Attacks with ‘flechettes’, this is how Russia terrorized the civilians of Bucha
During World War I, both sides used 10-centimeter-long arrows to attack each other that could pierce through a helmet and into a soldier’s head. These little darts, known as flechettes were conceived for a type of warfare that involves brush and foliage, since they sneak around any corner and do not discriminate targets.
According to a report from Guardian Forensic doctors have found these small arrows – now between 3 and 4 centimeters long – on the bodies of the men and women killed in Bucha. The flechettes , which can be fired from a tank, rockets or machine guns, and which reach a speed similar to that of a bullet, are so thin that they bend when entering the body, transform into a kind of hook and are very difficult to detect and extract. Each artillery shell flechettes it can contain between 5,000 and 8,000 of these stingers that can be deadly. For this reason, various humanitarian organizations, including Amnesty International, have been denouncing its use for years. Although not prohibited by the Convention on Cluster Munitions, using them in populated areas can be considered a war crime.
Darts date back to World War I and have been used by the US, Israel and Ukraine in the Donbass
The Russian army is not the only one that has used this weapon. During the Donbass war in 2014, the AFP agency found an unexploded shell full of these darts and interviewed different surgeons in hospitals in the Donetsk province who reported several cases of injuries. Kyiv has always denied its use.
The United States used a similar type of projectile in the Korean and Vietnam wars, where dense vegetation abounded and could be very effective. Israeli forces have also used the flechettes for years in Gaza: Amnesty International denounces that, in 2008, these small darts killed a Reuters cameraman, the Palestinian Fadel Shana, while he was recording the Israeli tank that fired them. Human Rights Watch considered it a war crime.
They are not prohibited because “they produce clean wounds,” says Félix Arteaga, an Elcano researcher
In the words of Félix Arteaga, principal investigator at the Elcano Royal Institute, “the operational context in which they have been used is unknown. The operational usefulness is not known, they have simply been used as another weapon.” It is not yet clear whether the Russian troops used these small arrows against the Ukrainian army or intentionally against the civilian population. Depending on what the objective was, “the considerations would be different”, emphasizes the researcher. Therefore, to judge their use as a war crime, it would be necessary to demonstrate “that they have been used indiscriminately in civilian contexts.” Regarding its prohibition, Arteaga explains that, since they do not have explosives, the flechettes they are not included in the Convention on Cluster Munitions. On the other hand, although “attempts have been made to include them in the package of inhumane weapons” it has not been achieved because “they produce clean wounds”. “Since they are not prohibited, as inventories are depleted, they are replenished,” he says. “They are in the inventory of various armies, including the Russian. They were already used in 2008 in Georgia”.
The war in Ukraine is now in its 66th day. Asking Arteaga what would be the factor that could end the invasion, the researcher goes back to the ceasefire that was agreed in Donbass in 2014: “That is not end the war, is an interruption of a confrontation that the different parties have then continued”. Today, “if there were new negotiations for a ceasefire in Donbass and in the occupied areas, we would be in a similar situation. The Ukrainian forces would always consider that they have to recover those territories (…), and the Russians would try to Russify the area to expel the population and the presence of the Ukrainian state”.