Army General Gennady Zhidko died at 58 “after a long illness” on Wednesday, according to the state news agency TASS.
Zhidko served as Russia’s Eastern Military District Commander between May and October last year. He was reportedly the overall theater commander in Ukraine during Moscow’s offensive against Lysychansk and Severodonetsk in the summer of 2022.
His death was first announced on Telegram by the governor of Russia’s Khabarovsk territory Mikhail Degtyarev, who said, “I was lucky to know this man, very attentive to the needs of a simple soldier and very demanding to the service. It is these commanders who are called commanders.”
No official announcement of Zhidko’s death has been released. Zhidko’s biography published on Tass does not mention his time serving as commander in Ukraine.
He reportedly took over the leadership of Russian forces in Ukraine some after Moscow abandoned its botched attempt to take over Kyiv last spring, the investigative group Conflict Intelligence Team reported in May 2022.
The appointment was never officially confirmed, but in June 2022, Zhidko was seen sitting next to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during the minister’s visit to forces involved in the war in Ukraine, an event that appeared to confirm Zhidko’s elevation to the top role.
The Washington-based think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said at the time that Zhidko’s appointment was “a drastic step” as he was a political officer, not a unit commander charged with leading troops. In his previous role, he was the head of the Main Military-Political Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces, a body that is responsible for ideological indoctrination and morale within Russia’s military. While in that role, he was also the Deputy Minister of Defense of Russia.
According to Tass, Zhidko previously served as the Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces in Syria, a role for which he received the Hero of the Russian Federation award, Russia’s highest honor.
According to ISW, Zhidko was dismissed as the theater commander and the head of the Eastern Military District in October, following Ukraine’s rapid liberation of territory during the Kharkiv counteroffensive.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense named General Sergey Surovikin as its new overall commander for operations in the war on October 2022. Surovikin hasn’t been seen in public since the short-lived Wagner rebellion in June.