Amid war setbacks and complaints, Ukraine changes another top general

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KYIV — A prominent Ukrainian officer this week accused a top commander of incompetence, blaming him for “thousands” of casualties in a rare public criticism from within the military that reflects growing discontent among the troops as Russia has advanced on the battlefield.

Maj. Bohdan Krotevych, the chief of staff of the influential Azov Brigade, filed a request to Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation concerning “a military general who in my opinion has killed more Ukrainian soldiers than any Russian general,” he wrote Monday in a post on Telegram.

Within hours, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that he had replaced Lt. Gen. Yuriy Sodol as Ukraine’s Joint Forces’ commander. Sodol is also in charge of the ground forces for the critical section of the front stretching from the eastern Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions, and is expected to be removed from that post as well.

The incident is the latest in a series of military leadership shake-ups this year amid Ukraine’s struggles along the 600-mile front line. Sodol had been in the post for just four months, installed by Ukrainian military chief Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, whom Zelensky only appointed to the top position earlier this year.

Analysts said Sodol’s swift removal could weaken Syrsky — already widely disliked by rank-and-file soldiers for what they consider to be brutal and old-school tactics reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s army leadership. It also threatens to backfire on Zelensky, who took greater ownership over battlefield decisions when he sacked popular Gen. Valery Zaluzhny in February.


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Since Russia invaded more than two years ago, public scrutiny of Ukraine’s military — consistently rated the country’s most trusted institution in polling — is taboo. And disputes and grievances within the ranks are typically kept private; soldiers who criticize their command could face retribution. Discussion of combat losses are considered a state secret, something Ukraine’s political leadership has chosen to downplay so as to not weaken society’s morale.

Krotevych’s call for an investigation into Sodol is a surprising display of the fractures within the Ukrainian command. It echoed what other Ukrainian military personnel have been quietly grumbling about for months — what they considered unreasonable orders that led to casualties while they were undermanned and lacking weapons.

All of this is occurring against the backdrop of Russia retaking some 260 square miles in the past four months.

“It bothers me that they convict battalion and brigade commanders for the loss of an observation post, but they don’t convict a general for the loss of [regions] and dozens of cities and thousands of soldiers,” Krotevych said on Telegram.

In his nightly address Monday, Zelensky didn’t provide a reason for Sodol’s dismissal, only saying that he would be replaced by Brig. Gen. Andriy Hnatov. On Wednesday morning, Zelensky posted a video from the Donetsk region, after a visit to soldiers in the area with Syrsky and Hnatov.

“General Hnatov’s task is clear: to destroy the occupier and, importantly, to preserve the lives of our soldiers as much as possible,” Zelensky said.

According to his complaint, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Krotevych accused Sodol of a litany of missteps dating back to his role as commander of the doomed defense of the city of Mariupol in 2022. It was in this siege that the Azov Brigade, part of the National Guard, gained fame for holding out in the Azovstal plant long after the rest of the city had fallen.

“Although Gen. Sodol did not manage the city’s defense and did not spend a single hour in Mariupol, he was awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine,” Krotevych wrote, adding that he didn’t supply the Azov Brigade with ammunition or build up the city’s defense structures ahead of the attack.

After one commander in the city asked Sodol for instructions, Krotevych witnessed Sodol respond, “We’re [screwed]” before hanging up, he said in the complaint.

More recently, during his command of the eastern front, Sodol ordered Azov to advance without the necessary artillery ammunition, and when arguments were given for why it was not possible, “formal investigations were initiated against [Azov’s] commander,” said the complaint.

“Gen. Sodol is inadequately commanding the troops, and his decisions have led to the deaths of thousands of servicemen from the Armed Forces of Ukraine, National Guard, and other defense units, resulting in a weak position on the front and the loss of a large amount of territory,” said Krotevych.

Other influential figures have also questioned Sodol’s command. Ukrainian activist Serhii Sternenko, whose YouTube channel has nearly 2 million subscribers, wrote on X that his appointment was “a personnel disaster.” Sternenko and others have claimed that Ukraine’s Marines who were ordered to assault the left bank of the Kherson region suffered senseless casualties.

“It is hard to imagine a worse candidate who is [more] indifferent to the lives of soldiers,” he added.

Lawmaker Marianna Bezuhla, a member of the parliament’s defense committee, referred to Sodol as “a criminal” in a Facebook post and has also called on Syrsky to resign. Bezuhla was similarly critical of Syrsky’s predecessor, Zaluzhny.

The turnover in personnel at the top of Ukraine’s military ranks comes at a tumultuous time on the battlefield. Since February, Ukraine has lost the eastern town of Avdiivka and a swath of villages to the west of it. Russia has also advanced north of Avdiivka with an assault on the town of Chasiv Yar. And last month, Russia began a new assault in the northeast Kharkiv region, taking new territory near the border.

A six-month delay in U.S. military assistance certainly contributed to the setbacks, but so has a slow mobilization of new troops even after Ukrainian commanders reported that units were badly in need of replenishment.

With each setback on the front line, Syrsky has been quick to make personnel changes and sack lower level commanders; he even disbanded an entire brigade that had been posted in Chasiv Yar.

Less than a week after Russia began its offensive in the Kharkiv region last month, Syrsky replaced Yuriy Halushkin, who had been overseeing units in the area.

Lately, soldiers said, officers at the battalion and company level who question orders to hold a position when they feel it would be wiser to move back a bit, are being punished or removed. That has led to diminished morale along the battlefield, military personnel said, and a growing lack of faith in the senior leadership.

“I’ve seen how senior officers made inadequate decisions because the ‘generals’ above ordered them to do so, and not being on the ground, they only gave commands,” said the head of a drone unit who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

“It was difficult to prove that this was arrogance and folly, although the issue often involved moving a position by 40-100 meters, which would have increased the safety of my position,” he added.

Read More: Amid war setbacks and complaints, Ukraine changes another top general

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