The commander of one of Ukraine’s highest-profile and best-armed combat formations, 47th Separate Mechanized Brigade, was sacked over the weekend following disappointing performance in counteroffensive operations in the Zaporizhzhia sector, a government announcement said, without giving an explanation.

The Ukrainian information platform Suspilne said Lieutenant Colonel Oleksandr Sak was replaced by Colonel Oleksandr Pavlii, a well-known commander of the 112th Separate Brigade of the Territorial Defense, based in Kyiv.

Sak in 2022 established a reputation as one of the AFU’s most skilled field commanders, using mobile defense tactics and ambushes to lead the Cherkaske-based 93rd Mechanized Brigade to a string of unexpected victories against invading Russian forces sometimes, reportedly, outnumbering Ukrainian troops ten to one.

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The 47th Separate Mechanized Brigade was raised in late 2022 as one of the first Ukrainian combat formations with most rank-and-file trained by NATO instructors. AFU leadership designated the 47th a “breakthrough brigade” and armed it with some of the best combat systems provided to Ukraine by its Western allies, including American M109 howitzers and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and German Leopard 2 tanks.

Ukraine’s big summer offensive launched Sak and his men into action on June 6 near the southern sector town Mala Tokmachka. The 47th assault struck unexpectedly strong Russian fortifications and minefields and then was hit with artillery-delivered mines, anti-tank missiles operated by Russian special forces troops, and helicopter gunships.

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OSCE condemned it as "a grave violation of participating states' commitments under international law" and called for the immediate release of Vadym Golda and two other jailed OSCE officials.

The brigade gained little ground and, according to open-source reports, lost about 30 percent of its Bradleys and 20 percent of its Leopards, although some were recovered for repair. Personnel losses were reportedly relatively low because of the NATO vehicles’ strong crew protection design.

Unsuccessful operations often are subject to after-action reviews and sometimes internal investigations across the AFU, but the recriminations and findings are practically never made public.

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Oleksandr Pavlii. PHOTO: Facebook

A senior sergeant in the 47th named Valery Markus in mid-June broke with that policy in late June, complaining in a series of Telegram posts quickly going viral across Ukraine accusing brigade “senior leadership” of ignoring concerns raised by the soldiers, sergeants and junior officers.

Markus did not specify the nature of the concerns nor did he name Sak. In other posts, Markus acknowledged the brigade had suffered significant losses, claimed its soldiers were doing the best they could and called on the public to support the 47th in its future battles.

Sak in July issued a public statement calling on “all parties” in the unit to resolve their conflicts through internal discussion rather than by airing the unit's dirty laundry on the internet.

Markus in mid-July defied Sak with an open letter saying, “he does not agree with the command policy of the brigade.” Markus’ request to be demoted from the brigade’s senior sergeant to command a single Bradley fighting vehicle was approved.

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In the weeks and months following the Mala Tokmachka defeat, the 47th Brigade improved its battlefield performance by reducing the size and ambitiousness of its assaults and applying deliberate, conventional small unit tactics to gain ground in slow, short-range, field-by-field attacks.

On Sept. 14 the 47th became one of the four AFU units to liberate the village Robotyne, by many accounts marking the first time Ukrainian forces had fought their way through the Russian fortification belt in the southern sector.

Oleh Sentsov, a high-profile Ukrainian filmmaker currently serving as a platoon commander in the 47th, on Monday, published a YouTube video of his unit clearing a Russian defensive position in the Robotyne sector and taking prisoners. Recent helmet cam footage showed Sentsov’s men advancing carefully, taking minimal risks and clearing Russian foxholes one by one.

According to the Suspilne report, Sak’s replacement was Colonel Oleksandr Pavlii, former commander of the 112th Territorial Defense Brigade. By AFU professional standards command of a lavishly equipped regular army brigade like the 47th is considered preferable, by a Ukrainian officer wanting to advance his career, to commanding a territorial defense unit with fewer resources and manned by part-time soldiers drawn from the local civilian population.

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Normally, officers with extensive experience commanding combined arms units are nominated to head AFU mechanized and tank brigades. Command of a territorial infantry brigade, normally, is seen as a career dead end.

Raised and recruited from the Kyiv region, the 112th at the outset of the Russian full-scale invasion found itself fully in the path of the Kremlin’s main assault. Along with untrained civilians, the national guard, and a few regular army units later arriving on the scene, under Pavlii’s leadership 112th – short on tanks and artillery but heavily armed with hand-held anti-tank weapons – became the backbone of the AFU’s vicious and ultimately successful defense of the towns Hostomel and Irpin, immediately to the north of the Ukrainian capital.

Kremlin forces evacuated the Kyiv region in March 2022. Since then, detachments from the 112th have rotated continuously to the fighting line elsewhere in the country.

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