Damage and destruction by mines and other explosive devices
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) has been documenting war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide probably committed by Russian forces in the city of Kharkiv and the surrounding Kharkiv Region since the February 2022 invasion. This report studies the accumulated information about the damage done by mines and other explosive devices, and likely instances of remote detonation, in the Kharkiv Region between 24 February 2022 and 20 January 2023.
Information about the documented incidents
During the period under consideration, the KHPG has documented at least 126 incidents linked to the damage and destruction caused by mines and other explosive devices, as well as likely instances of remote detonation. Among the recorded incidents, in at least 82 instances civilians were injured or suffered damage to their health. In 12 cases light automobiles and other means of transport were damaged.
In geographical terms the incidents may be distributed as follows. Most such incidents (38) were recorded in the Kharkiv district. A considerable number were recorded in the northern Chuhuiv and eastern Izium districts: 32 and 29, respectively. The KHPG documented 14 incidents in the eastern Kupiansk district and a further 11 in the north-western Bohodukhiv district. Only one incident of this kind was recorded in the city of Kharkiv.
At least ten of the total of 38 incidents concerned the probable remote delivery of mines planted by the invading Russian forces. The information gathered by the KHPG indicates that remotely delivered mines were laid in different parts of the Kharkiv Region, within and close to its population centres.
On 3 May 1996, a Protocol on “Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices” was attached to the 1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the ‘Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects’. The additional Protocol banned the indiscriminate use of mines, booby traps and other explosive devices.
Article 6 of the Protocol prohibits (6.1) remotely-delivered mines if they have not been registered in the established manner, “unless they are recorded in accordance with sub-paragraph I (b) of the Technical Annex”, or if they do not correspond (6.3) to conditions of self-destruction or self-deactivation, “unless, to the extent feasible, they are equipped with an effective self-destruction or self-neutralization mechanism […]”.
Casualties among the civilian population
During the period under consideration, KHPG monitors and journalists managed to collect information about no less than 82 incidents in which the life or health of civilians were damaged as the result, in all likelihood, of the detonation of a mine or another explosive device. In 58 such incidents in the Kharkiv Region civilians suffered injury. During this period, the KHPG recorded injuries to no less than 74 individuals. A further 24 documented incidents recorded the deaths of civilians, probably caused by the explosion of a mine or some other device; these involved fatalities to at least 36 individuals.
The KHPG, it may be added, continues to concentrate its efforts on establishing the identity of witnesses and victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide probably committed by Russian forces in Ukraine. This data could be used in future international judicial hearings.
Circumstances of the documented incidents
A significant proportion of the document episodes contain detailed information about the circumstances in which a specific incident took place. After analysing the accumulated material, we may note the following distinctive features.
1. A substantial number of episodes occurred when civilian transport was driving along the road. When a vehicle hit a mine or other explosive device their detonation led to the death or physical injury of drivers and / or passengers. According to the Kharkiv Region Prosecutor’s Office, on 29 March 2022 two men were killed and another five people (including a six-month-old infant) were wounded when their vehicle struck a mine.
2. Such incidents, regretfully, also affected specialised medical vehicles. On 2 October 2022, an ambulance was blown up by a mine in the town of Balakliia (Izium district; pop. 29,249). A source indicates that the driver of the emergency care brigade died on the spot, a junior medical assistant suffered burns and contusion, and the vehicle was burned to destruction.
3. There were frequent cases when people inadvertently stepped on enemy mines. On 27 November 2022, according to the Kharkiv Region police, an inhabitant of Kochubeivka village (Kharkiv district; pop. 167) received a foot injury after stepping on an object resembling a mine in his own courtyard.
4. The KHPG has also documented a certain number of incidents in which mines were detonated after contact with a tripwire. On 30 September 2022 a 39-year-old inhabitant of the Kharkiv district, reported the Suspilne media outlet, was injured after a tripwire detonated and explosive device. On 27 November 2022, police reported, a 62-year-old inhabitant of the Kharkiv Region was wounded when trying to remove a tripwire from the plantation near Mykolaivka village.
5. Frequently, mines exploded during agricultural work. On 30 July 2022, a combine harvester struck an anti-tank mine near Vilkhivka village (Kharkiv district). There was an explosion, the combine caught fire, and its 37-year-old driver was wounded and taken to hospital.
The detailed circumstances of certain incidents remain to be determined. In certain cases, according to eyewitness accounts, information about the event was limited to finding a victim’s body or parts of someone’s body, bearing the traces of numerous wounds from an explosion.
Analysis of the accumulated material gives grounds for the preliminary classification of the above-mentioned acts as war crimes under Article 8:2 (b) xx of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, namely
“Employing weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering, or which are inherently indiscriminate in violation of the international law of armed conflict, provided that such weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare are the subject of a comprehensive prohibition”.