Russian ‘dumb bomb’ attack killed dozens of civilians in Chernihiv, claim charity
A Russian airstrike that reportedly killed 47 civilians in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv may constitute a war crime, Amnesty International said today following an investigation into the attack.
At approximately 12.15pm on Thursday 3 March, a small public square formed by Chernihiv’s Viacheslava Chornovola and Kruhova streets was hit by multiple bombs, killing civilians and severely damaging nearby buildings.
Based on new interviews and verification and analysis of video evidence, Amnesty’s Crisis Response team has concluded the attack was likely to have been a Russian airstrike in which at least eight unguided aerial bombs – so-called “dumb bombs” – were used. The Chernihiv Regional Administration reported that 47 people – 38 men and nine women – were killed in the strike. Verified footage shows eight munitions being dropped in close succession and falling in a line, typical of such a bombing run.
Amnesty was not able to identify a legitimate military target at, or close to, the scene of the strike. Satellite imagery from 28 February shows a queue of people outside the building impacted by the strike. Based on this imagery and testimony gathered from witnesses, Amnesty believes the majority of victims were queuing for food when the missiles struck.
When the bombs struck, Alina, a 21-year-old student, was at home with her family on nearby Ivana Bohuna Street. She told Amnesty:
“I heard a very, very loud buzzing, and I felt our building shaking. It was as if our flat was inflating … And then after two seconds, I heard the windows get blown out into the courtyard. Our building shook a lot. I thought there would be no walls left. When I heard the buzz, I called my grandma into the corridor with me. We laid on the ground and that’s likely what saved us.”
Alina’s parents were in the street when the blast happened and survived the attack. She added:
“At [a nearby] yellow building, there had been a line for bread, and that’s where they had wanted to go … I don’t remember whether it was my mother or my father, one of them said, ‘No, the line is too long, let’s go.’ And so they left. The people who were in that line are no more.”
Yulia Matvienko, a 33-year-old mother-of-three, was at home with her children, also on Ivana Bohuna Street, when the attack happened. She suffered a head injury, telling Amnesty:
“I was walking along the corridor and hadn’t even made it into the kitchen when I was suddenly deafened – I didn’t understand what was happening. Everything started to suddenly crumble and fall. The children screamed. For several seconds, it was like there was silence and time stood still. Then I dragged my children out from under the rubble. Blood was flowing down me, and I dragged my children out. Everything was destroyed, and the door was knocked off. Not a single window was left, and some balconies were totally torn off. There is not a scratch on the children. It’s a miracle… [there was] only my blood on them.”
Joanne Mariner, Amnesty International’s crisis response director, said: “The airstrike that hit the streets of Chernihiv shocks the conscience.
“This was a merciless, indiscriminate attack on people as they went about their daily business in their homes, streets and shops.
“This shocking attack is one of the deadliest that the people of Ukraine have endured yet.
“The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court should investigate this airstrike as a war crime. Those responsible for such crimes must be brought to justice, and victims and their families must receive full reparation.
“All states should cooperate with the ICC and the new Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council to help ensure accountability for grave violations and crimes such as this attack. Victims of this conflict must have justice.”
In dashcam footage of the attack, falling munitions are visible and the sound of what is likely to have been a low quick-passing aircraft can be heard, consistent with the tactics of conducting a strike of this type. Dropping unguided bombs in populated areas violates the prohibition on carrying out indiscriminate attacks. Such bombs have wide-area effects and are far less accurate than precision-guided munitions.
Amnesty’s Crisis Evidence Lab verified footage of the aftermath of the strike that showed damage to buildings and bodies in the street. Footage from Ukraine’s State Emergency Service also showed damage and the rescue effort. Other verified videos of the aftermath show widespread destruction and at least one distinctive bomb crater of a size consistent with surface-impacted munitions of approximately 500kg.
Verified content from another airstrike location in Ukraine shows an unguided dud FAB-500 M62 bomb being removed by civil defence forces. In addition, an official video released by the Russian military on 6 March shows the sortie launch of Su-34 Fullback aircraft loaded with eight FAB-500 bombs, an indicator of the typical combat load in current Russian operations.