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Russian general who oversaw atrocities in Syria led cluster bomb attacks in Ukraine

Russian general who oversaw atrocities in Syria led cluster bomb attacks in Ukraine


All of a sudden, 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 shortly drenched in blood, the air stuffed with screams. 

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

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

“I may really feel that my leg and my hip bought ruptured. My arm bought hit and I could not really feel my head,” Kiriukhina informed 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 lady placing on a courageous face as her leg bled out. A severed foot lay a few meters away. One other lady original a tourniquet out of a canine collar — hopelessly — making an attempt to save lots of the injured lady, based on eyewitness testimony.

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 just isn’t 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 war, the scenes in Kharkiv echo numerous others carried out by Russia after it intervened to help President Bashar al-Assad in 2015. 

By means of evaluation of satellite tv for pc imagery in collaboration with the Centre for Info 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 stories on to identical navy chief — Colonel Normal Alexander Zhuravlyov — who oversaw one of the brutal chapters of Syria’s struggle. 

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 a minimum of two dozen cluster munition assaults on Ukraine because the 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 Info Resilience, United Nations Excessive Commissioner for Human Rights, Google Earth
Graphic: Gianluca Mezzofiore, Katie Polglase and Henrik Pettersson, CNN

That brigade stories on to the management of the Russian navy’s Western Navy District (WMD), one in all 5 navy districts within the Russian navy, primarily based within the western a part of Russia. 

A number of navy consultants informed CNN that Zhuravlyov — the Russian equal of a theater commander within the US navy — 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 3 times, he first grew to become the commander of Russian troops within the nation throughout his second stint in July 2016. Earlier than he assumed the publish, Moscow was mired in a bloody battle 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 navy quickly ramped up its assaults on the rebel-held territory and accomplished the siege of the densely populated metropolis, exacting a big dying 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 enhance 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% enhance 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 Kids’s then-Syria director, Sonia Khush, mentioned in a press release: “there are younger youngsters with freshly amputated limbs or with ball bearings embedded of their muscle tissue due to the usage of 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 exhibits Kharkiv residents fleeing for security on February 28 as cluster munitions explode round them.
Credit score: From Telegram, verified by CNN

They recalled the dying 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 residence constructing alone in a single Smerch rocket assault. 

“I do not know what precisely this was, but it surely 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 a variety of tiny shrapnel which will get into varied 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 knowledgeable and the affiliate arms director for Human Rights Watch, reviewed photographs from the location and mentioned the images indicated that the cluster munition assaults had occurred at a scale not seen in years. 

“There are a variety 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 struggle between Lebanon and Israel, throughout which the Israeli navy dropped an estimated 4 million submunitions on south Lebanon, based on the United Nations. 

“It isn’t like the flicks the place you see the missile earlier than the bomb hits. You may simply swiftly have 72 submunitions detonating throughout a soccer pitch,” mentioned Hiznay. “In order that’s why persons are actually reduce down in midstride from this stuff. You do not have a variety 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 can be launched over an space as much as the scale 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 a whole lot

They’re designed to blow up on affect 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 just about 40% are youngsters

Word: Cluster munitions can fluctuate broadly in design and scale, this graphic solely goals to clarify their normal operate.

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

Cluster bombs are banned below 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 affect, leaving harmful ordnance in fields and concrete areas that might kill or maim folks. Russia, Ukraine, america and Israel are among the many nations who aren’t signatories to the treaty. 

However an assault of any form that indiscriminately assaults civilians, as CNN’s on-the-ground investigation reveals occurred on February 27 and 28, would look like a struggle crime, based on a number of consultants interviewed. 

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

“And primarily based on the Geneva Conventions commonplace of command duty, Normal (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 struggle 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’ll be able to hear the air-raid sirens however everybody right here has discovered to stay nonetheless and steadfast and keep on,” he mentioned. “It by no means stops outdoors 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 top of the battle for Aleppo, Zhuravlyov left the helm of the Russian navy in Syria and returned to Russia. He was awarded the 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 Navy District — the identical division that wreaked dying and destruction on Kharkiv and different components of Ukraine — shortly after his third stint in Syria in 2018.

“The outcomes Zhuravlyov achieved in Syria have been precisely what the Russians needed, therefore his reward with the highest medal and the highest postings one can get,” mentioned Russian navy knowledgeable Wasielewski.  “It is what Napoleon mentioned: ‘a normal’s reward just isn’t an even bigger tent however an even bigger command.'” 

Zhuravlyov later mentioned in an interview that Syria had taught him in regards to the worth of “navy ingenuity,” and that the teachings discovered there have been being built-in as an “natural part” of all Russian navy 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 Normal Aleksei Zavizion — was appointed Zhuravlyov’s deputy within the Western Navy 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, based on Ukraine’s navy intelligence. 

Ukraine’s navy 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 struggle crimes. 

CNN cross-referenced its findings concerning the 2 Russian generals with Ukraine’s navy 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 Normal 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, informed CNN. “It’s a disgrace that there was not a stronger response to alleged struggle crimes at that stage, as a result of that will have affected Putin’s Ukrainian strategic calculations from the outset.”

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 residence 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 a very good 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. Someway justice will prevail. However in all probability not quickly.” 

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