President Volodymyr Zelensky’s recent dismissal of Viktor Khorenko, the Special Operations Forces (SSO) commander, shortly after his first media interview, has prompted speculation and raised questions regarding the underlying motives.
Presidential Decree No. 728 appointing Serhiy Lupanchuk was published on Friday, Nov. 3.
Specific details about the newly appointed SSO head, Lupanchuk, remain undisclosed to the public, and information concerning his previous military service within the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) has not been made available.
What are the Special Operations Forces?
This is a separate category of troops within the AFU. The SSO includes special purpose units, units of informational and psychological special operations, and resistance and support movements.
Military SSOs perform tasks of increased complexity over land, water, and on temporarily occupied territories. They can also carry out sabotage behind enemy lines and carry out aerial reconnaissance using drones.
The details of combat operations of the SSO are very rarely announced, and the names and callsigns of the soldiers are classified.
Gaining entry to the SSO involves a rigorous selection process. As the Special Operations Forces reveals, only 10 percent of candidates pass the selection requirements for the special forces course.
The second leadership change within the SSO during Russia’s full-scale invasion
At the onset of Russia’s full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Major General Hryhoriy Galagan was leading the SSO. He was transferred to the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) by the president in July of the preceding year.
Major General Viktor Khorenko assumed the SSO leadership position on July 25, 2022, following his appointment by President Zelensky. Initially, little information was available about Khorenko, with Zelensky only referring to him as a seasoned combat general in his public address announcing the appointment.
Oleksiy Goncharenko, a member of the Verkhovna Rada, disclosed that Khorenko had previously commanded the Special Reserve of the Main Directorate of Intelligence (HUR). According to Goncharenko, the head of the HUR, Kyrylo Budanov, recommended Khorenko for the SSO position.
The Special Reserve of the HUR, designated as the 10th Separate Special unit named after Major General Maksym Shapoval, is renowned for its effective combat operations against Russian forces, most notably in the Kyiv region near Gostomel.
It also played a crucial role in missions within Russian territory and, prior to that, in the evacuation of individuals from Kabul during the Taliban’s capture of the city in 2021.
Through Decree No. 727 issued on Nov. 3, the president dismissed Khorenko as the SSO commander, but the specific reasons for this action were not specified in the document.
This marks the second change in the leadership of the SSO during the ongoing full-scale invasion.
On Oct 31, Khorenko, prior to his dismissal, gave an interview to the mass media – the first during his entire tenure.
In a conversation with the Azovstal defender Valerya Karpilenko (Subotina), Khorenko spoke about the peculiarities of the work of the SSO and detailed its successful supply operations to the Azovstal defenders in Mariupol when it was surrounded by the Russians.
He acknowledged that before working in the SSO, he headed the special unit of the HUR, and then returned to work in the SSO.
“I transferred because I didn’t want to sit around and wait for something, I wanted to work,” said Khorenko. “I transferred to work in units that at that time were working in combat mode. I like to work with the best.”
Khorenko also confirmed that he took part in the operation in Kabul, but refrained from any details, saying: “Everything that happens in the HUR, let it stay in the HUR.”
The ex-commander of the SSO learned about his dismissal from the media
“I don't know the reasons [for the dismissal] personally. I will say this: I learned about it from the mass media. I also spoke with the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces [Valery Zaluzhny], he could not explain it to me,” Khorenko said in the evening on Nov. 3 on the air of the talk show “Ukrainska Pravda.”
According to Khorenko, the application for his dismissal should have been submitted to Zaluzhny.
The ex-commander explained that Zaluzhny called him and asked if he was aware of the situation about his dismissal. In response, Khorenko said he was not aware, suggesting that Zaluzhny was also not told.
“He answered me that he did not do such a thing,” Khorenko noted.
According to Khorenko, Zaluzhny assured him that he had no questions regarding his performance of tasks and duties.
At the same time, Khorenko refused to comment on the presenter's question about whether he had any conflict with the President's Office or someone from the command in the preceding days.
In his evening video address to Ukrainians, Zelensky mentioned the change in leadership of the SSO. The president referred to the newly appointed commander, Lupanchuk, as an experienced combat officer.
The president described Lupanchuk as: “The right commander and a person who can further strengthen our Special Operations Forces. We are anticipating new achievements.”
According to Zelensky, Khorenko will continue to undertake special tasks as part of the HUR.
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