On Wednesday August 24, 2011 Ukrainians in Ukraine and throughout the world celebrated 20 years of Ukrainian Independence.
The celebration was important because although Ukraine has existed as a state for over 1,000 years the country lost its sovereignty, autonomy and independence to the ever expanding Russian Empire.
By 1782, the Ukrainian Cossack state had disappeared and it would be another 200 years until Ukraine re-emerged as an independent country.
Throughout those 200 years Ukrainians continued to strive for independence from the prevailing Russian Empire.
Those centuries would be coloured with the struggle to regain freedom with villager and Cossack uprisings to individual struggles, by the likes of the nineteenth century national poet, Taras Shevchenko.
In 1917, with the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Ukrainians declared independence in 1918, only to be defeated and subsumed into the Soviet Union. The 20th Century was to see Ukrainians suffer at the hands of Russia.
In 1932-33 it is estimated 10 million Ukrainians perished in an artificial famine orchestrated by Stalin.
During the Second World War Ukrainians again declared independence in 1941, to no avail. They took up the struggle to fight against Soviet Russian Communism and Nazi Germany, rejecting both ideologies. They did not gain their freedom and fell under Soviet rule. Those who campaigned for more freedom and democracy were severely punished.
The authoritarian Soviet regime would eventually collapse.
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 and its subsequent cover-up, which cost Ukraine dearly in its effects on the people and environment was the beginning of the end. Ukrainians were again beginning to see the limitations of an uncaring occupying regime. By 1991 Ukrainians demanded independence and achieved this and in so doing they brought an end to the Russian Soviet Union. Ukraine’s road to democracy has not been an easy one. In 2004 democracy was again threatened as Viktor Yushchenko the newly elected President was denied his victory. Ukrainians throughout the country and the world gave their support to him in what became known as the Orange Revolution of 2004.
Ukrainians defended democracy and won.
The ideals of the Orange Revolution inspired other countries not least this year’s Arab Spring Revolution.
Today, Ukraine’s democracy is again under threat, but Ukrainians will not give up their freedom and independence easily.
Ukraine’s 20th year Independence celebrations not only marked the freedom of their country and their defence of democracy but honoured all those who struggled and laid down their lives to achieve freedom and democracy for all.
Norton Tower, Halifax