Categories

Explosive violence by the Russian armed forcesExplosive violence in UkraineAOAV: all our reportsExplosive violence researchManufactured explosive weapons

Russia’s Dirty Dozen: an examination of Russian explosive weapons used in Ukraine

As Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine progresses into its eleventh month, AOAV has so far recorded 9,713 civilian casualties (3,430 killed and 6,283 injured) of Russian explosive violence on Ukrainian territory. Throughout this ‘special military operation,’ Russia has systematically targeted towns and cities in Ukraine with wide-area impact explosive weapons. Such military actions are known to cause significant civilian casualties when used in populated areas and Russia has been accused of mass murder for such violence.

Based on AOAV’s data, shelling, missiles, and rockets are the most frequently deployed Russian weapons in Ukraine, respectively accounting for 68% (1,203), 12% (207), and 7% (118) of the 1,781 incidents so far recorded as of Monday Jan 16. The majority of civilian casualties of Russian explosive weapon use have been attributed to shelling, which has caused 51% (4,994) of civilian casualties so far. Missiles have caused 19% (1,864), and air-strikes 13% (1,234). 

88% (1,562) of Russian explosive weapon use was recorded in populated areas – areas where at least 95% (9,206) of the resulting casualties were civilians. 46% (812) of recorded Russian attacks targeted urban residential areas, while 26% (469) of attacks hit multiple urban locations at once, damaging residential areas, commercial premises, schools, and hospitals. The deadliest attack was an airstrike, on 16 March 2022, which struck a theatre being used as a shelter in Mariupol. At least 600 civilians were killed. 

But what weapons are behind such harm?  To answer this, AOAV has examined 12 Russian weapons – Russia’s ‘dirty dozen’ – that have been linked to some of these attacks. This list has been compiled from open-source information from trusted news sites and reports published by non-governmental organisations.

Missile Systems

AOAV has recorded 1,864 civilian casualties of Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian towns and cities. Missiles are guided, indicating that attacks on residential areas are intentional. By November 2022, over 4,700 missiles were reported to have been fired at Ukrainian towns since 28 February. 

AOAV has recorded five types of Russian missiles that have been used in multiple strikes on civilians.

1. Iskander-M

The Iskander-M is a ground-based ballistic missile system produced and used by the Russian military since 2006. Iskander ballistic missiles are a key component of Russia’s military arsenal and have been used extensively by Russia during the conflict. According to some reports, the majority of the hundreds of missiles that were fired by Russia in the first days of the conflict were Iskander ballistic missiles. They have a range of up to 500km and have been used in the Ukrainian regions of Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, and Donetsk. One reason for their frequent use is their ability to overcome missile defence systems as they are equipped with decoys and technology for in-flight correction and self-guidance.

They fall on the target at a speed of 8000 km/h and carry warheads of up to 700kg. According to Russian claims, the blast radius from a single warhead is 25,000 square metres, causing devastation if used in densely populated areas. They also have an accuracy of 5-7m, indicating that attacks on civilian populations are not accidental. AOAV had linked four attacks and 51 civilian casualties to Iskander-M missiles. In the most deadly attack, at least 24 civilians were killed and 20 injured (including one child) when a dormitory in Kharkiv’s Saltivsky district was hit on 17 August.In September 2022 the Ukrainian MoD announced that Russia had less than 200 Iskander missiles left. Though produced in Russia, many of the systems on the Iskander depend on Western technology.

Remnants of an Iskander-M ballistic missile with cluster warhead shot down over Kramatorsk by National Police of Ukraine

2. OTR-21 Tochka-U

In service with the Soviet Army since 1976, the OTR-21 Tochka-U short-range ballistic missile system is regarded as the Iskander’s predecessor. A ground-based ballistic missile system, it can be fitted with conventional, chemical, nuclear or cluster munitions. Tochka-U missiles, which are out of production, are not used as frequently due to their shorter range (120km), but they have had deadly consequences for parts of Ukraine neighbouring Russian-occupied regions. Able to stray 150m off target, these indiscriminate missiles also pose a real threat to civilians when fired at populated areas. 

On 08 April, the killing of 59 people and wounding of 107 in a strike on a train station in the city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk was linked to two Tochka-U missiles, likely carrying 9N24 cluster munitions. Four civilians were also killed and 10 injured on 24 February in an attack near a hospital in Vuhledar, Donetsk, by a Tochka missile carrying a 9N123 cluster munition.

3. Kalibr

The Kalibr missile is Russia’s most advanced cruise missile, and has ship-launched, submarine-launched and air-launched versions. It can carry a warhead weighing up to 500kg and uses an inertial guidance system. Produced by Russia, it has been in service since 1994. They are estimated to have a range of between 1500-2500km. 

Kalibr missiles are reportedly used to strike high-priority targets, but they have been used on populated areas in and near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Kropyvnytskyi, Odesa and Vinnytsia. AOAV has linked five attacks on civilians and at least 27 civilian casualties to Kalibr missiles. In one attack on 14 July, a Kalibr cruise missile was launched from a submarine in the Black Sea, hitting the city of Vinnytsia and killing 20 civilians while injuring dozens.

4. S-300

The S-300 is a long-range, surface-to-air missile system. Variants of the S-300 have been in service since 1978, but the most recent version – the Antey-4000, which was released in 2021 – has a maximum firing range of 400 km. S-300s are intended to be used as air defence missiles but have been repurposed and fitted with GPS to attack ground targets at a range of 120km. Firing in salvos and with a reportedly inaccurate guidance system, they are a real danger to civilians. It was estimated that Russia had a supply of 7000 S-300 missiles that were over 30 years old, which they started using instead of Iskander and Kalibr systems.

S-300 missiles have been used extensively by Russia in attacks on civilian populations in Ukraine, with AOAV recording 26 S-300 missile attacks resulting in at least 210 civilian casualties since the invasion. They have been launched at or near the Ukrainian towns of Kharkiv, Kostiantynivka, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Kramatorsk. In an S-300 missile strike on a convoy near Zaporizhzhia city, on 30 September, at least 30 civilians were killed (including two children) and 88 injured. In another S-300 missile strike on Mykolaiv on 13 October, at least seven civilians were killed and two injured when an apartment building was hit.

Missile strike on a humanitarian convoy in Zaporizhzhia, 2022-09-30 by State Emergency Service of Ukraine 

5. Kh-22

Russia has developed several air-to-surface (coded ‘kh’) missiles. The oldest and most inaccurate of these is the Kh-22, put into service in 1962 and still in use to this day. Russia is reported to have a stockpile of these which it is using in place of more precise munitions. The Kh-22 can carry an explosive warhead weighing up to 1 ton, has a range of 600km, and can travel at speeds of up to 5,600 km/h. Originally designed as an anti-ship missile, there is evidence that it is now being used by Russia against ground targets, possibly because the country is running out of precision-guided missiles.

Its weight, speed and inaccuracy make the Kh-22 a highly lethal missile when targeted at urban areas. There are reports of the Kh-22 being used on ground targets in and around Kharkiv, Odesa, Donetsk, Mykolaiv, Chernihiv, Kyiv, Sumy, Zhytomyr, Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro. The Kh-32 is a more advanced – but still inaccurate – version of the Kh-22.

AOAV has recorded nine Russian attacks by Kh-22 missiles resulting in at least 374 civilian casualties. One attack involving two Kh-22 missiles (or two Kh-32 missiles, according to one report) took place on 27 June, when a shopping mall in Kremenchuk was struck, killing at least 20 civilians and injuring 59. The shopping mall was set on fire and destroyed when one of two missiles hit it and another struck a nearby power plant. More recently, on 14 January, a Kh-22 missile struck an apartment block in Dnipro, killing 44 civilians and injuring another 79.

Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS)

MLRS are surface-to-surface mobile rocket systems. They have a longer range than conventional artillery shells and fire rockets in salvos to saturate a wide area. MLRS typically launch self-propelled unguided rockets which are very imprecise, landing up to 100m off-target. Combined with a large blast radius, this means that they are almost certain to result in significant civilian casualties when targeting populated areas.

They are a key piece of Russia’s military equipment and are frequently used to target towns and cities in Ukraine. Three MLRS have been linked to Russian rocket strikes on civilians.

6. BM-30 Smerch

The BM-30 Smerch was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1980s. When it was adopted by the Soviet Army in 1987 it was the most powerful MLRS in the world, and it remains one of the most powerful today. It can fire twelve 300mm rockets at a time, with a firing range of 70km or 90km depending on the rocket type. The newer Smerch-M can launch rockets with a range of up to 120km. Most Smerch rockets are unguided. 

The Smerch can fire different warheads, including high-explosive and incendiary warheads. It can also be used to fire cluster munitions and numerous Russian Smerch cluster munitions attacks on Ukraine have been documented. The BM-30 Smerch fires 9M55K cluster munition rockets that contain 72 9N235 submunitions and can scatter over the size of a football field, as well as RBK-500 cluster bombs with PTAB-1M submunitions into Ukraine.

AOAV has recorded five Russian Smerch rocket attacks resulting in 49 civilian casualties in Mykolaiv, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, and Myrnohrad. The deaths of at least three civilians in Kharkiv on 28 February were linked to Smerch cluster munition rockets. In another Smerch MLRS strike on Kharkiv on 11 July, at least three civilians were killed (including one child) and 21 injured (including two children).

Pokrovsk (Donetsk region of Ukraine) after Russian shelling from BM-30 Smerch on 3 November 2022. One person is known to be killed and six to be injured. By the National Police of Ukraine 

7. BM-27 Uragan

The BM-27 Uragan predates the Smerch by over 10 years. It uses the 9P140 launching vehicle and can launch 16 220 mm rockets, which have a range of 34km. Uragan rockets are unguided and can carry high-explosive, incendiary, chemical and cluster warheads. The cluster warheads can be fitted with anti-tank mines.

Despite its short range, AOAV recorded 18 Russian Uragan rocket strikes resulting in 183 civilian casualties in Ukraine since 24 Feb, in Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Kryvyi Rih, Luhansk and Donetsk. In one attack on 24 March, six people were killed and 15 injured when cluster munitions struck a parking lot in Kharkiv where hundreds of people were queuing for humanitarian aid. Amnesty International researchers found parts of a 220mm Uragan rocket and fragments of 9N210/9N235 cluster munitions at the scene. In another attack on 09 July 2022, 48 people were killed and nine injured in Chasiv Yar when a 5-storey residential building was struck by Uragan rockets.

8. BM-21 Grad

The most widely-used MLRS in the world, the truck-mounted BM-21 Grad system can fire 40 122mm rockets. It can be fitted with high-explosive, incendiary, chemical, smoke, illumination and cluster warheads, and uses the Ural-375D 6×6 high mobility truck. 

Grad rockets are unguided and, according to Human Rights Watch, “notoriously imprecise weapons that shouldn’t be used in populated areas…”. AOAV recorded 48 Russian Grad MLRS attacks between 24 February and 16 January, resulting in 193 civilian casualties. In one attack on 07 September, three civilians were killed and five injured when Russian Grad rockets struck a humanitarian aid distribution centre in a village in Zaporizhzhia.

Rocket from multiple rocket launcher in Luhansk Oblast (2022-04-26)
by State Emergency Service of Ukraine

*Cluster munitions*

Cluster munitions or cluster bombs are weapons that contain multiple explosive submunitions. They consequently kill indiscriminately over a wide area and pose a significant threat to civilians. In the first weeks of the conflict, the use of cluster munitions was documented in residential areas of Ukraine far from any clear military targets. Amnesty International investigated cluster munitions strikes in Ukraine and found that they all resulted in multiple casualties, sometimes streets apart.

The Tochka-U missile system and MLRS have all been linked to several cluster munitions strikes on Ukraine, as detailed above. These include 9N210, 9N235, 9N24, 9M55K, 9N123 cluster munitions and RBK 500 cluster bombs. A cluster variant of an Iskander-M Ballistic Missile was also documented by local police in Kramatorsk, near Donetsk, as reported by Bellingcat.

Russia has reported a large stockpile of cluster munitions and bombs and has three state-owned companies that have produced cluster munitions for air-dropped bombs, artillery projectiles and rockets. Cluster munitions will likely continue to be used in attacks on Ukraine.

Remnants of 9N123K canister and 9N24 submunition from Tochka-U missile system preserved due to malfunction, by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine

Drones/UAVs

Russia does not produce many drones (though this may soon be changing) and those that it does produce, such as the ZALA KYB, have short ranges and small warheads. For this reason, and as a cheap alternative to its missile supply, Russia imported around 2000 (estimates range between 1700-2400) Iranian drones during the conflict.

9. Shahed-136

One of the Iranian drones delivered to Russia was the Shahed-136. Sometimes referred to as a ‘kamikaze’ or ‘suicide’ drone, the Shahed-136 (known as ‘Geran-2’ in Russian) is a loitering munition drone. Shahid-136 drones are launched from a rack of five (that can be installed on a truck) with rocket-assisted take-off, and they have a reported range of up to 2500km. They carry a high explosive fragmentation warhead (HE-FRAG) and are self-detonating.

Shahed-136 drones are produced by Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries (HESA) and went into service in Iran in 2021, before many were sold to Russia in 2022. While produced in Iran, they contain parts manufactured by over 30 EU and Northern American companies. 

Russia has used Shahed-136s to conduct swarm attacks, whereby several drones are launched at once to overwhelm Ukrainian air defence systems, reportedly using up to 12 drones in one attack. These attacks frequently target civilian infrastructure and populated areas. It has been suggested that they are not intended for military targets due to their noise. AOAV has recorded 18 civilian casualties as a result of five Shahed-136 attacks and one kamikaze drone attack that likely involved Shahed-136 drones. This includes attacks on Dnipro, Chernihiv, Kyiv, Zaporizhia and Odesa, though they have also been spotted as far west as Lviv. 


In one attack on 17 October, a block of flats was struck by a Shahed-136 drone in Kyiv’s Shevchenkivskyi district, killing five civilians and injuring three. 18 people were rescued from the rubble. In another attack on 09 November, four civilians were injured when Shahed-136 drones struck a warehouse in Dnipro city and a fire broke out.

Part of an Iranian-made Shahed-136 suicide drone shot down near the town of Kupiansk, by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine

Aerial bombs

Unguided aerial bombs are highly inaccurate and, coupled with their wide area effects, are likely to cause civilian casualties when dropped on populated areas. 

10FAB-250 and FAB-500

The FAB-250, so named for its 250kg weight, is an unguided air-dropped bomb with a high explosive warhead. It is designed to have a wide area effect through blast overpressure and fragmentation of the casing. Variants of the Soviet-designed FAB-250 have been in use since the late 1940s. Developed a decade later, the FAB-500 has similar features but weighs 500kg. Both bombs are compatible with most Russian fighter aircraft, with reports of them being dropped from Su-34 and Su-35 aircraft.

While few attacks have been explicitly linked to these bombs, those that are have been especially deadly. In an attack on Borodianka between 01 and 03 March, a residential building housing hundreds of civilians was split in two when either a FAB-250 or a FAB-500 struck it, killing most residents. At least 47 people were also killed and many others injured when several unguided aerial bombs were dropped from Russian aircraft in the city of Chernihiv on 03 March 2022. The type of bombs used in the attack was not reported at the time but FAB-500 aerial bombs were likely used, with footage showing a crater of a size consistent with a 500kg bomb.

Removal of an unexploded air-dropped bomb FAB-500, which was dropped on a 9-storey residential building in Kharkiv. By the Main Directorate of the State Emergency Service in Kharkiv Oblast 

Artillery

A large number of civilian casualties have also been linked to artillery strikes – AOAV has recorded 108 Russian artillery strikes since 24 Feb, which have caused 574 civilian casualties. Attacks took place in the Ukrainian regions of Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson, Kyiv, Sumy, Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia and Luhansk. Russia has been using several artillery systems to carry out these attacks, the largest and most deadly of these being the 2S7 Pion/Malka.

11.  2S7 Pion/Malka

The 2S7 Pion is a Soviet-built self-propelled 203mm howitzer with a range of 37.4km for standard ammunition, and 47.5km if using a rocket-assisted projectile. It has been in use since 1976. The 2S7M Malka, which has been in use since the 1980s, is an updated version of the 2S7 Pion with a higher load and firing rate. It fires unguided high-explosive, concrete-piercing, and nuclear ammunition (though the use of nuclear ammunition is yet to be seen). The high-explosive projectiles can weigh over 100kg, carry 17.8kg of explosive munition and leave a 5m crater in the ground.

While AOAV has not recorded any attacks on civilians directly linked to the 2S7 Pion/Malka, this artillery is likely responsible for some of the 101 recorded artillery strikes.


Such attacks may include the killing of a 17-year-old boy and injuring of a 66-year-old woman from artillery fire in Orikhiv city, Zaporizhzhia on 25 August, and the killing of a family of three in Kyiv by artillery fire on 06 March.

Kramatorsk after Russian shelling, 2022-11-08 (02)
by the National Police of Ukraine

Mortar

Mortar is an indirect fire weapon that is either fused to explode before it hits the ground, raining down shrapnel or exploding on contact. According to AOAV data, mortars have a track record of causing a high number of civilian casualties when used in populated areas. AOAV has recorded 35 Russian mortar attacks on Ukraine since 24 February, which have caused 207 civilian casualties. Attacks took place in the regions of Kherson, Donetsk, Sumy, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv and Kyiv. While mortar attacks on civilians have not been linked to specific mortar systems, Russia is using at least three mortar systems against Ukraine, the most destructive of these being the 2S4 Tyulpan.

12.  2S4 Tyulpan

The 2S4 Tyulpan 240mm self-propelled mortar is the world’s largest mortar system in use today. It was first in use by the Soviet Army in the early 1970s and can fire a HE-FRAG bomb with a range of 9.6km and a HE-FRAG rocket-assisted projectile with a range of 19km. It can also fire anti-armour and laser-guided munitions. It uses a modified tracked chassis.

While AOAV has not recorded any attacks on civilians directly linked to the 2S4 Tyulpan, this mortar system is likely responsible for some of the 23 recorded mortar attacks resulting in civilian casualties. Such attacks may include the Russian  mortar attack on the village of Pryshyb near Kharkiv on 22 June that killed five women, and the shelling of a bridge on 06 March that killed eight people (including two children) as they tried to flee the fighting in Irpin for Kyiv.


AOAV’s casualty figures represent the lowest of estimations in terms of the number of people killed and injured by explosive weapon use. In an effort to quantify the explicit harm caused by specific explosive weapons, AOAV solely records incident-specific casualty figures, as reported in English-language media.


AOAV condemns the use of violence against civilians and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. All actors should stop using explosive weapons with wide-area effects where there is likely to be a high concentration of civilians.