Ukrainian army considered retreat to west bank of Dnipro in first days of invasion, general says

26 March, 10:32 AM
Zaluzhny and Muzhenko work together on maps, February 24, 2022 (Photo:Валерій Залужний / Facebook)

Zaluzhny and Muzhenko work together on maps, February 24, 2022 (Photo:Валерій Залужний / Facebook)

The Ukrainian military’s General Staff considered withdrawing all Ukrainian forces to western bank of the Dnipro River on only the third day of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a former top Ukrainian general has told Ukrainian newspaper Fakty.

In an interview published on March 24, General Viktor Muzhenko, former Chief of the General Staff and currently a researcher at the Armed Forces Research Institute, said a large-scale withdrawal was one of the options being considered by army leadership on Feb. 27, 2022.

Muzhenko said the General Staff was considering what maneuvers to carry out, which grouping needed strengthening, and where troops for other sectors could be mustered, as well as where to find the forces and means to cover the Kyiv and Chernihiv areas.

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"When I heard the suggestion that we should all move to the right bank of the Dnipro (it was suggested at the command post — not in private, but in the presence of the soldiers who were there) and leave the left bank, I almost had a tetanus attack," Muzhenko admitted.

“How is it that on the third or fifth day of the war we are already anticipating such a withdrawal? This is what Putin is trying to achieve. What would be the consequences if we tried to withdraw our troops? It's hard to even predict.”

He noted that at that time there were no decisions on reacting to a full-scale invasion that were fully prepared in advance.

"Some of them could not be pre-prepared," says the former chief of the General Staff.

“But we should have had some basic preparations. Moreover, in early February, the Blizzard 2022 drills were held, which produced positive results. But not as much as we would have liked. However, thank God, things turned out as they did.”

Muzhenko also commented on the Russian landing in Hostomel, just outside Kyiv.

"I asked some people: ‘How did it happen that the Russian landing force landed at Hostomel airport?’" he said.

“There was no answer. Then it was decided to strike with aviation, then with artillery, and then to block and destroy the enemy.”

The general was also surprised that the air defense systems that were supposed to be on constant alert along the Kyiv Reservoir coast on one side were not there.

"Because I knew that a so-called 'Shilka' air defense division was created (“Shilka” is a Soviet-made self-propelled anti-aircraft gun ZSU 23-4), which was stationed on the left bank of the reservoir (the Kyiv Sea is up to 20 kilometers wide)," Muzhenko said.

“This was foreseen by these plans. Until 2019, there were always inspections and exercises there. When did they stop? Why weren't they there? How were they prepared? There are a lot of questions.”

Overall, he noted that the first days of the invasion "were really significant."

"We held out thanks to the leadership, independence and initiative of the low-level commanders — companies, battalions and brigades inclusive, and at some points the will of the higher commanders," he said.

“Perhaps this was the result of our training and experience from 2014 to 2022, when we gave the tactical initiative to commanders. I would characterize the events of the first days as a strategic defense operation of the Armed Forces, which took place in the form of tactical actions of units and military units. The military understands this.”

The general also noted the courage of ordinary people and ordinary soldiers.

"We stopped this invasion thanks to the patriotism, dedication and heroism of ordinary people and ordinary soldiers," Muzhenko said.

“Unarmed Ukrainians came out to meet the enemy columns and stopped the tanks. People threw Molotov cocktails from behind their fences. There was resistance almost everywhere.”

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