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Report on Russian cluster munition strike in Ukraine highlights need for action to protect civilians from explosive weapons in invasion

Human Rights Watch and SITU Research have released a report and video today (Feb 21, 2023) stating that Russia’s use of cluster munitions on the crowded Kramatorsk train station in eastern Ukraine in April 2022, in which dozens of civilians were killed, was a war crime and violated international laws of war. The report, titled “Death at the Station: Russian Cluster Munition Attack in Kramatorsk,” investigates the events surrounding the attack and calls for the Russian commanders responsible for the attack to be held accountable. The report provides an in-depth investigation of the attack, analyzing over 200 videos and photographs, and conducting a spatial and temporal analysis of the attack.

According to the report, on the morning of April 8, 2022, a ballistic missile equipped with a cluster munition warhead exploded above the Kramatorsk train station, releasing dozens of bomblets that killed at least 58 civilians and injured over 100 others. The attack took place at a major evacuation hub that was known to be crowded with civilians fleeing the conflict. The report also includes eyewitness accounts of the attack and interviews with survivors, first responders, doctors, hospital staff, government officials, and Ukrainian government investigators.

The report identifies the weapon as a 9M79K-1 series Tochka-U ballistic missile, which contains a cluster munition warhead with 50 fragmentation submunitions. The report notes that both Russia and Ukraine stockpile the Tochka ballistic missile equipped with a cluster munition warhead, which is banned under international law due to its indiscriminate effect and long-term danger to civilians. The report calls for all countries to condemn the use of cluster munitions and to bring those responsible for the attack to justice.

Data from Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) shows that when explosive weapons are used in towns and cities, 90% of those killed or injured will be civilians. This highlights the need for greater efforts to regulate the use of such weapons in urban areas and to prevent their use in situations where there is a high risk of harm to civilians. Such efforts could include increasing awareness of the harm caused by these weapons, improving training for military personnel on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and promoting international laws and conventions that prohibit the use of certain types of weapons.