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Russian normal who oversaw atrocities in Syria led cluster bomb assaults in Ukraine

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Immediately, Kiriukhina heard a whistling sound overhead. After glimpsing one thing out of the nook of her eye, she shouted for everybody to get down. The road was rapidly drenched in blood, the air stuffed with screams. 

Moscow had simply launched one in every of its infamous 300mm Smerch cluster rockets — a projectile that unleashes 72 submunitions over an space the dimensions of a soccer pitch — hitting Kiriukhina and her neighbors.

The torrent of shrapnel lower Kiriukhina’s leg, hand and brow. A person close by misplaced two of his fingers.

“I might really feel that my leg and my hip bought ruptured. My arm bought hit and I could not really feel my head,” Kiriukhina advised CNN. 

The 56-year-old was taken to hospital in a wheel barrow and was hospitalized for ten days. 

Video uploaded to social media confirmed a girl placing on a courageous face as her leg bled out. A severed foot lay a few meters away. One other girl usual a tourniquet out of a canine collar — hopelessly — attempting to save lots of the injured girl, in keeping with eyewitness testimony.

Margarita Kiriukhina was hospitalized for 10 days after she was wounded in a Russian cluster munition attack in Kharkiv.
They weren’t the one Smerch rockets fired into Kharkiv over a key 48-hour interval in late February, as Russian troops battled to grab the town from Ukrainian forces. And Ukraine will not be the primary battleground the place Russian forces have deployed cluster munitions to devastating impact in opposition to civilians. 
To survivors of Syria’s yearslong civil battle, the scenes in Kharkiv echo numerous others carried out by Russia after it intervened to assist President Bashar al-Assad in 2015. 

By means of evaluation of satellite tv for pc imagery in collaboration with the Centre for Data Resilience (CIR) and on-the-ground investigations, CNN has recognized the rocket artillery brigade that launched the cluster munitions assault in residential districts of Ukraine’s second metropolis on the day Kiriukhina and her neighbors have been attacked. That brigade reviews on to identical army chief — Colonel Basic Alexander Zhuravlyov — who oversaw one of the vital brutal chapters of Syria’s battle. 

CNN traced 11 Smerch rockets that landed in Kharkiv on February 27 and February 28 again to Russia’s 79th Rocket Artillery Brigade, primarily based in Russia’s Belgorod area. 

Smerch cluster rocket assaults in Kharkiv

CNN investigated assaults on Kharkiv on February 27-28 and confirmed that 11 areas have been impacted by cluster munitions. The United Nations mentioned on the finish of March that there have been at the very least two dozen cluster munition assaults on Ukraine for the reason that begin of the invasion.


27 February 28 February

Video from Telegram. Verified by CNN

Video from Twitter. Verified by CNN


Supply: CNN reporting, Centre for Data Resilience, United Nations Excessive Commissioner for Human Rights, Google Earth
Graphic: Gianluca Mezzofiore, Katie Polglase and Henrik Pettersson, CNN

That brigade reviews on to the management of the Russian army’s Western Army District (WMD), one in every of 5 army districts within the Russian army, primarily based within the western a part of Russia. 

A number of army specialists advised CNN that Zhuravlyov — the Russian equal of a theater commander within the US army — is the one officer with the authority to order a Smerch rocket assault in his district. As a high-value weapon, it wants senior sign-off.  

The Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Protection haven’t responded to CNN’s request for remark.

Classes from Syria

Zhuravlyov, 57, was commissioned as a Soviet officer within the Eighties when he served within the former Czechoslovakia with a bunch of Russian forces. After the USSR collapsed, he returned to Russia, initially serving with tank models. 

Deployed to Syria thrice, he first turned the commander of Russian troops within the nation throughout his second stint in July 2016. Earlier than he assumed the submit, Moscow was mired in a bloody combat to seize rebel-held jap Aleppo, making regular advances in opposition to the armed opposition.

Zhuravlyov’s management catalyzed the assault on jap Aleppo. After he took the reins, the Russian army quickly ramped up its assaults on the rebel-held territory and accomplished the siege of the densely populated metropolis, exacting a big demise toll and setting the wheels in movement for a tactic that has outlined Russia’s intervention in Syria: besiege, starve, bombard and grind into submission.

His interval of command additionally noticed a dramatic improve in documented cluster munition assaults in Aleppo. 

In keeping with the Violations Documentation Heart, which paperwork human rights violations in Syria, cluster munitions have been used 137 instances in Aleppo between September 10 and October 10, 2016, a 791% improve on the typical variety of cluster munition assaults within the earlier eight months. 

In 2015, Russia’s Protection Ministry denied utilizing cluster munitions in Syria.

It was an escalation which help teams sought to attract the world’s consideration to. On the time, Save the Youngsters’s then-Syria director, Sonia Khush, mentioned in an announcement: “there are younger youngsters with freshly amputated limbs or with ball bearings embedded of their muscle tissue due to using these appalling and indiscriminate weapons.”

In Kharkiv, CNN spoke to dozens of eyewitnesses in a number of of the neighborhoods focused by 11 Smerch rocket assaults that occurred on February 27 and 28. 

CCTV footage reveals Kharkiv residents fleeing for security on February 28 as cluster munitions explode round them.
Credit score: From Telegram, verified by CNN

They recalled the demise and destruction that the cluster munitions wrought on their metropolis. The streets have been lined with wounded folks, burning automobiles and damaged glass. One eyewitness mentioned that as much as a dozen folks have been injured in his condo constructing alone in a single Smerch rocket assault. 

“I do not know what precisely this was, nevertheless it was everywhere in the district. These small bits that explode and unfold harmful shrapnel throughout,” mentioned Yuriy Braiko, an IT program analyst who lives in Kharkiv. “They create lots of tiny shrapnel which will get into numerous locations, home windows and other people.” 

Rocket remnants seen in Kharkiv by CNN and the burn marks left by the projectiles revealed the incoming course of the assault, which CNN traced again to Russia’s Belgorod area, close to the border with Ukraine. 

CNN visited a website the place Ukrainian officers had collected massive piles of exploded and unexploded ordnance. Mark Hiznay, a weapons skilled and the affiliate arms director for Human Rights Watch, reviewed photos from the positioning and mentioned the pictures indicated that the cluster munition assaults had occurred at a scale not seen in years. 

“There are lots of cluster munitions utilized in a scale that was in all probability past what we noticed in south Lebanon in 2006,” Hiznay mentioned, referring to the 2006 battle between Lebanon and Israel, throughout which the Israeli army dropped an estimated 4 million submunitions on south Lebanon, in keeping with the United Nations. 

“It is not like the flicks the place you see the missile earlier than the bomb hits. You may simply unexpectedly have 72 submunitions detonating throughout a soccer pitch,” mentioned Hiznay. “In order that’s why individuals are actually lower down in midstride from this stuff. You do not have lots of burns. You do not have blast accidents. It is simply nasty, bloody fragmentation.” 

What are cluster munitions?

Cluster munitions include a number of explosives which are launched over an space as much as the dimensions of a number of soccer fields. They are often dropped from a aircraft or launched from the bottom or sea.

The submunitions are launched in flight and fall to the bottom. They’ll vary from the tens to many tons of

They’re designed to blow up on influence however as many as a 3rd do not, and stay a lethal danger to civilians for years to come back

94% of recorded cluster bomb casualties are civilians, of which nearly 40% are youngsters

Notice: Cluster munitions can fluctuate extensively in design and scale, this graphic solely goals to elucidate their normal perform.

Supply: Geneva Worldwide Centre for Humanitarian Demining, Cluster Munition Coalition
Graphic: Connie Chen and Henrik Pettersson, CNN

Cluster bombs are banned beneath a global treaty — the 2010 Conference on Cluster Munitions — that prohibits the use, switch, manufacturing and stockpiling of the weapons. The treaty cites the failure of many submunitions to blow up on influence, leaving harmful ordnance in fields and concrete areas that would kill or maim folks. Russia, Ukraine, the USA and Israel are among the many nations who aren’t signatories to the treaty. 

However an assault of any type that indiscriminately assaults civilians, as CNN’s on-the-ground investigation reveals occurred on February 27 and 28, would look like a battle crime, in keeping with a number of specialists interviewed. 

“The extrajudicial murders and the bombardment of the civilian inhabitants, that’s neither a army necessity nor proportional to the menace they’re going through, are in opposition to the Geneva Conventions,” mentioned International Coverage Analysis Institute fellow Philip Wasielewski. 

“And primarily based on the Geneva Conventions customary of command duty, Basic (Zhuravlyov) is culpable in addition to anybody else in his chain of command.” 

‘The injuries are the identical’ 

A health care provider who handled the battle wounded in each conflicts has been struck by the similarities. Folks arrived on the Kharkiv hospital pockmarked with shrapnel, pores and skin and muscle injury, amputations, open fractures and head trauma. 

Syrian-American orthopedic surgeon Dr. Samer Attar, who labored in Aleppo as Zhuravlyov’s forces besieged the town, travelled to Ukraine from his hometown of Chicago hoping to assist Ukrainian docs address the unfamiliar tide of traumatized war-wounded. 

Dr. Samer Attar treated cluster munition wounds in eastern Aleppo and traveled to Ukraine to treat injured people in Kharkiv. "The wounds are the same," he told CNN.

Attar described the injuries he handled in Kharkiv and people he noticed in Aleppo in 2016 as “the identical.” 

“You possibly can hear the air-raid sirens however everybody right here has realized to stay nonetheless and steadfast and keep on,” he mentioned. “It by no means stops exterior and neither does the work.”

In December 2016, the rebels who have been holed up in jap Aleppo lastly surrendered and Syrian authorities and Russian forces recaptured the territory. 

A street in the rebel-held Salihin neighborhood of Aleppo is littered with debris on September 11, 2016, after Russia attacked the residential area with cluster bombs.

With the tip of the battle for Aleppo, Zhuravlyov left the helm of the Russian army in Syria and returned to Russia. He was awarded the very best honors bestowed on a Russian officer — the Hero of the Russian Federation. 

He was twice promoted the next 12 months and have become commander of the Western Army District — the identical division that wreaked demise and destruction on Kharkiv and different elements of Ukraine — shortly after his third stint in Syria in 2018.

“The outcomes Zhuravlyov achieved in Syria have been precisely what the Russians wished, therefore his reward with the highest medal and the highest postings one can get,” mentioned Russian army skilled Wasielewski.  “It is what Napoleon mentioned: ‘a normal’s reward will not be a much bigger tent however a much bigger command.'” 

Zhuravlyov later mentioned in an interview that Syria had taught him concerning the worth of “army ingenuity,” and that the teachings realized there have been being built-in as an “natural part” of all Russian army coaching. 

Vladimir Putin shakes hands with  Zhuravlyov at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 23, 2017.

One other Russian normal who served in Syria alongside Zhuravlyov —  Lieutenant Basic Aleksei Zavizion — was appointed Zhuravlyov’s deputy within the Western Army District in the identical month Zhuravlyov assumed his present place. Only a 12 months earlier than, Zavizion had allegedly led a bunch of separatist fighters after they wrested territory from Ukrainian authorities forces within the nation’s eastern-most Donbas area, in keeping with Ukraine’s army intelligence. 

Ukraine’s army intelligence additionally accuses Zavizion of being behind a number of launch rocket system (MLRS) assaults on civilian areas within the Donbas area. In 2017, Ukraine indicted Zavizion for alleged battle crimes. 

CNN cross-referenced its findings concerning the 2 Russian generals with Ukraine’s army intelligence who confirmed that they’ve accused the boys of being answerable for obvious crimes in opposition to civilians in Kharkiv and elsewhere.

Neither Zhuravlyov nor Zavizion have been sanctioned by the worldwide neighborhood.

“Colonel Basic Alexander Zhuravlyov ought to have been sanctioned for his actions in Syria,” a number one human rights lawyer on the legislation agency Payne Hicks Seaside, Matthew Ingham, advised CNN. “It’s a disgrace that there was not a stronger response to alleged battle crimes at that stage, as a result of that will have affected Putin’s Ukrainian strategic calculations from the outset.”

Zhuravlyov additionally was concerned in high-level protection talks with British army officers in Moscow in 2017, after his position within the siege of Aleppo was publicly recognized. The UK protection ministry advised CNN {that a} assertion it issued in 2017 “made it clear” that they supported army to army dialogue to attenuate danger and miscalculation.

In the meantime, as Russia’s invasion continues into its third month and the offensive on the east of the nation intensifies, bombs rain down on Kharkiv and far of the town has been hollowed out of its inhabitants. 

The facades of many condo buildings have been stripped off. Residents who stay have been pushed underground to sprawling encampments within the metropolis’s subway system. 

Kharkiv in jap Ukraine has been one of many hardest hit cities in Russia’s invasion of the nation.
Credit score: Alex Platt, CNN

After she recovered from the February 28 Smerch rocket assault, Kiriukhina fled Kharkiv, hoping to erase the “horror movie” scenes from her thoughts. 

Now when she’s out in public, she wears a beret to hide the scars from her wounds. 

“I used to be in an excellent temper. The climate was nice. The solar was shining. Nobody would have thought that such horror would swoop down in simply seconds,” she mentioned. 

“From the underside of our hearts and souls we want for punishment for these crimes. In some way justice will prevail. However in all probability not quickly.” 

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