Using phosphorus bombs on civilian areas is illegal as the weapons can cause significant burns from their incendiary effects. Last month, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) warned the horrifying weapons which had already been used in Donetsk could be used in the siege of Mariupol too. Hamsish de Bretton-Gordon, a weapons expert from Cambridge University, told Express.co,uk that it is “pretty clear” Russia has been using these bombs “extensively”.
He said: “It seems pretty clear that Russia is using phosphorus extensively in Ukraine and if using against civilians which seems likely this is a war crime.”
Mr de Bretton-Gordon explained that the bombs “are usually artillery shells or mortar bombs and are designed for illumination at night and smoke screens during the day”.
He added: “In this role there are completely legal. However, they are also incredibly incendiary and set fire to almost anything in their path.
“They have been used in Syria to burn towns and villages in a medieval scorched earth policy.
“Civilians have also been attacked with phosphorus which caused terrible burns and sometimes death.”
White phosphorus is a wax-like chemical substance that ignites when exposed to oxygen.
The chemical reaction generates 815°C heat, light, and heavy white smoke.
When the white phosphorus comes into contact with the skin, it causes serious thermal and chemical burns, sometimes down to the bone.
In a report published in 2018, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that “incendiary weapons are among the cruellest weapons used in armed conflicts in the world today”.
The report added that “white phosphorus can cause horrific injuries no matter how it is used”, with “burns to as little as 10 percent of the body” often proving fatal.
David E. Johnson, a military expert from Rand Corp said: “Going after civilian targets indiscriminately is the biggest war crime there is, no matter what the weapon.”
While several claims of Russia’s use of phosphorus bombs on civilians have surfaced, reports are yet to be independently confirmed.
And although the weapons are banned from being used against civilians, it is not illegal to use them in an armed conflict under international weapons law.
Russia has also been accused of using white phosphorus bombs near Luhansk, also eastern region of Ukraine.
The head of Luhansk regional military administration, Serhiy Gaidai, said that
four people were killed, including two children, and six people were injured in the attack on Rubizhne.