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The United States will train Ukrainians on howitzer artillery systems in the coming days | Russo-Ukrainian War

The artillery is part of an $800 million military aid package that the United States says will help Ukraine defend against the Russian offensive in the east.

The United States plans to begin training Ukrainians in the operation of howitzer artillery systems in the coming days, a senior US defense official has said, as the Biden administration seeks to strengthen the defenses of the Ukraine against an expected Russian offensive in the east.

Speaking on condition of anonymity on Monday, the official said the howitzer training would take place outside Ukraine.

The 155mm howitzer cannons are part of an additional $800 million weapons package for Ukraine that US President Joe Biden announced last week. It also includes other artillery systems, artillery shells, armored personnel carriers and helicopters.

“This new assistance package will contain many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the broader assault we expect Russia to launch into eastern Ukraine,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday.

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the country’s allies to provide more heavy equipment and weapons to avert the expected Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.

The US defense official said four US cargo flights arrived in Europe on Sunday with weapons and other materials as part of the $800 million aid package. The United States plans to teach Ukrainian trainers how to use some of the new weapons, and then train trainers to instruct their colleagues in Ukraine.

But Moscow, which launched its invasion on February 24, recently warned the Biden administration in an official diplomatic note of “unforeseeable consequences” if Washington supplied kyiv with new weapons.

“We call on the United States and its allies to end the irresponsible militarization of Ukraine, which involves unforeseeable consequences for regional and international security,” reads the note, reported by the Washington Post.

On Monday, Russian forces stepped up their bombardment of towns across Ukraine ahead of what is expected to be an all-out assault on the east of the country.

Ukrainian officials said at least seven people had been killed in Lviv, where plumes of black smoke rose above the western city which has seen only sporadic attacks since the start of the war and is become a haven for civilians fleeing fighting elsewhere.

The attacks came as Russia continued to build up troops and artillery in the east and south for the planned start of a new ground offensive in the Donbas region.

The top US defense official told reporters that Russia was targeting military targets in Lviv and in the capital, kyiv, in the north. The port city of Mariupol was still contested as Russia appears to have sent reinforcements to Ukraine in recent days, the official added.

“Our assessment is Mariupol is still disputed… [it] remains under threat from the air, but also from missile strikes and air bombs, but even of course from artillery,” the official said.

According to the official, there were about 76 tactical groups of Russian battalions in southern and eastern Ukraine, an increase of about 11 in recent days.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Monday he had spoken with his Romanian counterpart Vasile Dincu “about the need for urgent assistance to Ukraine ahead of a likely Russian military offensive in eastern Ukraine”.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price also warned that the Biden administration could impose more economic sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion.

“I think you can expect us to continue to intensify our financial sanctions and other economic measures against the Russian Federation until and unless Moscow gives in to its campaign against Ukraine,” he said. Price to reporters.