Ukrainian marines have advanced for the second time in two weeks on the southeastern frontlines, towards the key port city of Mariupol, with the recapture of the village of Urozhaine appearing to have been partially aided by the Ukrainian use of controversial cluster munitions.
Drone footage of the intense fight for the village has emerged in which dozens of Russian troops can be seen fleeing to the village’s south. They are apparently shelled as they flee, at times by what seem to be cluster munitions, two arms experts who reviewed videos of the incidents said. The experts did not want to be identified discussing a sensitive issue.
Dykyi, the callsign of an assault company commander, said of the Russian rout: “Very many died, especially when they started to run.”
The videos show dozens of Russian troops running along an open road, seemingly forced to use the asphalt as the adjacent fields and treelines had been mined. Dykyi said. The Russians also gathered in large numbers in houses which were then hit by artillery.
“Lots of them died there,” Dykyi said, adding that mortars and tanks were used in the rout. He would not comment on the use of cluster munitions.
The drone videos also showed a Ukrainian tank charging alone at Russian positions, firing, and dragging behind it a cable on which were attached mine-clearing explosives. The charges detonate when the tank turns away from the clashes, ensuring the clear advance of the next units through minefields that have caused significant losses.
The supply of cluster munitions to the Ukrainian military was preceded by great ethical debate inside the Biden administration, US officials have said. While brutally effective against infantry on open ground, the weapons scatter small droplet explosives that often fail to detonate and can be a residual hazard to civilians for decades to come.
More than 100 countries have banned the use of cluster weapons via treaty, though the Ukraine, Russia and the United States are not signatories to that international treaty.
The US military says the models they are supplying Ukraine have an improved “dud” rate in which only 2.5% of them fail to detonate on dispersal – a claim that is viewed skeptically by critics. By comparison, Russian cluster weapons, also said to be in use during their invasion of Ukraine, are claimed by Western officials to have a dud rate of 30%.
The Ukrainian military has confirmed the US weapons are in use on the frontlines, but declined to offer details. CNN was unable to confirm the devices identified by experts as likely cluster munitions in the videos from Urozhaine were US-supplied weapons. Ukraine is thought to have produced several similar devices domestically that could be in use on the frontlines.
Read more about Ukraine’s counteroffensive.