In July, U.S. President Joe Biden made the controversial decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine. Though neither the United States, Ukraine nor Russia is party to the 2008 convention outlawing them, it has been ratified by hundreds of other nations because of how dangerous the weapons remain long after the fighting stops.
“If they fail to detonate on impact, they'll lay there dormant,” Sera Koulabdara tells New Lines magazine’s Danny Postel. “They have no self destruct mechanism, so they'll be there until it's triggered by an animal walking by or a child finding it and picking it up.”
Koulabdara is the CEO of Legacies of War, an international advocacy and educational organization working to address the long-term consequences of Cold War-era conflicts in Southeast Asia and grew up in Laos. Many of the millions of cluster bombs the United States dropped on the country in the 1960s and ’70s did not explode, and both clean-up efforts and loss of life continue to this day, decades after the war’s end.
“Globally, 97% of casualties of cluster munitions are civilians,” Koulabdara says. “And in the case where the age is known, 60% are children.”
Their presence leaves Laotians, she says, with the anxiety that their lives are always at risk, forever knowing that an unexploded bomb could kill them in the fields where they farm or the roads they take to school. “That is not the future that I want to see in any country.”
But, says Romeo Kokriatski, a journalist and managing editor of the New Voice of Ukraine, Kyiv can’t afford to be picky.
“These aren't weapons that Ukraine wants or that we would have chosen, but we were not given the things that we asked for,” he says. “We simply took them because they were offered to us.”
Kokriatski says that he is well aware of the dreadful consequences of cluster bombs but that Ukraine is already condemned to the long, arduous task of their clean-up — Russia has been using them since the invasion began.
“Every extra day that this war stretches on is just an unimaginable tragedy. I simply can't imagine anything that would override that overwhelming priority to defeat the Russians as quickly as possible.”
Produced by Joshua Martin