The U.S.-produced man-portable anti-tank missile systems, FGM-148 Javelins, have been seen deployed to the war zone of Donbas with Ukrainian combat formations.
Following earlier unverified claims by Ukrainian officials, journalists recorded the Ukrainian military operating these weapons as Russia concentrated nearly 100,000 troops near the border and in the occupied territories, preparing for what many see as a full-scale invasion.
Journalist Patrick Reevell of ABC News, who is working near the front-line city of Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast, published pictures of the weapons on Dec. 8.
"Probably the best-known and most controversial piece of US military assistance," the journalist wrote on Twitter.
"It’s part of the aid (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is signaling is unacceptable for Russia. Ukraine usually doesn’t show the Javelin missiles near the frontline. For years the U.S. made it keep them far away from it. But they’ve been deployed there since 2020. We were told they’ve only been fired a handful of times."
The U.S. in 2018-2019 authorized the sale of a total of 47 Javelin launchers and 360 missiles to Ukraine for a total of nearly $86 million.
The weapons can defeat modern tanks by striking them from above. Javelin operators can reposition immediately after launch — the missile will seek its target on its own.
Over years, the advanced third-generation anti-tank weapons have been considered the holy grail of Ukraine's defense sector and an important political signal of U.S. support of Kyiv in the war against Russia.
According to multiple reports, the Javelins were handed over to Ukraine on the condition that they wouldn't be deployed to Donbas due to their political and technological importance.
As recently as in late November, Ukraine's military-police contingent in the region, the Joint Forces, denied all reports that Javelins had been employed to fight Russian-led militants.
In early December, however, Joint Forces commanding general Oleksandr Pavliuk confirmed that the Ukrainian forces in the war zone do operate the Javelins.
On Dec. 8, journalist Andriy Tsapliyenko also confirmed their deployment to Donbas and posted a picture of himself posing next to a Ukrainian serviceperson operating a Javelin system.
"Those who believe that the Javelins are collecting dust in our warehouses are very wrong," Tsapliyenko wrote.
"The Joint Forces Operation fighters will not hesitate even for a minute if Russian tanks rush towards them."