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Ukraine shakes up its military leadership

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Ukraine's president dismissed his top general today in the most significant leadership shakeup since Russia's full-scale invasion in 2022. The two men had reportedly been feuding over military strategy and an unpopular conscription law. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Ukrainians call Valeriy Zaluzhnyi the Iron General. The outgoing commander in chief of Ukraine's armed forces is revered by soldiers. In public opinion polls, he's more popular than the man who appointed him president, Volodymyr Zelenskyyy. Zaluzhnyi is credited with preparing Ukrainian troops in the weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, and then leading those troops into a forceful defense of the country. But Zaluzhnyi clashed with Zelenskyyy, and the relations between the two men soured even more after a counteroffensive last summer failed to retake much occupied land. In a video posted to social media, Zelenskyy said that the feeling of stagnation on the battlefield is affecting the public mood. He said the army needs urgent changes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) This year should be the time when every soldier will know that the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian army are capable of winning.

KAKISSIS: Zelenskyy has replaced Zaluzhnyi with Oleksandr Syrsky, the commander of ground forces. Ukraine's president pointed out that Syrsky is credited with strategizing the defense of the capital, Kyiv, and pushing Russian forces out of parts of the northeastern province of Kharkiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) 2024 can only be successful if we make changes in defense. We must do everything in our power to make the Ukrainian army a winning army.

KAKISSIS: But the new military chief is not popular with Ukraine's rank-and-file soldiers. NPR has spoken to soldiers who call him a Soviet-style general. Military analysts have criticized his battlefield strategy in the east. Zelenskyy says Syrsky will begin to reboot the Ukrainian army immediately. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Kharkiv, Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.