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Who is Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine’s new army chief

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NEW DELHI: Ukraine has appointed Oleksandr Syrsky as the new chief of its armed forces, a pivotal move as the nation continues its defense against Russia’s invasion. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the 58-year-old’s appointment on Thursday, replacing Valery Zaluzhny amidst speculation of a significant military leadership overhaul during wartime.
Syrsky, credited with the defense of Kyiv against Russian forces and thwarting the Kremlin’s initial invasion plans, has been a key figure in Ukraine’s military strategy. Following Russia’s failed attempt to capture the Ukrainian capital, Zelenskyy awarded Syrsky the Hero of Ukraine award, the nation’s highest honor, for his “personal courage” and significant contributions to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In a notable operation under his command, the Autumn 2022 counter-offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region marked a significant victory for Ukraine, forcing Russian forces into a retreat and reclaiming large territories.
Despite these achievements, Syrsky does not enjoy the national icon status of his predecessor, Zaluzhny. A December 2023 poll revealed that 48% of Ukrainians were not familiar with him. Known for his low-profile approach and preference for official communications, Syrsky’s leadership style contrasts with the more charismatic figures in Ukraine’s military and political landscape.
However, his commitment to being on the front lines is evident, with army spokesperson Illia Yevlash noting Syrsky’s regular visits to the battlefield. Critics have described him as a leader who prioritizes objectives over the cost, with some questioning his sensitivity to troop losses.
Syrsky’s military career is extensive, having been born in Soviet Russia in 1965 and later serving in Ukraine post-Soviet Union collapse. His experience includes leading the 72nd mechanized brigade and involvement in Ukraine-NATO cooperation. As a commander in the eastern Donbas region, he played a crucial role in the conflict against Russian-backed forces since 2014.
Five facts about Oleksandr Syrsky:
Early years: Born in Russia’s Vladimir region in 1965, Syrsky has lived in Ukraine since the 1980s. His military education was completed in Moscow, reflecting a background shared with some of his Russian counterparts.
The Snow Leopard: Syrsky, known by the call sign “Snow Leopard,” headed Ukraine’s land forces since 2019 and has been a central figure in the conflict with Russia, particularly in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Key victories: His leadership was instrumental in defending Kyiv and executing a counteroffensive near Kharkiv, marking significant successes in the ongoing conflict.
Bakhmut defense: Syrsky led the defense of Bakhmut, a battle that, despite its high casualties, was seen as detrimental to Russia’s broader war efforts.
Troop morale: Prioritizing the morale of his soldiers, Syrsky is known for his dedication to visiting troops at the front and maintaining a rigorous personal schedule, including regular gym visits. He is married with two sons.
As Ukraine continues to navigate the complexities of war, Syrsky’s strategic acumen and leadership will be crucial in the nation’s ongoing defense efforts against Russian aggression.
(With inputs from agencies)

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