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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Deadly Downpour: Russia Faces War Crime Charges as White Phosphorus Torments Ukrainian City

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BAKHMUT, Ukraine – Ukraine has accused Russia of using phosphorus munitions in an attack on the besieged city of Bakhmut, sparking intense fires and widespread destruction.

Drone footage released by Ukraine’s military shows the city ablaze with what appears to be white phosphorus raining down.

White phosphorus weapons, although not banned, are considered war crimes when used in civilian areas. They cause fast-spreading fires that are extremely difficult to extinguish. Russia has faced similar accusations in the past.

Despite the questionable strategic value of Bakhmut, Russia has been attempting to capture the city for months, resulting in thousands of casualties among Moscow’s troops, according to Western officials.

The Ukrainian defense ministry took to Twitter, stating that the attack targeted “unoccupied areas of Bakhmut with incendiary ammunition.”

The exact date of the attack remains unclear. Surveillance drone footage shared by Ukraine depicts high-rise buildings engulfed in flames, while other videos on social media show fires raging on the ground and white clouds illuminating the night sky.

A BBC analysis of the footage could confirm the use of incendiary munitions but could not verify the use of phosphorus.

Russia has faced similar accusations in the past, including during the siege of Mariupol at the beginning of the war.

Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov has previously insisted that “Russia has never violated international conventions,” despite allegations from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of white phosphorus use.

White phosphorus, a wax-like substance that ignites on contact with oxygen and burns at 800C, is notorious for causing severe injuries, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Although Russia has signed the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which bans the use of incendiary weapons in civilian areas, HRW states that white phosphorus does not fall under the treaty due to its primary purpose of creating smokescreens for military operations.

The recent attack follows news that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the commander of Russia’s Wagner paramilitary group, plans to withdraw his forces from Bakhmut on May 10th due to a dispute over ammunition supplies.

However, Ukrainian officials believe Wagner is redeploying mercenaries toward Bakhmut to capture the city before Russia’s Victory Day celebrations on May 9th.

This development comes amid reports of Ukraine preparing a large-scale counteroffensive, which Prigozhin believes could occur as soon as May 15th.

In response, the Russian-installed governor of Zaporizhzhia ordered the evacuation of villages near the front line. Russia considers Zaporizhzhia its territory after self-styled referendums and illegal annexation last year.

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