The international advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Kyiv to investigate the Ukrainian Army’s use of banned antipersonnel landmines across the eastern battlefield in its latest report on Tuesday.
According to the report, the watchdog documented numerous cases of the Ukrainian military’s “apparent use of thousands of rocket-fired antipersonnel landmines” that have been harming Ukrainian civilians in and around the previously Russian-occupied city of Izium.
Rocket-fired PFM mines are scatterable, high-explosive, Soviet- and Russian-made anti-personnel mines that were fired extensively by the Ukrainian forces into the Russian-occupied area around Izium during the early stages of the war. While most landmines are placed manually, these operate only when scattered by aircraft, rockets, or artillery over a stretched-out area. The PFM mines, dubbed as ‘green parrots’ or ‘butterfly mines’ are usually non-lethal but designed to seriously maim the enemy. They cannot be disarmed, thus they pose a lasting threat to the civilian population.
What further complicates the question is that anti-personnel landmines have been banned by the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty (also known as the ‘Ottawa Convention’), the signatories of which include Ukraine, but not Russia. HRW already published three reports on the use of such mines by the Russian military during the Ukrainian campaign (on the basis of violating the Geneva Convention), but this is the first time they call for Kyiv’s compliance with the Ottawa Treaty.
“Ukrainian forces appear to have extensively scattered landmines around the Izium area, causing civilian casualties and posing an ongoing risk,” said Steve Goose, the Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division Director. “Russian forces have repeatedly used antipersonnel mines and committed atrocities across the country, but this doesn’t justify Ukrainian use of these prohibited weapons.”
The Eastern Ukrainian city of Izium was fully seized by Russian forces by April 1st and remained under Moscow’s control until the Ukrainian counteroffensive in early September. After the Ukrainian military successfully recaptured Izium, Human Rights Watch began conducting research in the area interviewing over a hundred people, including witnesses, victims, and doctors. According to the report,
Everyone interviewed said they had seen mines on the ground, knew someone who was injured by one, or had been warned about their presence during Russia’s occupation of Izium.
The report recounts neary 50 cases of civilians being injured by PFM mines, including at least five children. Half of those injuries resulted in amputation. Human Rights Watch also documented and verified eleven civilian casualties from Ukrainian anti-personnel mines in the area.
At the end of the Cold War, Ukraine had about six million PFM mines in its stockpiles, all of which it was obliged to destroy under the Ottawa Treaty, but Kyiv was consistently behind its target numbers throughout the years. In 2012, Ukraine signed an agreement with the EU under which Brussels provided €3.7 million in assistance for the destruction of 3.3 million mines, less than a third of which have been destroyed to date. At the start of the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s stockpiles still counted over 3.3 million PFM landmines.