"Hard pounding, this, gentlemen: let's see who will pound the longest." Wellington
Ukraine’s leadership under fire for dismissing commander who revealed Bakhmut battle death toll
The decision to remove the popular officer has led to a rare show of dissent as tensions rise over President Zelensky’s strategy in the city
Ukrainian MPs, soldiers
, and war correspondents have attacked the decision to remove a battlefield commander from his post after he publicly aired concerns about resources and casualties in the bloody battle for Bakhmut
Lieutenant Colonel Anatolii Kupol, said to be one of Ukraine’s most experienced commanders, told the Washington Post
that his men were taking heavy losses and suffering from a lack of ammunition and training.
“There are only a few soldiers with combat experience,” he said in an interview published on Monday. “Unfortunately, they are all already dead or wounded.”
In response, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian army said the officer had been demoted
for giving an unauthorised interview, and claimed that he had exaggerated Ukrainian losses. Commander Kupol had described an entire battalion of 500 men being wiped out with 100 dead and 400 wounded.
Commander Kupol has since resigned, the spokesperson said. The contents of his resignation letter have not been made public.
The decision to discipline the officer has triggered a domestic backlash and rare public criticism of Ukraine’s leadership, which insists that there will be no retreat
from Bakhmut, despite mounting casualties and increasingly unfavourable conditions as Russian forces tighten their grip on the city in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
MP Oleksiy Goncharenko said of Commander Kupol: “I have heard only the best about him – an experienced warrior, a responsible commander. He has been fighting since 2014. These are exactly the kind of people we need at the front.
“He emphasised in an interview that soldiers need to be trained even better. Of course, the better trained a soldier is, the better he fights. What’s wrong with that?”
Soldiers who served under Commander Kupol have come to his defence and attacked the decision to discipline him.
Volodymyr Shevchenko, a member of the dismissed officer’s brigade, said the comments that cost him his job were “a balanced expert opinion of a top-class professional. A person who enjoys the absolute and unconditional respect of his subordinates and all other units that have interacted with him.”
“The main consequences will be the demotivation of the army,” Mr Shevchenko warned in a post on Facebook. “They won their right to expert assessment and opinion with blood, sweat and years of war.
“There is no other, more appropriate time … Without this expert opinion we will lose (the war).
One of Ukraine’s longest-serving war correspondents, Yuriy Butusov, also attacked the decision and echoed Commander Kupol’s concerns.
“Realism is needed to form an objective picture,” he said. “We need to recognise the insufficient efforts to train and organise our troops.
“Instead of shutting our mouths, we have to start thinking and acting to improve ourselves.”
The controversy has erupted at a time when Kyiv is facing growing dissent over its strategy in Bakhmut, where both sides are believed to have lost thousands of soldiers over months of fighting that has reduced the city to rubble.
Recent visitors to the city described low morale among Ukrainian forces and increasingly open criticism of military leaders
, with Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, increasingly derided.
Kyiv insists it will continue to hold the city, despite the assessment of military analysts and international partners that Bakhmut has limited strategic value
and is draining Ukrainian resources ahead of a vital counter-offensive expected this Spring. President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week that if Russia took the city it could open a path further into Ukrainian territory.
Sources close to Ukraine’s leadership decline to publicly comment, with one describing Commander Kupol’s case as a hugely sensitive subject. Another suggested that they could face disciplinary action if they spoke about it.
There are concerns that Ukraine’s leadership is becoming increasingly authoritarian as the war enters a critical phase, with a spate of dismissals of senior officials
for undisclosed reasons.
But the dismissal of popular officers such as Commander Kupol are unlikely to quell criticism of Ukraine’s increasingly controversial strategy in Bakhmut.
The decision to remove the popular officer has led to a rare show of dissent as tensions rise over President Zelensky's strategy in the city