Artillery vehicle

In the Ukrainian army, Soviet-era artillery bows out

MYKOLAIV, Ukraine — Hidden in a ravine of a Ukrainian forest grove, the aging Soviet-era Akatsiya 2S3 howitzer may have been advancing for years, but is not yet retired.

The Ukrainian army prefers more effective Western weapons, but it was forced to deploy everything it had at the start of the war, mostly older stocks.

Built in 1986 and nicknamed “Lastochka” (“The Swallow”) by its crew, a set of tools on the roof of the howitzer indicate that repairs are often needed.

“To get him from second to third gear, you have to hammer him or slap him,” Sergiy, 26, said with a smile, clapping loudly for effect.

In contrast, more modern Western artillery locks onto its targets by computer and then fires, buying valuable time to avoid a retaliatory strike.

“We will be remembered as the last to use these systems,” said an officer nicknamed “Baniet” (“Bayonet”).

In Ukraine, the army “does with what it has”, although it prefers Western equipment “with more computers”, he said.

“Every Lada owner would love to have a Mercedes,” he added, jokingly referring to the Akatsiya 2S3 and comparing it to the ubiquitous Soviet-era passenger car.

These “Ladas” also give up 10 km or more of range to more sophisticated Western equipment, and lag even further behind in terms of accuracy.

Their strikes land “within a radius of 200 to 300 meters” from the target, compared to five meters for a modern guided shell, according to Pierre Grasser, a Russian defense specialist based in Paris.

‘End of an era’

Whatever its flaws, the Ukrainian army will be forced to abandon the Akatsiya 2S3 for lack of ammunition, according to Grasser.

Like other Soviet-era artillery pieces bequeathed to Ukraine upon independence in 1991, it primarily fires 152mm shells, mostly produced in Russia.