Support for Ukrainian military commander Valery Zaluzhny is close to universal among troops and a possible plan of President Volodymyr Zelensky to replace him, if it exists, is dangerous to national security and the war effort, soldiers recently interviewed by Kyiv Post said.

Several fighters suggested the Ukrainian president was, with possible Zaluzhny replacement plans, placing his and his government’s popularity with voters ahead of national security.

Frustration with civilian politicians, either ignorant of or not caring about difficult conditions faced by front line soldiers, was a common theme among the total of ten service members interviewed on Wednesday.

All were long-term Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU) service members either deployed to the front lines or recently returned from forward operations and known to Kyiv Post for months and in some instances years.

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Almost all were men aged 20-45 with at least a year of combat experience. Most had fought on multiple fronts. Ranks ranged from private to captain.

In most cases Kyiv Post interviewed the AFU service members by messenger app or telephone. Interviewees identified themselves but asked their names not be published in order to speak freely. Kyiv Post respected the requests.

In one case a soldier refused even to speak on background because, he said, even the mention of Zaluzhny’s possible ouster in public would assist Russian Federation propaganda.

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Timur, a Special Operation Forces operator, said that were Zaluzhny actually replaced, it probably would not affect soldier morale substantially, and that in any case the war would go on. Zaluzhny and his aggressive tactics against Russian forces are popular with troops, he said.

“I don’t think that this situation with Zaluzhny has a strong effect on the fighters at the front,” said Timur. “And I don’t think that with the help of this situation it’s possible to put pressure on the military at the front. There’s no panic. People understand that there’s a war going on, and it’s going on at all levels. The information war has been going on for a long time and it will continue.

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“Although this situation may affect some. But for my people, for my unit, I can say that we react to it normally… Normal military personnel, including staff officers, treat him with respect… I personally don’t know of and haven’t heard from any in the military that they don’t like Zaluzhny,” Timur said.

Maksym, a reconnaissance company commander currently deployed to the Bakhmut sector, said that the men in his unit know of possible turmoil at the top of the chain of command, and that for them it would be better if Zaluzhny and his staff were left alone to fight the war without politician interference. In any case, he said, right now discussion of turnover at the top of the AFU is all rumors, he said.

“We’ve heard the reports,” Maksym said. “Maybe it’s fake news, maybe it’s not. We don’t know. For us things are the same. We have work to do. We have to fight.”

A fighter serving with a drone unit accused Zelensky and the national political leadership of intriguing behind Zaluzhny’s back and trying to advance their personal careers.

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The drone operator said politicians in Kyiv have no idea of Zaluzhny’s military skill and how the war is really being fought, and talks of replacing him amount to betrayal of Ukraine’s national interests.

He continued: “At the front, soldiers think that (Zelensky Chief of Staff Andriy) Yermak is a [vulgar] and that stupid [vulgar] Zelensky is the same thing.

“As for Zaluzhny, everyone has the unanimous opinion that the army consists only of him, the infantry, the artillery and unmanned aerial vehicles. Everything else is dead weight that holds us [fighting troops] back…

“I will say this: you can replace a car, a woman, a president, even a country. But you can’t replace Zaluzhny!!!”

A representative of a partisan group operating behind Russian lines in Mariupol, through intermediaries, said that public discussion of Zaluzhny’s removal advances Russian war aims and Ukrainian officials doing that should be punished harshly.

“Whoever started this is the enemy,” said the partisan. “Politics and careerism in time of war are treason… We know that all contacts and operations (or partisan work) would not have taken place without the assistance of Commander-in-Chief Zaluzhny. All of them [wanting Zaluzhny sacked] should go to [vulgar].”

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An infantry sergeant in the Kupyansk sector said news of Zaluzhny’s possible replacement had reached frontline position but troops there had no real idea what was going on.

Wednesday official denials that Zaluzhny’s resignation was on the table were confusing and soldiers aren’t sure what to believe, the infantry sergeant said.

The sergeant said: “Considering that the Defense Ministry has denied this information [that Zaluzhny has been or might be sacked], there isn’t really anything I can say. I hope [the denial] is true. Everyone thinks Zaluzhny is a good commander, and it would be stupid to get rid of him.”

Another drone operator with the call sign Gray said that among troops there is no comparison between Zaluzhny’s reputation and that of national politicians.

Gray said that the war is tough and complicated, and Zaluzhny is the right man to lead the armed forces, and elected officials in Kyiv should stop interfering in affairs they don’t understand.

“In my personal opinion, the General (Zaluzhny) has a great level of faith and respect from the soldiers,” said Gray. “On the contrary the president and his advisers don’t have a comparable level of trust. As such, their decisions on the issue wouldn’t meet any support from many front-line solders, and moreover would raise anger and misunderstanding…

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“The objectivity and military expertise of (officials in) the presidential administration are very doubtful… I, definitely, fight for my country, for my army, for Europe, not for the presidential [administration] and their ambitions.”

An artillery battery commander in the Mykolaiv-Kherson sector predicted Zaluzhny would stay in command, no matter Zelensky’s wishes, because the military would not tolerate his removal, and neither would the international community.

The Zelensky administration may want Zaluzhny replaced because of his (the general’s) wide popularity, but resistance to the idea is obvious and substantial and the President can’t overcome it, he said.

“Zelensky really envies the General’s popularity and he knows that it threatens his own approval (with voters)… but Zaluzhny has public opinion, international ambassadors and partners and the entire Armed Forces on his side, he said.

“The main thing is that that the confrontation is now out in the open…the only people happy about this are in the Kremlin.”

Two fighters interviewed singled out MP Maryana Bezuhla, a member of Zelensky’s Servant of People political party and one of the very few Ukrainian officials having criticized Zaluzhny openly in public, as an example of a high-level politician interfering in military affairs and putting the nation at risk.

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Attempts to force Zaluzhny out, if successful, could trigger a violent reaction, one Ukrainian intelligence agency officer said.

“When Bezuhla says something about Zaluzhny, I see the embodiment of stupidity and idiocy,” the intelligence officer said.

“When I hear rumors about (Zaluzhny’s) resignation, I immediately feel depressed… I think that such significant changes (Zaluzhny’s resignation) could trigger an explosion in the military and society.”

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