Who is General Oleksandr Syrsky, the new commander-in-chief of the armed forces?
Oleksandr Syrsky, 58, has been the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Army since 2019, after leading military operations in eastern Ukraine in the face of the pro-Russian separatist offensive in 2014.
He was born in 1965 in the USSR, in the Vladimir region, today in Russia. Like many high-ranking soldiers of his generation, he completed his military studies at the Higher Combined Arms Command School in Moscow. From the 1980s, it was deployed in Ukraine, at the time still a republic of the USSR.
At the fall of the Soviet empire, he did not return to Russia, he joined the ranks of the brand new army of the newly independent Ukraine, and continued his studies at the National Defense University in kyiv. In the 2000s, he commanded the 72e mechanized brigade of the Ukrainian army, based in Bila Tserkva, about a hundred kilometers south of kyiv. He was promoted to general in 2009, then in 2013 he participated in the development of cooperation with NATO.
When, in 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and then triggered a separatist conflict in the east of the country, he became one of the leaders of operations to prevent Moscow from taking control of the entire Donbass. He had to coordinate the difficult retreat from the town of Debaltseve, an important railway hub, in early 2015, where the Ukrainians faced outnumbered forces.
Two years later, he became commander of all operations in the East, where the front line was now frozen. The war there then turned into a low-intensity conflict, and will remain so until the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022.
He is considered to be responsible for some of Ukraine’s major victories over the Russian army over the past two years. He oversaw the defense of kyiv at the start of the Russian offensive. In early April 2022, a few days after the Russians retreated from the kyiv region, Volodymyr Zelensky awarded him the title “Hero of Ukraine”, the highest national honor.
Six months later, in the fall of 2022, it was still Oleksandr Syrsky who was in charge when the Ukrainian army inflicted a second humiliation on Moscow by chasing the invader from the Kharkiv region, in the northeast of the ‘Ukraine. Yet the general did not become a national icon. According to a December 2023 survey, 48% of respondents said they did not even know Mr. Syrsky, who very rarely makes the headlines, unlike MM. Zaluzhny and Zelensky.
Not very charismatic, Oleksandr Syrsky is not an office man, according to his services. The army also readily broadcasts images showing him armed and helmeted even in the trenches, shaking hands with soldiers, or laughing with them. Some criticize his approach, which they consider too similar to that of the generals of the USSR, and accuse him of being distant.
Very discreet about his personal life, he is married and father of two sons, according to an army spokesperson.