What is White Phosphorus? Russia Accused of Using In Ukraine Chemical Substance That Can Burn Through Metal, Human Flesh

Russia is accused of using white phosphorus -- a wax-like chemical substance that can burn through metal and can devastate human flesh -- in the city of Kramatorsk against the civilian population in Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday told a NATO summit that the Kremlin is using white phosphorus against civilians in Ukraine. "This morning, by the way, phosphorus bombs were used. Russian phosphorus bombs. Adults were killed again and children were killed again," Zelensky told the summit.

White Phosphorus
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However, the accusations could not be verified independently but it prompted speculations Russia could escalate to using chemical weapons in this war as it is unable to make any significant advantages.

The white phosphorus, often yellowish or colorless and smells like garlic, ignites instantly when it comes into contact with oxygen.

White Phosphorus
Representative image Twitter

The primary function of elements in weaponry is to burn fast and bright. It is used by militaries worldwide in incendiary munitions including the Western countries and even the US with an aim to illuminate targets as part of tracer munitions at night.

White phosphorus is also used to create smokescreens during the day, as it puts off a huge amount of smoke when it burns.

It can ignite fast-burning, fast-spreading fires on the ground, and once ignited, white phosphorus is extremely difficult to extinguish. The substance sticks to many surfaces, including skin and clothing, according to CBS News.

Its impact is really harmful against civilians as it can cause deep burns all the way down to and even through bone, and can reignite after initial treatment.

Medical experts have warned that burns by incendiary weapons are far worse than any of the standard scald or fire burns.

White Phosphorus
Representative image Twitter

Is White Phosphorus Banned in War?

The use of white phosphorus is not banned in the war as it doesn't fall under the chemical weapon. But its usage needs tight regulation under international law. White phosphorus causes fire to rain down on targets when it is used as a weapon and inflicts indiscriminate damage.

Therefore, its usage near the civilian population is illegal as international law requires that combatants distinguish between civilian and military elements. Previously, White Phosphorus was used in the area of Afghanistan, Syria, Gaza and others and caused civilian casualties.