Reporters share memories of events of invasion’s first days inside Zaluzhnyi’s HQ

23 February, 06:11 PM
Valerii Zaluzhnyi (Photo:General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine)

Valerii Zaluzhnyi (Photo:General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine)

A civilian air traffic controller helped the Ukrainian military repel the Russian attack on the Antonov airfield in Hostomel, eyewitness accounts from the office of Ukraine’s commander-in-chief have revealed. on Feb. 21 published a report on the first days of the war from the Ukrainian commander’s HQ, where General Valerii Zaluzhnyi spent days working on at a map that "depicted the struggle for Ukraine.”

In January 2022, Zaluzhnyi gathered his assistants and said words to the effect: "Not all of us believe it, but I think the Russians will come. You can't negotiate with evil, so get ready to fight."

Video of day

He moved to an office near the General Staff building in Kyiv about a month before Feb. 24. At 5 a.m., when Russia conducted missile strikes on Ukraine and launched a full-scale offensive, the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces was there.

On the morning of Feb. 24, Zaluzhnyi, along with his deputy Yevhen Moisiuk, Chief of the General Staff Serhiy Shaptala, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, and aide Colonel Oleksiy Noskov, leaned over a map in his office.

Zaluzhnyi was marking Ukrainian forces and Russian breakthroughs on the map; he circled the places where fierce fighting was taking place at the time with a red marker. Army commanders reported on the unfolding situation at the front via a secure wire communication.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reached Zaluzhnyi on messenger and they discussed further actions and the movement of Russian forces.

"The struggle for Ukraine (was) unfolding on Zaluzhnyi's desk in real time," said.

Despite the danger of missile attacks, on the first day of the all-out war, Zaluzhnyi only went down to a specially equipped bunker near the General Staff building in the afternoon, which became the newly formed decision-making center.

For the first three days after the full-scale invasion, Zaluzhnyi "did not even try to sleep," and he did not leave his map or phone for more than 10 minutes.

"Wearing the same regular pixel camouflage uniform of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in which he walked to the General Staff in the morning, General Zaluzhnyi taps his fingers on the table and takes a drag on his e-cigarette over and over again," the report says.

“The intensity of his smoking makes his office look like a hookah bar. Only instead of tables with smiling patrons, there are serious deputies and assistants to the commander-in-chief. On the evening of Feb. 24, the number of military maps in the office increased, but the main one — the one with the operational situation — is still unfolded on the table.”

For the first time since the start of the full-scale invasion, Zaluzhnyi went outside on March 18. For three weeks before that, he had been going up from the bunker to his office every night "to get some solitude," and spending the rest of the time working on the map.

According to Reporters, during the Russian landing at the airfield in Hostomel, the command was urgently looking for "eyes" on the ground to adjust artillery strikes on the invading troops. Zaluzhnyi's aides believe that the night of Feb. 25 was the only moment when the general was "genuinely nervous."

Eventually, the military managed to find a trusted person from Hostomel. The "people's corrector" was a man named Ruslan, who was adjusting strikes via voice messages using a messenger service. Everything he transmitted to the military "was 100% true." This is how the Defense Forces were able to hold on to the strategically important Antonov Airport.

In an interview with UK news magazine the Economist at the end of 2022, Zaluzhnyi announced a new major operation of the Armed Forces and did not rule out a new Russian offensive on Kyiv or in the southern direction "in February, at best in March."

In February 2023, he stated that "the creation of conditions when Russia will never be able to attack in the future" would constitute Ukraine's victory.

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