Time put the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army on the cover: he revealed many secrets to the publication
On September 26, the Time edition devoted a cover and a large material to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valeriy Zaluzhny, who expressed the opinion that Ukraine’s intermediate victories would only be a respite in the struggle, reports Ukrainian Truth.
The publication notes that Valery Zaluzhny is one of many Ukrainians responsible for the courage and progress of the Ukrainian army. He became the second “face of the war” after President Volodymyr Zelensky and can play an outstanding role in the history of this war.
- TIME (@TIME) September 26, 2022
His persona is ubiquitous in Ukrainian social networks. In one widely circulated image, an "iron general" kneels before the weeping mother of one of his soldiers, her head bowed in grief before a coffin. In another, he smiles as he watches the wedding of one of his servicemen during a lull in the fighting. Fan channels on Telegram have hundreds of thousands of subscribers, many changing their profiles to a photo of a general with hands folded in the shape of a heart. “When Zaluzhny enters a dark room, he doesn’t turn on the light, he turns off the darkness,” joked one viral TikTok video.
Valeriy Zaluzhny, giving an interview to Time in June, admitted that in July 2021 the offer to head the Armed Forces of Ukraine stunned him. Then the Russians dragged tanks to the border, and the Americans warned that Ukraine could face a full-scale attack soon.
Zaluzhny was drinking beer at his wife's birthday party when he went outside to answer a cell phone call and find out about his new job.
“I often looked back and asked myself: how did I get into this?” Zaluzhny said almost a year later.
To some, this choice seemed rash. Although Zaluzhny had developed a reputation for being an aggressive and ambitious commander, he was also considered a bit of a laugher, known for fooling around with his troops more than disciplining them. Born in 1973 in a Soviet military garrison in northern Ukraine, he says he dreamed of becoming a comedian, just like Zelensky himself. Instead, he followed in the footsteps of his military family by attending an academy in Odessa in the 1990s as the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine plunged into crisis.
Time notes that, hardened by years of fighting Russia on the eastern front, Zaluzhny is part of a new generation of Ukrainian leaders who have learned to be flexible and delegate decisions to commanders on the ground. His tenacious training in the run-up to the invasion and sound combat tactics in the early stages of the war helped the nation repel the onslaught of the Russians, according to the publication.
When Zelensky took office in 2019, the war in eastern Ukraine was in its fifth year, with Zaluzhny acting as commander in the war zone. It fell to him to keep the new president informed about military operations and command structures. He knew that Zelensky had never served in the army, and the military was not going to teach him the tactical intricacies of warfare. “He needs to understand military affairs no more than medicine or bridge building,” says Zaluzhny. To his surprise, Zelenskiy seemed to agree. “That turned out to be one of Zelensky’s biggest strengths,” says Oleksiy Melnyk, a former assistant defense minister of Ukraine. He allowed his generals to run the ball "without direct interference in military affairs."
Unlike Zelensky, who was skeptical about intelligence reports that a massive Russian invasion was imminent, Zaluzhny considered it a matter of time, so when he came to a high position, he began to implement changes so that officers would have the right to return fire without the permission of senior command.
“We needed to bring down their desire to attack. We also had to show our teeth,” says Zaluzhny.
In early February, Zaluzhny demanded that the commanders take military exercises seriously.
Disappointing was the launch of a massive military exercise involving thousands of Ukrainian troops, whose key maneuvers were to mimic a Russian attack, exposing gaps in Ukraine's defenses. According to Zaluzhny, the exercise was the centerpiece of Ukraine's defensive strategy, its best chance for survival, and commanders didn't take it seriously enough. “I screamed for an hour,” he recalls. “I broke.” The men at the table were mostly older and more experienced than Zaluzhny, who had no reputation for losing his cool. “I explained to them that if they fail to do this, the consequences will cost not only our lives, but also our country,” he said.
“The smell of war is unmistakable - and it was already in the air ... I was afraid that we would lose the element of surprise. We needed the enemy to think that we were all deployed at our usual bases, smoking weed, watching TV and posting messages on Facebook,” the commander-in-chief said.
When the invasion began on the morning of February 24, the general had two strategic goals to protect Ukraine.
“We could not allow the fall of Kyiv. And on all other vectors, we had to shed their blood, even if in some places it required the loss of territory, ”said Zaluzhny.
The goal was to allow the Russians to advance and then destroy their columns at the front and supply lines at the rear. On the sixth day of the invasion, Zaluzhny came to the conclusion that it was working. The Russians failed to take the airports around Kyiv and advanced deep enough to start straining supply lines, leaving them open, according to Time.
Zaluzhny was surprised that, faced with resistance and supply problems, the enemy did not retreat and did not switch to a different approach. “They just drove their soldiers to the slaughterhouse. They chose the scenario that suited me the most, ”said Zaluzhny.
Milli, Zaluzhny's American colleague, was somewhat taken aback when he saw that the Ukrainians were holding out. He asked Zaluzhny if he was planning to evacuate to a safer place. “I told him, ‘I don’t understand you,’” Zaluzny says. “For me, the war started in 2014… I didn’t run then and I’m not going to run now.”
“We will fight to the last drop of blood,” he told Time.
Kyiv's biggest success since the outbreak of all-out war was a lightning-fast counter-offensive in northeastern Ukraine in early September that stunned Russian forces. He was expected in the Kherson region, but it was unexpected in the Kharkov region. According to “Time”, it was precisely this success that Vladimir Putin responded with “partial mobilization”.
Combined with a second operation in the south, Ukrainian forces say they have wrested more than 6000 square kilometers from Russian control in less than two weeks, liberating dozens of towns and cities and cutting enemy supply lines.
The Russians were taken by surprise. Many fled in panic, leaving their weapons and equipment behind. Local reports painted a humiliating picture of the retreat, describing soldiers stealing clothes, bicycles and cars from civilians in order to escape.
In six days, the Ukrainian military reclaimed roughly 3000 square kilometers of Russian-held territory, including strategically important rail junctions used to resupply its forces. The strike stunned the Kremlin, US officials and even senior Ukrainians. “I taught myself to moderate my expectations so as not to be disappointed later,” says Ukrainian Defense Minister Reznikov. “Some breakthroughs happened a little faster than planned.”
Intelligence and advanced weaponry provided by the West also helped. “They told us the location of the enemy, how many of them are in this place and what they store there,” says Reznikov. “Then we struck.”
The Pentagon-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) allowed Ukraine to destroy ammunition depots, fuel depots and command posts. Lighter vehicles, such as US-donated Hummers and trucks and tanks sent by Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, Poland and the Czech Republic, have allowed Ukraine to outsmart the Russians. “Ukrainians have demonstrated much better distributed tactical-level operations,” says Jeffrey Edmonds, a former CIA analyst and director of the National Security Council for Russia. “They are more disciplined.”
In addition, according to Ukrainian officials, a flexible command structure was crucial, allowing them to take advantage of Russia's rapid collapse. “The Ukrainian army has the right to make decisions at all levels,” says Reznikov, comparing this to NATO standards. “They do it quickly, unlike the Russians.”
Ukrainian officials are still cautious in presenting military successes. “This is the story of not one star, but a whole constellation of our military elite,” says Reznikov, naming a long list of illustrious officers of the armed forces - infantry, navy, aviation, medical corps and others.
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Hardened by the war, Ukrainian leaders know that recent successes have only bought time. “Russia has staked everything on this war,” says Danilov, head of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine. “Putin cannot lose. The stakes are too high."
However, operations in southern Ukraine are moving slowly. With winter approaching, Kyiv must be careful not to overexert its strength.
For his part, Zaluzhny is preparing for a long and bloody struggle.
“Knowing what I know first hand about the Russians, our victory will not be final. Our victory will allow us to take a breath and prepare for the next war,” he told Time.
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