General Syrskyi Leads Ukrainian Army Against Russia, While His Mother Is Among Those Ardently Supporting Putin – OpEd


Oleksandr (Aleksandr) Syrskyi, a career military man and an ethnic Russian who was born and raised in the Vladimir province, located at the heart of Russia in the Volga River basin, has recently become Ukraine’s new army chief after a dramatic military shake-up nearly two years into Russia’s invasion. He has replaced the recently fired Valerii Zaluzhnyi. For the person just appointed to head the Ukrainian Army in its war with Russia, Oleksandr (Aleksandr) Syrskyi has quite a challenging background. 

Born on July 26, 1965, in the village of Novinki, Vladimir province, Russian SFSR (the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic), then in the Soviet Union into a military family of ethnic Russians, Syrskyi trained at the Higher Military Command School in Moscow, the then Soviet capital. After his graduation in 1986, he joined the Soviet Artillery Corps. Syrskyi served in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Czechoslovakia until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. At the time of the collapse of the USSR, he was in Ukraine. In 1993, Syrskyi’s military unit in Chuhuiv was transferred under the Ukrainian command. He swore allegiance to Ukraine and joined the Ukrainian Army. 

After that, Syrskyi started climbing the Ukrainian Army career ladder and rose through the ranks to command a regiment, a brigade. As of 2013, he was a major general and a deputy chief of the armed forces’ main command center. When the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine started in 2014, Syrskyi was appointed as a deputy commander of Ukraine’s defensive operation, known as the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO). Three years later, he took over command. In August 2019, Syrskyi became the head of Ukraine’s Ground Forces, keeping the post when Russia launched a full-scale war against the neighboring country. In spring 2022, Syrskyi was responsible for the defense of Kyiv.  He commanded Ukraine’s counteroffensive in Kharkiv province in the fall of 2022. Syrskyi commanded the eastern group of the Ukrainian armed forces in 2023, which fought in the hottest areas of the front, including the Battle of Bakhmut in Donetsk province. The dismissal of Ukraine’s chief commander, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, came days before it entered the third year of the full-fledged war with Russia. Oleksandr (Aleksandr) Syrskyi was appointed instead. Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov commented on his appointment, saying that ‘it is a great honor and great responsibility to lead the Armed Forces of Ukraine!’.

General Oleksandr (Aleksandr) Syrskyi is now just finding his feet as the new commander of the Ukrainian armed forces. His predecessor, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, was extremely popular, and Syrskyi himself is ‘seen as closely associated with Zelenskyy and politically connected – but without the charisma of Zaluzhny’. But he certainly doesn’t lack combat experience and firmness in command and control. Here is what FT’s Christopher Miller and Ben Hall write about this: “Soldiers who have criticized him in interviews say that he has callously thrown away troops. Some have dubbed him “the butcher”. General Syrskyi seems to clearly understand that he needs to take this into account and take steps to improve his reputation. While addressing Ukrainians on the second anniversary of the large-scale war with Russia on February 24, he said: “For our freedom, so that every Ukrainian city or village does not become another Bucha, Bakhmut, or Avdiivka – we pay the highest price. The best sons and daughters of the Ukrainian people are dying! We bow our heads to those who gave the most precious – their lives for Ukraine. We remember! We will avenge!”. “We are fighting for every meter of our land, but the most valuable thing we have is the life of the Ukrainian soldier”, Oleksandr (Aleksandr) Syrskyi then emphasized

Although Russian officials and media representatives, to say the least, do not like Syrskyi, they prefer to keep seeing him as an ethnically Russian officer, who, according to them, came to the side of the enemies of the Russian Federation. Dmitry Medvedev, an ex-president who is now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, called Ukraine’s new Russian-born army chief a traitor. He accused Syrskyi, who did not serve in post-Soviet Russia’s army, of breaking his oath as an officer. “Disgust for a man who was a Soviet Russian officer, but became a Bandera traitor, who broke his oath and serves the Nazis, destroying his loved ones. May the earth burn under his feet!”, Medvedev said. Thus, there appears a question: Who are Syrskyi’s closest Russian relatives, and how do they feel right now?

His parents are still living in the Vladimir province, yet, according to them, they have not communicated with their son for a long time. There has, however, been an interview in the media with their neighbor woman, claiming that Oleksandr (Aleksandr) Syrsky had been visiting his parents in Russia regularly, and has now been communicating with them via video conference regularly. She has quoted the following words allegedly spoken by Oleksandr (Aleksandr) Syrskyi, when was the last time he came to see his parents: “We work with Ukrainians within the same headquarters, and we hate them all”. From what has been said above it kind of follows that there was a group of officers in the Ukrainian Army headquarters a while ago, who did not think of themselves as Ukrainians and did not like the latter.

His father, Stanislav Syrskyi, is a retired Russian Army colonel. His mother Lyudmila Syrskaya (Kurkina), who is now in her 80s, sings in a choir and frequents Orthodox church. The woman has repeatedly published posts on social networks in support of the actions of the Russian army during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She clicked ‘Like’ to the post containing the derogatory statement by Vladimir Zhirinovsky about Ukrainians, and to the poster with Vladimir Putin and the captions “We are for Putin, Putin is a Hero of Russia” and “Good health to you, Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin]! God Bless You!”. To put it briefly, she expresses support for those who are being seen by Oleksandr (Aleksandr) Syrskyi, his son in Ukraine, as ‘Russian occupiers’.

Vladimir Rogov, head of the ‘We together with Russia’ citizen group, compared Oleksandr (Aleksandr) Syrskyi to General Andrei Vlasov, who had created the ‘Russian Liberation Army’ (ROA) with the support of Hitlerite Germany during WW2. He is far from alone in doing so. Here, here, and here are just a few examples of that.

The most terrifying thing about all this story is that some Russian authors take the liberty of claiming that the Ukrainian General’s parents, Stanislav Syrskyi and Lyudmila Syrskaya, ‘have the same contemptuous feelings towards the traitor [that is towards their son] as other Russians’

The situation described above is so complex that it’s difficult to determine, who is fighting whom.

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analyst from Kazakhstan.

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