the time to attack infantry, the deadly metal darts were capable of piercing helmets. They were not widely used in World War II, but reappeared in the Vietnam War, when the United States used a version of dart loads, packaged in plastic cups.

“Darts are an anti-personnel weapon designed to penetrate dense vegetation and strike large numbers of enemy soldiers,” according to Amnesty International. “They should never be used in built-up civilian areas.”

“You don’t need to be a weapons expert to understand that Russia ignored the rules of war in Bucha,” Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said. “Bucha was turned into a Chechen safari, where they used landmines against civilians.”

Russian forces captured Bucha, 30 km northwest of kyiv, after fierce fighting days after the invasion began in February. They were ordered to retreat at the end of March and in the days that followed mass graves containing the bodies of hundreds of apparently massacred people were discovered.

A team of 18 experts from the forensic department of the French National Gendarmerie, alongside a team of forensic investigators from kyiv, began documenting the terror inflicted on civilians during the month-long occupation.

“We see a lot of mutilated (disfigured) bodies,” Pirovsky said. “Many of them had their hands tied behind their backs and bullets in the back of their necks. There were also cases of automatic fire, like six to eight holes in the victims’ backs. And we have several cases of elements of cluster bombs embedded in the bodies of the victims.

Evidence collected by the Guardian during a visit to Bucha, Hostomel and Borodianka, and reviewed by independent weapons experts, showed Russian troops were using cluster munitions – which are banned in much of the world – and powerful unguided bombs in populated areas, which destroyed at least eight civilian buildings.

Darts are rarely used in modern warfare except periodically by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which has deployed them in military operations in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, killing and injuring civilians.

In March 2008, a Palestinian journalist and videographer for Reuters, Fadel Shana, was killed by darts from a shell fired by an Israeli tank. X-rays later showed metal darts embedded in Shana’s chest, legs and body armor, which were unshielded.

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