General Oleksandr Syrsky, new war hero in Ukraine

The name of Ukrainian General Oleksandr Syrsky comes up frequently to explain the success of the counter-offensive launched by Ukraine around the city of Kharkiv and in the east of the country. Like Valery Zalouzhny, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army, he is part of a generation of officers very popular with Ukrainians. France 24 takes stock.

It is with a video posted on September 10 on the Twitter account of the Ministry of Defense that many observers have put a face to the military successes that the Ukrainian army has achieved since the launch of its offensive in the Kharkiv region, September 7.

In this video of just over a minute with English subtitles, we see General Syrsky, obviously not very comfortable in front of the camera, addressing Ukrainian soldiers in a square in the town of Balakliïa , freshly recaptured from Russian troops.

« Today we have completed the liberation of Balaklya, it is the first major city (liberated by) our offensive. I am sure it will not be the last. Ahead of us is Kupyansk which has already half taken over by our troops. There is also Izioum and many other cities », he declaims slowly. In front of the general at attention, the video then shows soldiers hoisting the flag on top of a pole to the sound of the national anthem. Since then, Ukrainian forces have regained control of the two localities mentioned by this 57-year-old officer.

The face of the daring counter-offensive

On social networks, many Ukrainians are enthusiastic about the video released by the Ministry of Defense. Ukrainian political scientist Aleksey Goloboutsky says on his Facebook account that he is the architect of the counter-attack plan in the East which, so far, has enabled Ukrainian forces to regain 6,000 km2 of territory, according to kyiv. The Swiss site Watson also reports, citing Ukrainian sources, that it was Syrsky’s idea to attack Kupiansk, a key city for supplying the Russian army in Izium, and that the general staff did not was initially unconvinced by his plan.

An Estonian parliamentarian, Eerik-Niiles Kross, sees in the general, already proclaimed « hero of Ukraine » since April, a « hero of the free world ». If his role in the planning and conduct of the ongoing counter-offensive in northern Donbass has not been confirmed by the Ukrainian authorities, the general is far from unknown.

Officer of a generation who has spent most of his military career in post-Soviet Ukraine, he had already distinguished himself in 2015 during the battle of Debaltseve, in the Donbass, then in February-March of this year. , during the defense of the city of kyiv, almost surrounded by Russian troops. He was then commander-in-chief of the military forces of the capital.

A key role in the Battle of kyiv

Involved in the coordination structures between the Ukrainian General Staff and NATO since 2013, Oleksandr Syrsky has been Commander-in-Chief of the Army since 2019. In the days and weeks following the Russian invasion, on 24 February morning, it was up to him to organize the defense of the capital.

In an interview with the Washington Post in June 2022, he claims that in the days leading up to the attack, he « couldn’t even imagine » a major operation by Russian forces targeting the whole of Ukrainian territory. « I rather thought that if the hostilities started, they would rather be localized in the East, in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk ».

As the White House continues to alert kyiv to the impending full-scale invasion, Syrsky had units and equipment moved to the main access routes to the capital. In the weeks leading up to the invasion, he organized two lines of defense around the capital and set up a chain of command that would prove vital in blocking the Russian advance. According to the Washington Post, « Syrsky divided the city and its surroundings into sectors. Heading each sector, he appointed generals, drawn from military training academies, who were responsible for making tactical decisions without having to consult the ‘Staff ».

In this interview, the general explains how he exploited the slowness of the Russian army despite the fear it could inspire. Syrsky would also be at the initiative of a daring maneuver having led to the destruction of a dam by Ukrainian troops to literally drown Russian special units fighting along the Irpin river. « We later found the bulletproof vests abandoned by the soldiers to be able to swim and stay alive, » he explains.

The « iron general » Zalouzhny, icon of the resistance

Decorated for these decisive actions during the battle of kyiv, the fame of General Syrsky still remains modest. Since the beginning of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the population has expressed immense support and confidence in its army, the best known and most popular face of which is that of Valeri Zalouzhny, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army. The 49-year-old has over 500,000 followers on his Facebook account. His corpulence and the successes achieved by his troops since the beginning of the war have earned him the nickname « iron general » in the Ukrainian press.

Highlighting the key role of the younger generation of officers with combat experience against the separatists in the East, his repeated requests to « use all means » to « preserve the life and health » of the soldiers have made as popular as the military victories achieved over the Russians.

Promoted to Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces by President Zelensky in July 2021, General Zaloujny continued the reform of the army to distance it from Soviet military traditions and bring it closer to NATO standards. A strategic choice which also seems to inhabit General Syrsky. Surprise, mobility and determination, so many principles advocated by his superior that he implemented in recent operations in eastern Ukraine. And which caused Moscow to suffer a new setback.

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