As the death toll of Ukrainian civilians killed in Russia’s invasion of that country mounts, Russia has been accused of tactics that could be a war crime.
Ukrainian officials and media say Russia has used what’s known as a thermobaric weapon, or a vacuum bomb, in its efforts to crush Ukrainian opposition.
“They used the vacuum bomb today,” Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, told reporters on Monday, according to Politico.
The bomb — which creates a super-high temperature blast by sucking up oxygen in the vicinity of the blast — destroyed an army base in Okhtyrka, in the northwest part of Ukraine, Sumy regional administrative chief Dmytro Zhyvytskyy said on his Telegram channel.
He said the explosion had killed 70 soldiers.
Okhtyrka Mayor Pavel Kuzmenko also described the weapon used in the attack as a vacuum bomb, Politico reported.
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) March 1, 2022
Russian vehicles capable of carrying such weapons have been spotted, according to some reports, but no official confirmation exists of the use of such a weapon.
“We have seen the reports. If that were true, it would potentially be a war crime,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during her news briefing on Monday, referring to the use of a vacuum bomb in a civilian area.
Marcus Hellyer, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the use of the bomb was to be expected, according to the U.K.’s Guardian.
“One of the things we know about Russian tactics is that they are willing to destroy everything,” Hellyer said.
“It’s clear that the Ukrainians are hunkering down in some of the cities … as that continues the Russians are going to resort more and more to using … whatever weapons they have including thermobaric weapons in built-up urban areas,” he said.
Another video of the damage in Central Kharkiv, courtesy of Ukraine’s State Emergency Service. A man halfway through says, “This is my car.” What’s left of it anyway. pic.twitter.com/gAvwWgontQ
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) March 1, 2022
“Today, 37 people were wounded, including three children. Four people came out of a bomb shelter to get water and were killed. A family, two adults and three children, were burned alive in the car,” Terekhov said.
“Today’s shelling of residential areas of Kharkiv showed this is not a military operation but a war to destroy the Ukrainian people,” he said.
In a tweet on Tuesday that included video of the explosion, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, “Barbaric Russian missile strikes on the central Freedom Square and residential districts of Kharkiv.”
He said Russian President Vladimir Putin “is unable to break Ukraine down. He commits more war crimes out of fury, murders innocent civilians.”
Barbaric Russian missile strikes on the central Freedom Square and residential districts of Kharkiv. Putin is unable to break Ukraine down. He commits more war crimes out of fury, murders innocent civilians. The world can and must do more. INCREASE PRESSURE, ISOLATE RUSSIA FULLY! pic.twitter.com/tN4VHF1A9n
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) March 1, 2022
Ukraine’s emergency services agency said in a Facebook post that the explosion damaged an apartment block as well as Kharkiv’s opera house and philharmonic theater, according to The New York Times.
“There will come a time, when all war criminals, all insane dictators, will have to appear in court,” the agency said in its post, according to the Times. “And at that time, Satan will curse you for each drop of blood of Ukrainian citizens that you spilled. Burn in hell for eternity.”
Amnesty International said international humanitarian law prohibits the use of cluster bombs and similar weapons, according to Reuters, noting that indiscriminate attacks targeting civilians are a war crime.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday he wants to probe possible war crimes taking place during the invasion, according to ABC News.
Prosecutor Karim Khan said that “given the expansion of the conflict in recent days, it is my intention that this investigation will also encompass any new alleged crimes falling within the jurisdiction of my office that are committed by any party to the conflict on any part of the territory of Ukraine.”
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