The UK announced on Monday that the Ukrainian soldiers trained on Challenger 2 tanks have finished the course and returned home. The British defense ministry released a documentary that showed Ukrainians handling the depleted uranium armor-piercing rounds, among other things.
British instructors – and at least one American officer, spotted in the Ministry of Defence (MOD) video – spent weeks training Ukrainians how to crew and fight the main battle tanks.
London pledged to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Kiev. Some of them have reportedly already reached Ukraine. The US has promised several of its M1 Abrams MBTs, while several continental NATO members have already delivered German-made Leopards. All Western tanks require a crew of four, including a manual loader, unlike the three-man crews of Ukraine’s original tank fleet of T-64 and T-72s.
Those loaders will have to handle the standard NATO armor-piercing rounds, which are made with depleted uranium rods. The ammunition has been linked to skyrocketing rates of cancer and birth defects in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq.
When DU penetrators strike a target, “they fragment and burn, generating chemically toxic and radioactive DU particulate that poses an inhalational risk to people,” Doug Weir, an expert with the Conflict and Environment Observatory, told Declassified UK. This will be another burden for Ukraine, in a conflict that has already generated “serious pollution problems,” he added.
Weir identified the ammunition in the MoD video as the inert display version of the CHARM3, the 120-millimeter DU ammunition in use by the British military.
The MoD told reporters last week that the “impact to personal health and the environment from the use of depleted uranium munitions is likely to be low.”
In an article published in the Spectator on Sunday, a researcher at the government-funded Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think-tank admitted that DU was “toxic.” Russian soldiers should not “go to sleep cradling a depleted uranium round, or lick the tip,” joked Jack Watling, adding that the projectile “traveling at around 1,800 meters per second and burning up as it flies will be more concerning to any target than its radioactivity.”
The UK announced last week it would send the DU ammunition to Ukraine along with the Challengers. The Russian Foreign Ministry called the move a sign of “absolute recklessness, irresponsibility and impunity.”
The Russian military did not seem concerned about the potential effects of DU in combat. Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, who is in charge of Russia’s Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defense Forces, pointed out that DU dust will contaminate the soil and wreck Ukraine’s agriculture for decades, while causing “irreparable harm” to the health of Ukrainians, civilian and military alike.
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