Ukrainian civilians in Bucha killed by metal darts from Russian ‘nail bomb’ artillery

Foresenic experts reportedly found several ‘nail-like’ objects in the heads and chests of victims

Thomas Kingsley
Tuesday 26 April 2022 11:28 BST
Zelesnky describes atrocities committed by Russians in Bucha at UN Security Council

Dozens of Ukrainian civilians who died during Russia’s occupation of the town of Bucha last month were killed by small metal arrows from artillery shells that are like flying nail bombs, forensic doctors have revealed.

Post-mortem examinations found tiny metal darts embedded in victims’ heads and chests in the town north of Kyiv, where mass graves were discovered. Russian soldiers stand accused of killing and torturing innocent unarmed civilians, including children, resulting in more than 400 deaths.

“We found several really thin, nail-like objects in the bodies of men and women and so did others of my colleagues in the region,” Vladyslav Pirovskyi, a Ukrainian forensic doctor, told the Guardian.

File: A small pointed metal dart known as a flechette, seen in the Gaza Strip in January 2009 (AP)

“It is very hard to find those in the body, they are too thin. The majority of these bodies come from the Bucha-Irpin region.”

The metal darts are known as flechettes, from the French for “little arrows”. They are rarely used by armies in modern warfare, experts said. The weapon was deployed by all sides during the First World War but it was considered ineffective and was replaced by explosive shells.

“Flechettes are an anti-personnel weapon designed to penetrate dense vegetation and to strike a large number of enemy soldiers. They should never be used in built-up civilian areas,” Amnesty International said of the weapon.

The use of the munitions is not prohibited by international law but rights groups have long campaigned for them to be banned. Neverthelesss, the use of imprecise deadly weapons in densely populated civilian areas does violate humanitarian law.

Svitlana Chmut, a resident of Bucha, told the Washington Post she had found several nailed on her car.

“If you look closely on the ground around my house, you will find a lot more of them,” she said, having combed the surrounding areas and gathered up a pile of the little deadly projectiles in late March.

According to Neil Gibson, a weapons expert at the UK-based Fenix Insight group, who has reviewed the photos of the fléchettes found in Bucha, the metal darts came from a 122mm 3Sh1 artillery round, in use by Russian artillery.

Cemetery workers exhume the corpse of a civilian killed in Bucha from a mass grave, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, 13 April 2022 (AP)

“Another uncommon and rarely seen projectile,” said Mr Gibson on Twitter. “This time it’s the Russian equivalent of the US ‘Beehive’ series of Anti-personnel (APERS) projectiles … It operates like a true shrapnel projectile, but is filled with fléchettes and a wax binder.”

Major Volodymyr Fito, a spokesperson for Ukrainian land forces command, said its military does not use shells with flechettes.

They have a long history, first being used to kill people in warfare during the First World War and they were used by the US - who refer to them as “Beehive” anti-personnel projectiles - in Vietnam. Israel also stand accused of having using the weapon in Gaza.

Olia, 53, stands next to destroyed constructions in her courtyard, on April 5, 2022 in Bucha (Getty Images)

On 9 April, UN human rights officers visiting Bucha documented the unlawful killing, including by summary execution, of some 50 civilians, the office said. The UN mission has received more than 300 allegations of killings of civilians in previously occupied towns in the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions.

Russian officials have denied that their soldiers killed any civilians in Bucha and other towns around Kyiv from which they retreated three weeks ago, and accused Ukraine of staging the atrocities.

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