Video of a massive explosion near the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv was shared widely across social media on Tuesday, fueling speculation that Russian forces may have launched a thermobaric explosive, or otherwise targeted a large ammunition storage amid their ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Video of the explosion was shared at around 8:30 p.m. Kyiv time. A rocket engine could be heard before the massive explosion could be seen in the distance.
A thermobaric explosive is one that uses a mix of fuel and oxygen that creates a sustained blast effect that consumes the surrounding oxygen. According to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), these thermobaric explosives create a powerful pressure wave that causes a rarefaction or “vacuum” effect, which can suck the oxygen out of a confined environment and cause victims to suffocate.
While there’s been no official confirmation that Russia has used thermobaric explosives, Ukrainian government officials have accused Russia of doing so.
On Monday, Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova told reporters after a meeting with Congress, “They used the vacuum bomb today. The devastation that Russia is trying to inflict on Ukraine is large.”
Asked about the issue on Monday night, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “I don’t have any confirmation of that. We have seen the reports. If that were true, it would potentially be a war crime.”
On Sunday, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan announced he intends to open an investigation into potential Russian war crimes committed during its invasion of Ukraine.
Khan noted Ukraine is not a country that falls under the jurisdiction of the ICC, but that it has accepted two prior ICC rulings, which could grant him a basis to investigate war crimes in Ukraine.
“I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to believe that both alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Ukraine in relation to the events already assessed during the preliminary examination by the Office,” Khan wrote. “Given the expansion of the conflict in recent days, it is my intention that this investigation will also encompass any new alleged crimes falling within the jurisdiction of my Office that are committed by any party to the conflict on any part of the territory of Ukraine.”
Khan also said he has tasked his team to pursue evidence preservation efforts.
“The next step is to proceed with the process of seeking and obtaining authorisation from the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open an investigation,” Khan said.