New head of Kyiv’s military administration gives first interview - NV exclusive
Evening Kyiv during a blackout (Photo:Oleksii Chumachenko / SOPA via Reuters)
The New Voice of Ukraine spoke with Serhiy Popko, the new head of Kyiv City military administration, about the possibility of a new Russian attack on Kyiv, protecting the capital’s infrastructure, and holding school in bomb shelters.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appointed Colonel General Serhiy Popko, a military officer with combat experience, as the new head of the Kyiv City Military Administration (KCMA) on Oct. 24.
His predecessor on the post, Mykola Zhyrnov, although being a military man, used to manage the rear structures of the army. Popko, however commanded the Ground Forces in 2016-2019, headed the Main Command Center of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and also held the position of acting commander of the Joint Operational Command of the Armed Forces.
Why does Kyiv need the experience of a combat general, does this mean the threat of a new enemy attack on the capital, and what tasks did the President set for the head of the KCMA?
Popko answered these questions for NV in his first interview in his position.
NV: Volodymyr Zelenskyy appointed you the head of the KCMA, noting that your combat experience “will help strengthen the defense and security of the capital.” Does this mean the risks of another attack on Kyiv by the enemy from the north have increased?
Popko: The enemy continues this war of aggression, in which the great Ukrainian people are dying. It destroys the state’s infrastructure. The risk for the capital, as well as for the rest of our country, is still there. That is why we all work for the defense of our country. Our main goal is to win. I swore to the people of Ukraine to protect them, wherever I was and whoever I was. And the oath has no time limits, as I was taught. Therefore, I count on the unity and the efforts of our community, the civil sector, politicians of various currents and beliefs, who share the defense of our state as the main and common idea.
NV: Is there any military expediency for the enemy to try to capture the capital a second time?
Popko: I think that the Russian Federation has always had the desire to capture the capital of Ukraine and Russia has not given up on this. We can discuss this topic for a long time: “What are the reasons for Russia to attack Kyiv?” But, I think, there are a lot of versions here and everyone is aware of it.
NV: In February, the enemy attacked Kyiv from several directions with mechanized, tank units, units of airborne troops, marines. They also tried to land a landing party in the center of the capital. Will the Russians follow the same path a second time? If not, what options do they have available?
Popko: I believe the commander of the group of forces and means of defense of the city of Kyiv is more competent in this matter. In any case, we are ready for any actions by the enemy.
NV: Do you aim to increase the number of personnel of the military units involved in the defense of the city in order to provide additional protection of the capital? What terms and numbers are we talking here, what professions does the defense of the capital need first and foremost?
Popko: I will not talk about numbers for strategic reasons. I will only say that at the moment I am working on securing the units involved in the defense of the city. We keep improving the network of defensive lines, districts and positions, and various types of barricades, including mine-explosive barriers, are being installed. A fire damage control system has been created, and the air defense system is being significantly improved. All of the city’s municipal services are ready to fulfill their duties.
NV: Can the capital oppose a mass Russian air raid, like the ones that took place on October 10 and 21?
Popko: The fact is what Russians fear the most is our truth. The truth about the quick restoration of our roads, about the quick repair of communications after strikes. Of course, the military administration, together with the military command, implements a certain set of measures. We are aware of all the risks and try to ensure the normal functioning of the city in the current conditions. Our resistance is our most important weapon.
NV: What work is currently being done in terms of the physical protection of important infrastructure facilities from damage?
Popko: A separate mandate for organizing work on ensuring the stability of critical infrastructure facilities is already underway. We handling this issue. In addition, the military administration is working hard to minimize the consequences of possible strikes.
NV: Regarding city affairs – public transit currently doesn’t operate during an air raid, but minibuses continue to run. Could you explain this? Is this how it’s meant to be? Or are private carriers simply not following generally established rules? What can be done?
Popko: I understand the concerns of Kyiv residents when traffic is stopped: it is an additional expense, and causes inconveniences for commuters, especially when the curfew approaches. We are already studying this issue and will try to resolve it.
NV: Some schools in the capital are now starting to put desks in bomb shelters. How do you feel about this initiative? And wouldn’t it be wiser to transfer children to remote education?
Popko: There is a government resolution on ensuring the educational process in 2022/23. On the eve of the beginning of the academic year, appropriate commissions were appointed to check all schools for the presence of shelters. I believe that first of all we should observe safety measures, as children are our future. We fight for their peace and freedom. Therefore, in the view of life under martial law, I think that it is each specific school’s council that should decide the best way to organize their work. After all, our children have been constantly isolated recently. If the school is equipped with a reliable shelter and face-to-face education has a better effect on the emotional and psychological state of children, I do not see this as a threat.
NV: Would you advise Kyiv residents, who can temporarily leave the capital, to spend the winter in safer regions, given the various threats?
Popko: In fact, this is a rather resonant question. But I wouldn't want to spread panic. We realize that we need to save electricity. Everyone should consciously consume energy resources now. The enemy wants to intimidate us, to make us afraid. But as our president said (addressing the Russians): “We can live without light, but it is better without you.”
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