BUCHA, Ukraine – At Svitlana Chmut’s house near kyiv, there are carrots in her garden and deadly mini Russian arrows in her garden.
A pile of pointed, finned projectiles gathered by Chmut are now rusting in the fine mist of spring. She raked her fortified yard for them, she said, after a Russian artillery shell carrying them exploded somewhere overhead days before the Russians withdrew at the end of the last month, seeding the area with thousands of potentially deadly darts. Some were embedded in the tarp that covered his vehicle, as if someone had nailed them to his car.
“If you look closely at the ground around my house, you’ll find a lot more,” said Chmut, 54.
These projectiles, called darts, are rarely seen or used in modern conflict, experts said. Many landed on the streets during the strike, Chmut said, including some observed by Washington Post reporters, among fields of equipment and liquor bottles or the occasional chocolate bar dropped by retreating Russian soldiers. .
With a length of 3 centimeters, these darts look like tiny arrows. They have a long wartime history – a version of them was dropped from aircraft in World War I and used by the United States in Vietnam – but are not in common use today. Dart-filled shells are ready to explode above infantry formations and spit projectiles in a conical pattern, with some versions scattering darts across an area three football fields wide.
Chmut found the projectiles in her car on the morning of March 25 or 26, she said, after a night of intense shelling from both sides. It is unclear whether the Russian shell injured their own troops. The soldiers set up artillery positions and parked tanks in yards near Chmut’s house, but moved into civilian homes at night, she said. The darts would pose no danger to people inside buildings.
The darts are narrowly shaped to achieve aerodynamic stability and with simple, nail-like construction, said Neil Gibson, an ammunition expert with UK-based Fenix Insights Group. The darts recovered from Chmut’s yard likely came from a 122mm 3Sh1 artillery shell, he said, which is among the few Russian munitions that carry the projectiles.
Gibson reviewed photos of these artillery shells left behind by Russian troops but did not see their use documented in Ukraine, he said. Major Volodymyr Fito, spokesman for the Ukrainian Ground Forces Command, said the Ukrainian army does not use dart shells.
Some human rights groups have denounced the use of the darts because they are indiscriminate weapons that can strike civilians even if they are aimed at military formations. They are not banned by international conventions, but “they should never be used in built-up civilian areas”, Amnesty International said.
Darts caused great concern in the 1970s among international organizations, but mostly avoided bans as they were not used en masse in conflict after the Vietnam War when attention shifted. focused on cluster munitions and incendiary weapons, wrote international relations professor Eitan Barak in his book “Deadly Rain of Metal.
The exception, Barak notes, is Israel’s use of darts in the Gaza Strip. Israel began phasing out tank fire with projectiles in 2010, two years after soldiers fired a volley of darts at a Reuters cameraman when they mistook his camera for a weapon, killing him and eight civilians .
It’s already illegal to target civilians, and the irregular fragmentation of a typical artillery shell likely does more damage to a body than darts, which produce wounds more akin to gunfire, Gibson said. They’re also generally less useful, he said, because they’re mostly geared towards specific circumstances, like hitting troops in the open gathered over a large area.
Bucha, who has seen some of the worst atrocities committed by Russian forces, was devastated by shelling throughout Russia’s failed attempt to take the capital, including in the Chmut neighborhood, when acrid smoke and gunpowder have mastered the senses.
“Everything around us was burning,” she said. “There was no fresh air and you couldn’t see the sun.”
Enemy troops quickly swarmed the Chmut neighborhood, raiding homes for food, electronics and booze, she said, and a sniper perched on a construction crane killed several civilians trying to flee the city.
Her husband Valerii flipped through videos shared by their neighbors of corpses strewn across a nearby road. Russian forces also undertook a progressively obsessive mission to bring down a Ukrainian flag planted on another crane, but failed to do so for weeks, Chmut said.
All the while, Chmut has remained focused on her gardening after her shop was looted, turning to her potatoes, beets and radishes.
She is less interested in darts. The Russian soldiers left behind a forest of wood in the form of ammunition crates, and they will be useful for fueling a fire in the coming harsh winter. And the metal from the artillery shells she salvaged, Chmut said, will soon make a nice fence.
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The Washington Post’s Serhii Korolchuk contributed to this report.