Ukraine has accused Russia of using phosphorus munitions to attack the besieged city of Bakhmut. The Ukrainian military released drone footage showing the city on fire as white phosphorus rained down on it.
While white phosphorus weapons are not prohibited, their use in civilian areas is regarded as a war crime. The weapons cause fires that spread quickly and are challenging to extinguish.
Russia has used them in the past, and it has been attempting to capture Bakhmut for months, despite its dubious strategic value. According to Western officials, thousands of Moscow’s troops have perished in the assault.
The Ukrainian defense ministry said on Twitter that the attack targeted “unoccupied areas of Bakhmut with incendiary ammunition.”
Although it is unclear when the incident occurred, footage captured by a surveillance drone revealed high-rise buildings engulfed in flames. Other videos posted on social media showed fires raging on the ground and white clouds illuminating the night sky.
The chemical white phosphorus is notorious for the severity of the injuries it causes. It burns at 800C and ignites when it comes into contact with oxygen, creating bright plumes of smoke.
Human Rights Watch has warned that the substance is difficult to remove and can re-ignite when bandages are removed. Although Russia has signed the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which prohibits the use of incendiary weapons in civilian areas, it insists that it has never violated any international conventions.
The attack on Bakhmut comes after the commander of Russia’s Wagner paramilitary group announced that he would withdraw his forces from the city due to a dispute over ammunition supplies.
Yevgeny Prigozhin said that Wagner’s casualties were “growing in geometrical progression every day,” and he blamed the defense ministry for his decision to withdraw.
On Saturday, Prigozhin said that Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s semi-autonomous Chechnya region, had agreed to take over Wagner’s positions in the city and replace their fighters with his own.