President Volodymyr Zelensky conferred the Hero of Ukraine award, the highest national decoration in Ukraine, to former Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhyni, according to a presidential decree from Feb. 8, APA reports citing Kyiv Independent.
The announcement came shortly after the dismissal of Zaluzhyni from his more than two-year tenure as Ukraine's chief commander. He was replaced by Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi.
Zaluzhyni received the award "for distinguished personal merits in the protection of state sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and selfless service to the Ukrainian people."
He received the award together with the Order of the Gold Star, which is commonly granted to military personnel along with the title Hero of Ukraine. Over 800 people have been granted the title since it was created in 1998.
Zaluzhnyi's dismissal followed multiple reports by Ukrainian and foreign media outlets, citing anonymous sources in the government, that Zelensky was set to fire the chief commander.
The decision sparked emotional public debate, as Zaluzhnyi is widely popular with both the military and the population and is considered a hero due to his role in leading the resistance against Russia.
A December 2023 poll 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.
Shortly before officially announcing the dismissal, Zelensky tanked Zaluzhnyi for his service in a Telegram post, adding that the ex-chief commander would remain a "part of the team."