New Army Chief of Ukraine, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsky: Who is He? | Latest on Russia-Ukraine War

Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsky, who has been called ‘Snow Leopard’ and ‘Hero of Ukraine’ for his battlefield successes, has been selected by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to lead Ukraine’s military. He has played a crucial role in some of the country’s most significant victories in its war with Russia, including overseeing the successful defence of the capital, Kyiv, in the early days of the invasion.

Like most senior officers of his generation, Syrsky was born in Soviet Russia in July 1965 and studied at a Red Army academy in Moscow. In the 1980s, he was deployed to Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he remained in Ukraine, studied at the National Defence University in Kyiv, and joined the ranks of the newly independent Ukrainian army.

The appointment of Syrsky as commander-in-chief is not surprising, as few in the Ukrainian military have the experience and know-how to fill the shoes of his popular predecessor, General Valerii Zaluzhny. In 2014, he commanded Ukrainian troops fighting a Moscow-backed insurgency in the eastern Donetsk region and was given the call sign “Snow Leopard”.

In 2019, he became head of Ukraine’s land forces and led the country into war when Russia invaded in February 2022. In the early months of the war, he was named a “Hero of Ukraine”, the country’s highest honour, because of his successful defence of Kyiv.

In July 2022, Syrsky planned and executed a lightning counteroffensive that pushed Russian troops away from the northern city of Kharkiv and retook swathes of land in the east and southeast. Two months later, Syrsky was credited with orchestrating the counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, which was the most significant Ukrainian victory in the war and enabled Kyiv to retake the cities of Kupiansk and Izyum from the Russians.

He has also led the Bakhmut operation, which was the war’s longest and bloodiest and has been criticised because of the high losses suffered by Ukrainian forces. Some military analysts believe his battlefield tactics reflect his hierarchical Soviet training.

His successes on the front lines have earned him the backing of his soldiers, who have been locked in grinding battles for two years. However, as the war turned to attrition, Syrsky has had to oversee the most difficult phase of the conflict, which will enter its third year this month.

Shortages of ammunition and fresh personnel threaten to weaken the Ukrainian lines as Russians eye an advance. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian forces’ main goal this winter has been holding the territory it controls, as much-needed United States military aid is held up in Congress.

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