SLIAC/Slovakia (Reuters) -Germany will deliver seven self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine, on top of five such artillery systems the Dutch government already pledged, German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said on Friday.
Germany reversed its long-held policy of not sending heavy weapons to war zones last week following pressure at home and abroad for it to help Ukraine fend off Russian attacks.
The heavy weapons will come out of the Bundeswehr inventories and be delivered as soon as they emerge from maintenance over the next weeks, Lambrecht and her chief of defence, general Eberhard Zorn, told reporters in the Slovak town of Sliac.
The training of the first group of some 20 Ukrainian troops on the Panzerhaubitze 2000 is expected to kick off next week in the German town of Idar-Oberstein, Zorn said, adding that these troops had experience in operating Soviet-built howitzers.
Ukraine's pleas for heavy weapons have intensified since Moscow has turned its heaviest firepower on the country's east and south, after failing to take the capital Kyiv.
Berlin will also supply a first ammunition package for the howitzers built by German defence company KMW, Zorn said, with further ammunition purchases to be handled directly between Kyiv and the company.
The Panzerhaubitze 2000 is one of the most powerful artillery weapons in the Bundeswehr inventories and can hit targets at a distance of 40 kms (25 miles).
Last week, Berlin agreed for the first time to supply Kyiv with heavy weapons, in that case Gepard air-defence tanks, after critics accused Germany of dragging its heels on heavy weapons deliveries to Kyiv.
Most of the heavy weapons NATO countries have sent to Ukraine so far are Soviet-built arms still in the inventories of east European NATO member states, but the United States and some other allies have started to supply Kyiv with Western howitzers.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special military operation" to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.
Lambrecht will meet her Dutch counterpart Kajsa Ollongren later in the day in Sliac where both countries have deployed Patriot air defence since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)