Ukraine on Wednesday showed off one of its new French-made self-propelled howitzers, firing towards Russian-controlled areas, as Kyiv urges Western countries to provide more military hardware.
At a secret frontline location in eastern Ukraine, soldiers from the 55th brigade artillery unit drove the camouflaged truck-mounted Caesar into a muddy field and fired off three rounds, accompanied by deafening booms and bright flashes.
A watching military officer said the target was also a secret, while saying it would be within the range of 38 kilometres (24 miles).
The heavy artillery system highly prized for its accuracy is part of the new arsenal of modern weaponry provided to Ukraine by multiple countries since Russia invaded on February 24.
President Emmanuel Macron pledged to send several systems in April, later telling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that arms supplies from Paris would "increase in intensity".
The firing session watched by AFP journalists came as Macron on Wednesday called for "new in-depth discussions" with Ukraine, without confirming if he would travel this week to Kyiv as several media have reported.
While the US and other allies have also provided long-range howitzers, Kyiv has complained that it is still outgunned and pleaded for more heavy weapons.
Built by France's partly state-owned arms maker Nexter, the Caesar is a 155mm howitzer mounted on a six-wheeled truck chassis, capable of firing shells at ranges of more than 40 kilometres (25 miles).
- 'Modern warfare' -
The commander of the system, who gave his name only as Glib, said it helped make Ukraine's defences more agile.
"This system is primarily very manoeuvrable and mobile," he said.
"In modern warfare, this is a crucial factor.
"Our old systems are stationary, so to speak. This is truck-mounted artillery to put in the field," he added.
The soldier said the weapons will allow Ukrainian troops to "gain a lot of time, so that the enemy cannot attack us and fire back".
Other similar systems, such as the US M777s that Ukraine has also received, need to be towed.
Glib said he underwent a week of training in France on how to use the weapon, although there was "very limited time" and "I had to train fast and remember everything quickly".
The officer said he could not disclose where in the country Kyiv was using the French howitzers.
Russian-backed separatists have claimed this month that Kyiv is using weaponry with 155-mm ammunition -- standard for NATO artillery -- to fire on the large city of Donetsk, which they control, and other nearby towns.
Glib denied such targeting.
"Security of civilians is one of our priorities so we do not fire on residential areas," he said.