Lethal Russian “flechette” shells hit houses in the Ukrainian town of Irpin. “They are everywhere,” say the residents.
More than a month after the Ukrainian army recovered Irpin from the Russians, Volodymyr Klimashevskyi still finds the tiny nail-like projectiles scattered around the garden and embedded in the walls of his house.
“You can’t take them out by hand, you have to use pliers,” says Klimashevskyi, pointing to the wall dotted with dark darts.
Called fléchettes – French for “small darts” – these 2.5-centimeter long sharp projectiles were a brutal invention of World War I, when the Allies used them to hit as many enemy soldiers as possible. They are involved in projectiles fired by tanks. When the projectile is detonated, thousands of darts are sprayed over a large area.
Fléchette projectiles are not prohibited, but their use in civilian areas is prohibited by humanitarian law, given their indiscriminate nature. They do serious damage as, twisting and bending, they tear through the body – and can be lethal.
The United States used them during the Vietnam War and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs accused the Israeli military of using them against civilians in 2010 in Gaza, according to a US State Department report. But other than that, they were rarely used in modern warfare.
After Russian forces withdrew from cities and towns north of Kiev that they had occupied in March, evidence emerged that they had used them during the attack.
Irpin, a suburb of Kiev, is not the only place where such evidence has emerged.
In the village of Andriivka, about 20 kilometers west of Irpin, farmer Vadim Bozhko told CNN he found fléchettes scattered along the road leading to his house. Bozhko and his wife hid in the basement while their house was bombed. It was almost completely destroyed by a projectile.
Darts were also found on the bodies of dead people in the Kiev suburb of Bucha, according to Liudmila Denisova, a human rights officer for Ukraine. Denisova said last month that after “the liberation of cities in the Kiev region, new atrocities by Russian troops are revealed.”
“Forensic experts found fléchettes on the bodies of residents of Bucha and Irpin. [russos] dropped bombs used them to bomb residential buildings in cities and suburbs,” Denisova said in a statement. It was not clear whether the fléchettes killed the victims.
Klimashevskyi, 57, still clearly remembers the day the fléchettes began to rain down on him. It was March 5th and he was lying on the floor of his house, away from the window, protecting himself. A shell hit the house next door, but it didn’t explode. The darts covered the area and destroyed his car window.
Neighbors Anzhelika Kolomiec, 53, and Ihor Novohatniy, 64, fled Irpin amid the worst fighting in March. When they returned after several weeks, they said they found several fléchettes scattered around the garden and on top of the roof.
They keep them in a glass jar on the patio. Every now and then they add one more.
“We’re finding them everywhere,” Novohatniy said, pointing to the darts that are still housed on the patio’s roof. “They are leaving [do telhado]but they are usually scattered.”
When they were finally able to return home, Kolomiec did what he does every spring. She tended her garden, planting lettuce leaves, onions and other plants. Digging around, she continued to find the small metal darts that Russian soldiers were shooting at her and her house. But the memory of those terrifying days hasn’t stopped her from doing what she loves.
“I love gardening. I don’t have much space, but last year I had hundreds of tomatoes, I gave them to all my friends. This year we can’t have tomatoes, but I have arugula, onions and some flowers.”