Oleksandr Syrskyi is praised for liberating Kyiv region, reprimanded for Bakhmut and expected to provide miracles like in Kharkiv region. A large profile of the CinC. Part two

Oksana Kovalenko
Kateryna Kobernyk
Oleksandr Syrskyi is praised for liberating Kyiv region, reprimanded for Bakhmut and expected to provide miracles like in Kharkiv region. A large profile of the CinC. Part two

Oleksandr Syrskyi reports to the president on the situation in the Kupyansk region, November 2023.


Oleksandr Syrskyi became the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on February 8, 2024 — during one of the most difficult periods of the war with Russia. More than a year has passed since the last major victory — the Kharkiv operation. Behind was an unsuccessful counteroffensive of summer 2023, bloody battles and retreat from Bakhmut, chronic delays of Western weapons and systemic problems with mobilization. Immediately after the appointment of Sirskyi, the Ukrainian Armed Forces had to leave Avdiivka, a city in the Donetsk region, for which the fighting lasted for two years. Almost all of these victories and defeats were personally contributed by the former commander of the Ground Forces, Syrskyi. People from his close circle say that Syrskyi did not dream of the position of Commander-in-Chief and twice refused to be promoted: heʼs more comfortable at the front than at endless meetings in Kyiv. However, when President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered Syrskyi to head the Ukrainian Armed Forces for the third time, he agreed. Syrskyi has great ambitions, and behind him is a long career as a military personnel. He went through all the steps of this career step by step without skipping a single one. Former teachers and current acquaintances of Syrskyi say that he is neither a star nor a charisma, but a disciplined and systematic commander who loves control and discipline. Syrskyi is praised for successful operations in Kyiv region and Kharkiv region — and called a "butcher" for the heavy losses of the Armed Forces of Ukraine near Bakhmut. He himself almost never comments on anything and very rarely communicates with journalists, especially Ukrainian ones. Babel correspondent Oksana Kovalenko began collecting information about Syrskyi shortly after his appointment. In a few months, she talked with his mentors, subordinates, famous commanders, deputies, officials and employees of the Presidentʼs Office, who at various stages worked or simply helped Syrskyi. The opinions of some of them him have changed radically during this time. For example, MP from "Servant of the People" party Maryana Bezuhla first often praised Syrskyi, but now she criticizes him fiercely and says that he is a typical representative of the old inefficient generalship. In the first part of the profile, we told about Syrskyiʼs career before the full-scale invasion and his service in the ATO. The second one is about the key military operations of recent years, his appointment as the head of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the present challenges.


Despite the chaos of the first days of the Russiaʼs full-scale invasion, Syrskyi immediately instructed to raise the archives and find maps of the defense of the Ukrainian capital in 1941. "It turned out that the Russians went to Kyiv in the same way as the Germans did in 1941. Only the Germans managed to enter from the side of the Zhytomyr highway and further to the Odesa highway, and the Russians did not conquer the Zhytomyr highway," then head of the Kyiv region Oleksiy Kuleba recalls. At the meetings, Syrskyi gave the tasks for the local authorities, which the officials had then distributed among themselves. "His task could consist of two words, but for us it was 18 hours of work," says Kuleba.

Oleksandr Syrskyi with the then commander-in-chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi during the battle for Kyiv, spring 2022.


Syrskyi also created a kind of civil-military working group, which included representatives of the Kyiv Defense Headquarters, the Ministry of Defense, city authorities, sometimes representatives of the Presidentʼs Office, and some members of parliament. Among the parliamentarians were Serhiy Taruta (Batkivshchyna faction) and an old acquaintance, Maryana Bezuhla. At the end of February and the beginning of March, she helped Syrskyi with fortifications. In particular, at his request, together with a scientist from the University of Defense, she went to see where in the region it is possible to build defense structures, found out what was needed for this, and passed it on to Syrskyi.

One of the members of the working group remembers: people liked to go to meetings with Syrskyi, at least only because on days when everyone was afraid and worried, he looked confident and calm — this inspired hope that everything would be fine.

From the beginning of the full-scale invason, Syrskyi drove an unarmored car without security. One day, he was stopped at the Territorial defense roadblock — they were often set up without any system at that time, where anyone thought it was necessary — and the armed people there wanted to take the car. When Syrskyi said that he was the commander of the Ground Forces, he was told: "There are a lot of you like that driving here!".

"He could barely contain himself then. I remember him coming to the meeting very angry because of all that mess," recalls Taruta. The politician does not specify how Syrskyi stabilized the situation at the checkpoint, but says that he "kept everyone there cold." And later he ordered to deal with roadblocks and took security.

In the first weeks of the invasion, Syrskyi was constantly in the control post of the 72nd brigade and hardly slept. "It happened that during the meeting, when we had already talked about everything and there was a pause, he would simply turn off for a few minutes," recalls Kuleba.

Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi at advanced positions north of Kyiv, March 29, 2022.


Syrskyi drove to the frontline positions almost every day. "He always does this — he studies the area himself, talks directly with the lowest-level commanders," says a participant in the meetings who was close to Syrskyi during the Kyiv defense. Other military officers confirm: Syrskyi can call battalion commanders to check whether the brigade commanders are telling him the truth, but he does not rule through their heads.


On the twenty-sixth of February, in order to delay the Russian advance on Kyiv, Syrskyiʼs advisor Oleksandr Dmitriev proposed to blow up the dam on the Irpin River. Syrskyi agreed to the idea, part of the dam was blown up, but the water rose only a week later.

In order to approach Kyiv and cross the river, the Russians found a new point — Moshchun, a village in the Bucha district north of the capital. There they began to build pontoon bridges across Irpin River and crossed it. Oleksandr Dmitriev reported this to Syrskyi. He ordered the drones to be raised. It turned out that almost 10 units of equipment had already passed the crossing, and "an entire army" was in line. "It was probably the most critical moment. I thought: what, is that the end?” Syrskyi recalled in a conversation with The Washington Post, "Taking Moshchun meant breaking through to Kyiv." Then he gave the order to blow up the remaining part of the dam. The task was completed — and the Russians had to stop.

On March 11, the Russians renewed their attacks on Moshchun, advancing from several directions at once. The battles were tough. One day, Syrskyi said to Kuleba and a few other people: "Well, guys, get ready. Fights in the city are possible."

"We understood that Kyiv cannot be taken, but it can be exhausted. The main thing was to prevent the Russians from breaking through to the outskirts of the city, so we fought for Moshchun," recalls Taruta. Syrskyi ordered to look for people to protect the village. Kuleba barely found them. "He went there every day and personally entered the pfire ositions. We didnʼt have time: Syrskyi got out of the car and ran, and we followed him," Kuleba recalls.

This is what Moschun looked like after the battles with the Russians. Photo was made in April, 2022.


On the sixteenth of March, the Russians were stopped. Kuleba says that Syrskyi had a clear plan from the very beginning: to destroy all the logistics of the Russians, who were moving too fast, and then break them into three buckets that could turn into cauldron .

Another Babel interlocutor, who also visited Syrskyi at meetings, recalls: his plans are like mathematical problems — he calculates and describes everything, and the commanders gather and work out the actions minute by minute. And almost always everything came together.

Syrskyiʼs mathematical precision is not only in planning. "He fanatically follows order. Wherever he is, even if it is headquarters in the basement, in his office and on his desk, everything is always in order. Even his handwriting is even — letter to letter. This is a matrix person," says the interlocutor.

By the beginning of April, it was possible to drive the Russians out of Kyiv and the Kyiv region. On April 5, the president awarded Syrskyi the title of Hero of Ukraine with the Order of the Golden Star, the countryʼs highest honor. And in May, the Kyiv Council awarded Syrskyi the title of Honorary Citizen of Kyiv.


After the success in the Kyiv region, at the end of April — the beginning of May 2022, Syrskyi came to the Kharkiv region, where Russian troops were still stationed. He received several units with which he fought in the Kyiv region, and together with "local" brigades, he began to prepare an offensive.

"He listened to the decisions of every commander. If he considered them weak, he upscaled it and told how to implement it. He knew the potential of each unit. The more tasks the unit performed, the more he assigned to it," says one of the commanders who fought in that direction.

The Russians were pushed away from Kharkiv and made the city inaccessible to Russian artillery. Later, Syrskyi said that defending Kharkiv was a matter of honor for him — he associates the city with his school years. Even then, Syrskyi believed that the Ukrainian Armed Forces could liberate the Kharkiv region completely, and seriously considered the possibility of a breakthrough in the direction of Balaklia, but this idea wasnʼt supported.

After the Kharkiv operation, Syrskyi was recalled to Kyiv and in June 2022 he was sent to the east, to the Luhansk region, where the "Khortytsia" operational-strategic grouping of troops was created, and he was to head it.

The situation in the Luhansk region was critical at the time — the Russians were advancing towards the cities of Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk, which has been the administrative center of the region since 2014. MP Maryana Bezuhla says that she convinced the country authorities to appoint Syrskyi the commander of "Khortytsia" — and it happened.

Those around Syrskyi deny Bezuhlaʼs influence on this decision, and a former high-ranking official of the Ministry of Defense says that this idea was voiced by many people. Zaluzhnyi, who usually decided personnel issues himself, agreed with Zelenskyiʼs decision — after all, there was no choice.

Syrskyi received a whole sector, which included Luhansk, the north of Donetsk and Kharkiv regions. Serhiy Gaidai, the head of the Luhansk region at the time, says: then, the commander of the Joint Forces (Donbas unit of the Armed Forces of Ukraine) Serhiy Nayev was in charge of the sector, but there was no contact with him since the beginning of the invasion. "I directly communicated with the commanders of brigades and battalions stationed in the region," Gaidai recalls.

Upon his arrival, Syrskyi immediately arranged a meeting with the heads of the regional military administrations — Serhiy Gaidai and Pavlo Kyrilenko. They discussed all the current issues and since then consulted every day on video conferences. The military reported on the situation at the front, the head of logistics reported on cooperation with regional administrations, said what was needed.

The commander of the Ground Forces together with the leaders of the Luhansk (left) and Donetsk (second right) regional administration redeem the new stamp.


The Armed Forces of Ukraine failed to hold Sievierodonetsk, the Russians advanced westward into the Donetsk region — to Bakhmut. At the end of August 2022, the first assaults began. At the same time, from Izyum and Balaklia, the Russians attacked the city of Slovyansk in the Donetsk region.


Syrskyiʼs team found a gap in the Russian defense in the direction of Balaklia and decided to strike there. Initially, the operation was planned as a diversionary maneuver, but later Syrskyi realized that there was an opportunity to develop a full-fledged offensive there. CinC Valeriy Zaluzhnyi had a different opinion — he believed that forces should be concentrated in the south. Syrskyi defended his idea for at least a week, tried to reach the president, and he, despite Zaluzhnyiʼs objections, agreed to the operation, one of the eyewitnesses of the negotiations tells Babel.

After this story, rumors began in the information space about the possible replacement of Zaluzhnyi with Syrskyi. And although they never openly clashed, Zaluzhnyiʼs entourage was outraged that Syrskyi communicated directly with the president. Syrskyi replied: the president, as the supreme commander, himself decides with whom and how to communicate.

The operation began to be planned in July 2022, the troops were gathered at the end of August, and at the same time the shelling of Russian logistics began. At the meetings with Syrskyi, their participant says, the commanders actually worked out a joint operation minute by minute — who was supposed to be in which positions at a certain moment. There were backup plans in case of failure. With someone Syrskyi spoke long hours and explained the details, someone he threatened with the legal responsibility for non-compliance. In general, says Babelʼs interlocutor who fought on most of the hot areas, he has never seen such detailed planning in other cases.

The operation began on September 5 and was very successful — the Ukrainian Armed Forces advanced quickly, the Russians fled, leaving their equipment behind. "There has never been such an elation at the headquarters. Syrskyi also did not hold hide his joy — it was as if he had wings," recalls an eyewitness. In this way, it was possible to liberate almost the entire Kharkiv region. The defense forces could go further, but there were no reserves that could support the offensive. The success of the Kharkiv operation was noted by all Western media. At the military conference held in Skopje in those days, the Armed Forces of Ukraine were constantly praised.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with Syrskyi in Izyum after the liberation of the city, September 14, 2022.



The Russians fled the Kharkiv region, but intensified their attack on Bakhmut. In order to cut off the logistics of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, they decided to first capture Soledar, a small town 18 kilometers from Bakhmut.

At one of the meetings, Syrskyi turned to Gaidai with an unusual request: to publicly announce that Ukrainian troops were about to capture Kreminna, a city 70 kilometers north of Bakhmut. This wasnʼt true, and Syrskyi immediately warned Gaidai that stones would fly at him for this. This psy-op needed the Russians to transfer reserves from Bakhmut — and the plan worked. The Ukrainian Armed Forces received a short respite.

All this time, the Russians were hunting Syrskyi. In July 2022, they were one step away from the goal — the occupiers hit the command post with Iskander missile. Several officers who were outside were killed. Syrskyi was in the bunker, so he wasnʼt injured. A few months later, in the fall of 2022, there was another attempt — the Russians aimed at another command post, but did not hit it. After that, the Russians spread fakes about Syrskyiʼs murder several more times. He himself answers the question about the assassinations briefly: "Letʼs put it this way: we are familiar with missile strikes." He came under fire more than once, and when Soledar was almost surrounded, he came there to support the morale and get the knowledge of the situation.

In January 2023, the Russians took Soledar, it became more difficult to defend Bakhmut, and in May of the same year, the Ukrainian Armed Forces retreated from the city. It is for these two operations that Syrskyi is criticized the most. Troops on both sides suffered heavy losses, and both cities were almost completely destroyed. Western advisers and the military, publicly and on the sidelines, constantly advised to leave Bakhmut in order to minimize the losses of the Ukrainian Armed Forces — but the Ukrainian side stood its ground. Because of this, after the defeat, Syrskyiʼs critics began to call him a "butcher".

The commander of the Ground Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, gives instructions in a shelter during battles with the Russians, Soledar city, Donetsk region, on January 8, 2023.
Oleksandr Syrskyi at military positions in Soledar, January 8, 2023. Photo by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.

The commander of the Ground Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, gives instructions in a shelter during battles with the Russians, Soledar city, Donetsk region, on January 8, 2023. Oleksandr Syrskyi at military positions in Soledar, January 8, 2023. Photo by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.

One of the commanders who fought in that direction says that there were objective reasons for the loss. First, there was a catastrophic lack of ammunition and reserves. Second, in December 2022, the powerful 93rd Kholodnyi Yar mechanized brigade, which held positions near Soledar, was put on rotation. One of the territorial defense battalions, which came in its place, left its position and the entire line of defense was shuttered. The commander says that it is the logic of civilians that you just need to protect people and leave if the fighting is fierce, it does not always work at the front: "Any settlement must be held. Because otherwise they can go all the way to the Dnipro River!".

The actions of the Bakhmut command were also influenced by politics: the Ukrainian Armed Forces were preparing for a counteroffensive in the south, the head of the Main Directorate on Intelligence Kyrylo Budanov promised that the Ukrainian Armed Forces would be in Crimea already in the summer of 2023, President Zelenskyy called 2023 the year of victory.

Syrskyi also supported optimistic sentiments and said that victory is real if Ukraine receives all the aid promised by its partners. He did not publicly admit Bakhmut his defeat, saying that the Armed Forces of Ukraine managed to restrain the enemy for a long time and crush the most motivated forces of the enemy — "Wagnerʼs PMC".

Syrskyi did not give up hope of recapturing the lost positions. In the summer of 2023, a new operation began in the Bakhmut direction. Its goal was to return the villages south of Bakhmut — Klishchiivka, Andriivka, and if possible to advance further. In the fall of 2023, the villages were liberated (read details about both operations here and here).

After that, Zaluzhnyi and Syrskyi diverged again in their visions of further actions. The latter believed that it was necessary to develop the offensive in the east and further advance to the south. For this, he asked for two brigades to be allocated to him.

Zaluzhnyi reasoned differently — the south should be liberated through the Zaporizhzhia region. The forces were limited, only those brigades that were preparing for the offensive to the south with the help of Western partners were headed by the commander. In addition, in August, several American media published articles with reference to officials in the US government. They criticized the Ukrainian command for dispersing forces between the south and Bakhmut. As a result, Syrskyi did not receive additional brigades, and later the counteroffensive also failed.


Defeats at the front increased dissatisfaction with the General Staff in the Office of the President. Zaluzhnyiʼs excessive popularity was also annoying — various representatives of the authorities constantly talked about it in informal conversations. According to the December poll of the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 92% of respondents trusted Zaluzhnyi, and 77% trusted Zelenskyy.

In mid-January 2024, Syrskyi was offered to become Commander-in-Chief for the second time — he refused again, his friend Pavlo Zhebrivskyi says. But at the end of January, Zaluzhnyiʼs resignation was talked about as a fait accompli.

Deputy Maryana Bezuhla publicly named three possible candidates: Oleksandr Syrskyi, the then deputy chief of the General Staff Yevhen Moysyuk and the head of the Main Directorate of Intelligence Kyrylo Budanov. According to information obtained by Babel, some employees of the Directorate were literally packing things to move to the General Staff. But on February 8, 2024, Zelenskyy appointed Syrskyi, not Budanov, as the new head of the General Staff. In the February poll of the KIIS, which was conducted during the change of commanders, 40% of respondents trusted Syrskyi, 64% trusted Zelenskyy, and 94% trusted Zaluzhnyi — even more than a few months ago.

CinC Oleksandr Syrskyi and his predecessor Valery Zaluzhnyi, February 9, 2024.


Syrskyi commented on his appointment only once, in an interview with the state-owned information agency Ukrinform. He said that military orders are not discussed, but carried out, and if the supreme commander decided to carry out such a replacement during the war, it means that he had good reasons. "We worked side by side with Valeriy Fedorovych [Zaluzhnyi] in the most difficult times since the beginning of the full-scale invasion and even earlier. We worked as one team, I wish him success on his new position."

After his appointment, Syrskyi was in the east for a few more days. When he finally left for Kyiv, he said to one of the then members of the “Khortytsia” team: "You see, I left my comfort zone." Thatʼs what he calls the front.

According to the Babel sources, Zelenskyy set several specific tasks for the new head of the General Staff. First, conduct an audit and find out how many people in the Ukrainian Armed Forces can be transferred from the rear to the front, and how many will still need to be mobilized after that. Syrskyi also had to establish a system of rotations and report on how many shells are needed for 2024.

A few months later, the General Staff began rotations at the front. The rear audit was successful. Syrskyi reported: it was possible to free "thousands of servicemen and direct them to combat units."

Syrskyi started with personnel changes. Many of his previous team assumed leadership positions: former deputy of Syrskyi in the Ground Forces Oleksandr Pavlyuk became their new commander, deputy of Syrskyi in the "Khortytsia" Ihor Plahuta — commander of the Territorial Defense Forces, chief of staff of "Khortytsia" Anatoly Barhylevych headed the General Staff. Sirsky does not trust people from the old team. Some personnel decisions are made on the basis of "whether he was fighting or living comfortably in Kyiv," says his former subordinate from "Khortytsia".

Dana Yarova, an adviser to the Deputy Minister of Defense, who has a good relationship with Zaluzhnyi, says: under Syrskyi, the work at the General Staff became more systematic. Brigadier General Volodymyr Karpenko, the new commander of the Logistics Forces appointed by him, quickly got involved in the work. "I am very satisfied with the cooperation with him," says Yarova. "Truthfully, I canʼt understand whether itʼs the discipline and routine of these people, or whether theyʼre just trying very hard right now."

The first meeting with the president after the appointment of Syrskyi as commander-in-chief and the renewal of the General Staff.


Systematicity has its disadvantages. Syrskyi closed all the processes to himself, and some decisions slowed down — you have to wait in line until the head agrees on everything personally. There was more democracy under Zaluzhnyi, he delegated many tasks to deputies. The downside of this practice, says Babelʼs interlocutor in the General Staff, is that it sometimes led to chaos. And after Syrskyi was appointed to the General Staff, everyone began to wear uniforms.


In April 2024, the parliament voted for an important draft law on mobilization for Ukraine. The army was waiting for clear terms and conditions of demobilization, but this norm was removed in the final document. Maryana Bezhula published a letter from Syrskyi, in which he asked the parliament to include this issue in a separate draft law. Babel was unable to confirm whether such an initiative really belonged to Syrskyi.

Syrskyi took office at the time of fierce fighting for Avdiivka, when the situation was already critical. Within a week, on February 17, the Ukrainian Armed Forces left the city, and the main task was to stop the further advance of the Russians. The situation was stabilized, but the offensive continues.

In mid-April, it became clear: the Russians were preparing a new offensive in the Kharkiv region — it began on May 10 in several directions at once. The defense forces put up a fight, but in some places they left their positions — the Russians managed to advance 10 kilometers deep beyond the border line there.

Because of this, the command was immediately blamed for the lack of fortifications. The General Staff explained that under constant shelling it was impossible to build fortified lines, the line of defense is located far from the border, where the Russians did not reach. Nevertheless, already on May 13, Syrskyi removed the commander of the "Kharkiv" operational-tactical group Yuriy Galushkin and appointed Mykhailo Drapatyi, who before that was sent to the sector to help Galushkin.

"Syrskyi is a tough leader. He does not have such a thing: someone I love, someone I donʼt. If a person cannot cope with the task, even if it is a friend or a good acquaintance, he fires him without any sentiments," says a former high-ranking official from the Ministry of Defense.

Bezuhla, an old acquaintance, has recently started talking about Syrskyi "without sentiments" herself. On May 19, the politician made a post in which she literally blasted the commanders appointed by Syrskyi for the failed defense near Kharkiv and the breakthrough of the Russians in Ocheretyne. She called General Yuriy Sodol, who combines two positions — the commander of the Joint Froces on Donbas and the commander of the Khortytsya Defense Forces — a criminal. And Syrskyi was accused of not being able to deal with the "generalist factions that continue to bury our future." Immediately after Bezuhla, influential blogger Serhiy Sternenko made a critical post about the appointment of Sodol, and another popular blogger Ihor Lachenkov reposted it.

CinC Syrskyi.

In subsequent posts, Bezuhla accused Syrskyi of concealing the truth, manual control, burning out all competitors, and replacing the brigade commanders so quickly "that they donʼt have time to get to know the unit, and are already guilty." Finally, the deputy wrote that Syrskyi is no different from his predecessor, except for regular trips to the front. However, this is not a plus on Bezuhlaʼs opinion: this is how he hides his head from responsibility and uncomfortable conversations, she thinks.

These statements of the MP0 outraged part of the military, just as her critical posts about the need to fire Zaluzhnyi once did. Because of this parallel, rumors appeared that the Office of the President is looking for Syrskyiʼs replacement and is even conducting interviews. The current special presidential military envoy, Yevgeny Moysyuk, is named among the candidates. Until February 2024, he was the deputy head of the CinC, and now he takes care of international security guarantees for Ukraine and deals with the development of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Among the reasons for dissatisfaction with Syrskyi, Babel interlocutors cite the desire to "hang responsibility for the breakthrough of the Russians near Kharkiv" on him. The State Bureau of Investigations is already investigating the actions of the 125th Brigade, whose fighters left their positions in several areas. Syrskyi is also accused of problems with the training of the mobilized, captain courses that have not yet been implemented, a scandal at the National Academy of Ground Forces and many other problems in the army. The Head Committee does not comment on these statements. It is known that during the escalation in the Kharkiv region, he was at the front almost all the time.

All Babel interlocutors say: Syrskyi is not a politician, but a military man. He does not understand the importance of proper communication and is not very strong in intrigues — he will not respond to criticism and wage his war on this front too.

"Syrskyi is ambitious in terms of military victories. The front is his, and in the cabinet he lacks field life. He has one cherished dream — victory," says a former high-ranking official of the Ministry of Defense.

And Bezuhla, whose posts often resonate with the thoughts of the Presidentʼs Office, and sometimes announce its actions, says: "Oleksandr Stanislavovych, this is the last call for you." After the story with Zaluzhnyi, her words no longer seem like empty threats.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.