Key developments on Feb. 8:
- Zelensky dismisses Chief Commander Zaluzhnyi, appoints Syrskyi in his place
- Ukraine returns 100 POWs from Russian captivity
- NYT: American officials confirm Patriot missile shot down Il-76 plane
- Military: Russia tries to break through defenses in Chasiv Yar near Bakhmut
- Senate advances Ukraine, Israel aid in procedural vote
President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi and appointed General Oleksandr Syrskyi in his place.
"I appointed Colonel General Syrskyi as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine," Zelensky said in a video address to the nation.
“He has successful defense experience - he conducted the Kyiv defense operation. He also has a successful offensive experience - the Kharkiv liberation operation,” Zelensky said about Syrskyi.
The presidential decrees finalizing the changes were published later in the day.
Zelensky also said in his video address that Generals Andrii Hnatov, Mykhailo Drapatyi, and Ihor Skybiuk, as well as Colonels Pavel Palisa and Vadym Sukharevskyi, are being considered for leadership positions in the army.
"Starting today, a new management team will take over the Armed Forces' leadership," he added.
Moments prior, Zelensky published a Telegram post featuring him standing together with Zaluzhnyi.
"I met with General Zaluzhnyi, thanked him for two years of service," Zelensky said in the written statement.
In a Feb. 4 interview for Italian media outlet Rai News, Zelensky confirmed that he was planning a large-scale reset of Ukraine's leadership that could involve several personnel shakeups beyond the military.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on Feb. 8 that the U.S. will continue supporting Ukraine and its military no matter who's in charge.
"President Zelensky is the commander-in-chief of his Armed Forces, he gets to decide who his leadership is going to be in the military, that's what civilian control (over the military) is all about," Kirby said.
"We'll work with whoever (Zelensky) has in charge of his military," he added.
A December 2023 poll found that 43% of Ukrainians believe that there may be some disagreements between Zelensky and Zaluzhnyi, but only 8% believed the situation was very serious.
The poll also showed that Zaluzhnyi has a 92% trust rating, making him the country's most trusted military leader and that an overwhelming majority (72%) of Ukrainians would disapprove of him being replaced.
Ukraine returns 100 POWs from Russian captivity
One hundred Ukrainian prisoners of war have been returned home from Russian captivity, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Feb. 8.
"National guards, border guards, Armed Forces. The majority (of those freed) are defenders of Mariupol," Zelensky said.
According to Russia's Defense Ministry, Moscow also received 100 soldiers back.
“During the return of Russian military personnel from captivity, the United Arab Emirates provided humanitarian mediation,” Russia's ministry said in a statement.
Ukrainian officials said in December that Russia held at least 3,500 Ukrainian POWs, although the number was thought to be higher.
Since then, three prisoner swaps took place, with the latest one announced today.
The previous prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia took place on Jan. 31, when 207 Ukrainian POWs returned home from Russian captivity. Earlier in January, 230 Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) were brought back home in the largest prisoner exchange to date since February 2022.
NYT: American officials confirm Patriot missile shot down Il-76 plane
The American-made Patriot missile system is likely responsible for the Russian Il-76 plane crash, American officials anonymously told The New York Times. The plane was also likely carrying at least some Ukrainian prisoners, officials reported.
Russia's Il-76 military transport plane crashed in the country's Belgorod region on Jan. 24, allegedly killing everyone on board.
The cause of the crash is unclear, with Russia claiming that Ukraine's military shot the plane down as it carried 65 Ukrainian POWs. Kyiv has demanded an international probe into the incident.
Ukraine's military intelligence agency did not confirm whether prisoners were on the plane nor have they commented on what might have caused the crash.
Ukrainian officials did reveal that a prisoner exchange had been planned for that day.
Ukrainian military sources told Ukrainska Pravda that the plane was carrying S-300 missiles, regularly used by Russia to strike Kharkiv Oblast.
The Patriot air defense system is a crucial component in protecting Ukrainian air space from Russian missile attacks.
Although American officials have been unable to confirm who was on the plane, sources told the NYT that it appeared probable that at least some of the passengers were Ukrainian prisoners.
The New York Times reported that American officials would not comment on what brought down the plane publicly. According to the news outlet officials who spoke privately on the condition of anonymity said that it was in fact the Patriot missiles.
After Russia claimed that 65 Ukrainian POWs were killed in the crash, Ukraine requested that Russia return the bodies of the killed POWs home.
Russia's government never responded to the appeal. Russia also reportedly blocked the International Committee of the Red Cross from investigating the circumstances of the crash.
Officials report that Ukraine likely acted on weak intelligence as the plane was previously used to transport missiles, making it a valuable target for Ukraine's military.
Military: Russia tries to break through defenses in Chasiv Yar near Bakhmut
Russian forces are attempting to break through Ukrainian defenses in the Chasiv Yar area near Bakhmut, the Ground Forces' press service said on Feb. 8 after Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi's visit to military units holding defense in the Bakhmut sector.
Moscow's troops are attacking with small assault groups, supported with drones and artillery, the military said.
"The situation is tense and requires constant monitoring and prompt decision-making on the ground," the military said.
According to the report, the Russian troops are widely using "kamikaze" drones and electronic warfare assets.
Syrskyi met with brigade commanders to discuss the current situation on the battlefield. He discussed probable Russian tactics and options for further combat actions with commanders.
Senate advances Ukraine, Israel aid in procedural vote
The U.S. Senate voted to proceed with a stripped-down foreign aid package that includes funds for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan without reforms to border policy, potentially paving the way for passage after Republicans blocked a bipartisan border security and foreign aid bill.
The Senate agreed earlier today to proceed with a $95 billion"Plan B" bill to send aid to Ukraine and Israel separate from U.S. border funding.
The package contains $60 billion for Ukraine, $14.1 billion in aid to Israel, $9.2 billion in humanitarian assistance, and $4.8 billion to support regional partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
The previous version of the bill, which combined U.S. border reform with $60 billion in aid for Ukraine, was separated into a foreign aid package after Senate Republicans rejected the mixed bill on Feb. 7.
Senators can now begin consideration of the package following a 67-32 vote, however, it's not yet certain that the bill will be able to win the votes for final passage.
Republicans in the Senate are reportedly split about whether to approve or filibuster the new bill.
According to NBC, Republican senators met this morning to discuss their options and potential demands for amendments to wrap up passage speedily. Republicans may reject any form of Ukraine aid if it does not include extremely conservative reforms of U.S. border policies.