Viktor Muzhenko, the former chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, has been retired from active military service by a decree of President Volodymyr Zelensky issued on Sept. 2.
The high-ranking military officer leaves with the rank of Army general and the right to wear military dress, according to the decision. At the same time, the document offers no clear reason for his exit, only stating that Muzhenko was retired “due to the taking of organizational measures” — a phrase that is also largely incomprehensible in Ukrainian.
Muzhenko, 57, was among the central figures involved in repelling Russian aggression in Donbas.
He was appointed by then-President Petro Poroshenko as chief of General Staff, the highest military post in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, in July 2014, during the peak months of hostilities in Donbas. That made him the top commander of all operations in Donbas.
Later, however, Muzhenko gained notoriety among many military personnel and volunteers for his allegedly incompetent and negligent leadership. Muzhenko’s critics allege that his decisions led to exorbitant death tolls among Ukrainian troops.
In particular, Muzhenko and his high-ranking deputies, such as the notorious Major General Viktor Nazarov, became involved in numerous gory battles and deadly incidents in Ukraine’s east, such as the downing by Russian-backed forces of a Ukrainian Air Forces Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane in the sky over Luhansk that led to 49 deaths. Critics allege that Nazarov ignored military intelligence indicating that Russian-backed insurgents had anti-air defense systems near the Luhansk airport, where the transport plane was headed. Nazarov blames Muzhenko for the plane’s downing.
Nazarov was later convicted of lethal negligence and sentenced to seven years in prison. He is currently appealing that decision.
Muzhenko was also criticized over his command in the disastrous battles of Ilovaisk and Debaltseve, which became the worst military defeats in Ukraine’s history as an independent nation, leading to hundreds of military deaths. For these reasons, Muzhenko was dubbed “Vitya the Hearse” by some of the Ukrainian troops.
Nonetheless, Muzhenko consistently denies all accusations, stating that under his command the Ukrainian military managed to withstand direct clashes with regular Russian forces, while the Ukrainian army’s escape from Debaltseve helped save thousands of troops from yet another Russian death trap.
Besides, he noted, under his leadership, the Ukrainian military underwent numerous vital Western-oriented reforms.
Shortly after the battle of Ilovaisk, Muzhenko was suspended from commanding troops in the Donbas, although he remained the head of the General Staff. Zelensky replaced him with Lieutenant General Ruslan Khomchak, Muzhenko’s bitter rival, who blames him for the Ilovaisk disaster.
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