Zelensky Removes Gen. Yurii Sodol Amid Criticism of Excessive Casualties

Equipo
By Equipo
6 Min Read

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine removed one of his top generals from his post on Monday amid public criticism that the commander’s decisions had led to excessive casualties.

The dismissal of the general, Yurii Sodol, as commander of the Joint Forces of the Armed Forces, was a clear indication that the discord that had rankled the army since Mr. Zelensky replaced his commanding general, Valery Zaluzhny, with Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky in February, continued to threaten military cohesion.

Mr. Zelensky announced that he was replacing General Sodol with Brig. Gen. Andrii Hnatov.

General Sodol was appointed by General Syrsky as part of a broader shake-up in February, and Mr. Zelensky did not say why he had dismissed the commander or what position he would now hold.

But the president’s announcement came after Bohdan Krotevych, chief of staff of the Azov brigade — a regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard — wrote a letter to the State Bureau of Investigation calling for an investigation into the general’s conduct.

Then, just hours before the general’s dismissal. Mr. Krotevych posted an unusually blunt and scathing open letter on social media, implicitly accusing the general of, through his poor leadership, “killing more Ukrainian soldiers than any Russian general.”

While Mr. Krotevych did not name General Sodol directly in the public letter, he suggested that all of Ukraine’s forces knew to whom he was referring. “Everyone in the military understands because 99 percent of the military hate him for what he does,” he wrote.

Mariana Bezuhla, a member of Parliament’s defense committee, said in a statement that Mr. Krotevych had been referring to General Sobol and that she shared his concerns.

“Will this continue?” she said in a statement on social media. “Do the military have to unite on the basis of hatred for their leader? Do we really have to lose people and territory like this? Is this how it works?”

Neither General Sodol nor General Syrsky could be reached for comment, and the military command had no immediate comment.

Mr. Krotevych wrote that he was aware that issuing such a public statement could have consequences for himself and his unit, but believed he had no choice.

While soldiers are not shy about privately grumbling about decisions they consider unwise or expressing discontent with the Ukrainian military leadership, it is rare for a soldier to issue such a public rebuke of a commander.

After Mr. Zelensky’s announcement, Ms. Bezuhla said that firing one person would not fix problems that run much deeper. “Without changing the principles of the system, one personnel decision will not produce anything,” she said.

After Mr. Zelensky announced that he was replacing General Sodol with General Hnatov, Mr. Krotevych wrote that the new commander was “a very good officer,” adding, “I hope the news at the front will get better.”

Ukrainian forces have been on the defensive since the autumn and have spent months fighting to hold on to land despite being outmanned and outgunned. American military assistance was delayed by political wrangling in Washington, and political indecision in Kyiv delayed efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s campaign to mobilize new troops.

Analysts have said that General Syrsky, the country’s top military commander, is acutely aware of the criticism that he represents an outdated “Soviet” way of thinking and that he is too willing to sacrifice the lives of soldiers for questionable military gains.

While he earned praise for leading two successful battles early in the war — the defense of the capital, Kyiv, and in the counteroffensive in the northern Kharkiv region — there is still widespread bitterness in some quarters about his decision to fight to hold on to Bakhmut as long as he did.

General Sodol, who joined the military in 2003, rose through the ranks and was the commander of the Ukrainian marines before he was promoted. While leading the marines, he earned a reputation in some quarters for failing to address the concerns of his soldiers. In particular, troops under his command criticized an operation late last year to establish and hold on to a piece of land on the eastern banks of the Dnipro River that was characterized by one soldier in an interview as a “suicide mission.”

After the Azov commander issued his blistering rebuke, General Syrsky issued a statement on social media about the importance of preserving the lives of Ukrainian soldiers, but made no mention of General Sodol or the criticism.

“Quality training, effective medical care and technological advantage — we are creating a universal system for each unit, the key priority of which is to save the lives of our soldiers,” he wrote. “The lives of soldiers are the highest value,” he said.

Later, on Monday evening, General Syrsky met with Mr. Zelensky, and the removal of General Sodol was announced.

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