Ukraine's popular former army chief Zaluzhnyi appointed ambassador to UK

Ukraine's President Zelenskiy and UAF Commander in Chief Zaluzhnyi pose for a picture during a meeting in Kyiv

(Reuters) - President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday appointed former army chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, who led Ukraine's defence in the first two years of Moscow's full-scale invasion, as Kyiv's ambassador to the United Kingdom.

The decree was published on the presidential website. Zaluzhnyi was earlier named a "Hero of Ukraine".

Ukraine has not had an ambassador in London since Zelenskiy dismissed former envoy Vadym Prystaiko in July 2023 after he publicly criticised the president.

Zaluzhnyi is very popular among many Ukrainians for leading the army in the first hours of Russia's invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, and for planning a counteroffensive that helped liberate significant swathes of territory seized by Moscow.

He was replaced in February by ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi following battlefield setbacks and the failure of another counteroffensive to break through Russian defensive lines.

Zaluzhnyi's dismissal as army chief was the focal point of a shakeup of senior positions in Ukraine's armed forces. It followed weeks of tension and speculation about possible disagreements between the president and his top commander.

(Reporting by Yuliia Dysa; editing by Christina Fincher and Gareth Jones)