More than a month after the Ukrainian army retook Irpin from the Russians, Volodymyr Klimashevskyi is still finding the little nail-like projectiles scattered around his garden and embedded deep in the walls of his house.
“You can’t take them out with your hands, you need to use pliers,” Klimashevskyi said, pointing to the wall dotted with the dark darts.
Called flechettes – French for “little arrows” – these razor-sharp, inch-long projectiles are a brutal invention of World War I when the Allies used them to strike as many enemy soldiers as possible. They are packed into shells that are fired by tanks. When the shell detonates, several thousands of the projectiles are sprayed over a large area.
Flechette shells are not banned, but their use in civilian areas is prohibited under humanitarian law, because of their indiscriminate nature. They cause severe damage as they rip through the body, twisting and bending – and can be lethal.
The United States used them during the Vietnam War and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs accused the Israeli military of using them against civilians in 2010 in Gaza, according to a report by the US State Department. But other than that, they have been rarely used in modern warfare.
After Russian forces retreated from the towns and villages north of Kyiv that they had occupied in March, evidence emerged that they had been using them during their assault.
Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv, isn’t the only place where that evidence emerged.
In the village of Andriivka, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) west of Irpin, farmer Vadim Bozhko told CNN that he found flechettes scattered along the road leading to his house. Bozhko and his wife hid in the basement as his home was shelled. It has been almost completely destroyed by a shell.
Denisova said last month that after “the liberation of cities in the Kyiv region, new atrocities of Russian troops are revealed.”
“Forensic experts found flechettes in the bodies of residents of Bucha and Irpin. The [Russians] launched shells with them, and used them to bomb residential buildings in cities and suburbs,” Denisova said in a statement. It is unclear whether the flechettes were what killed the victims.
Klimashevskyi, 57, still clearly remembers the day the flechettes started raining down on him. It was March 5 and he was lying on the floor in his house, away from the window, taking cover. A shell hit the house next door, but failed to explode.
The darts covered the area and destroyed the window in his car, he said.
His neighbors Anzhelika Kolomiec, 53, and Ihor Novohatniy, 64, fled Irpin amid the worst fighting in March. When they came back after several weeks away, they said they found numerous flechettes scattered around their garden and on top of their roof.
They keep them in a glass jar on the patio. Every now and then, they add another one.
“We’re finding them all over,” Novohatniy said, pointing to the darts that are still lodged in the patio roof. “These are sticking out [of the roof], but usually, they are spread around.”
When they were finally able to return home, Kolomiec did what she does every spring. She took care of her garden, planting salad leaves, onion and other plants.
Digging around, she kept finding the little metal darts that the Russian soldiers were firing at her and her home. But the reminder of those terrifying days hasn’t stopped her from doing what she loves.
“I love gardening. I don’t have much space, but last year, I had hundreds of tomatoes, I was giving them to all my friends. This year, we couldn’t get tomatoes, but I have rucola and onion and some flowers.”