Sixty-seven years ago, on January 7, 1950, Christmas according to the Julian calendar, the Ukrainian American String Band won 13th place in the annual Mummers Parade in Philadelphia. With stunning costumes of sunrise green adorned with red and silver sequins, the Ukrainian band amazed the millions of spectators and millions more on radio and television broadcasts. Joining the band were three former Ukrainian displaced persons – Peter Prus, Wolodimir Kit and Joseph Petrovych. Leading the event for the Ukrainian band were Charles Henik and Michael Elko, honorary president of the band. Others joining the band were Ukrainian American veterans, who served as a color guard for the Ukrainian and U.S. flags during the six mile march up Broad Street.
Seven years ago, on January 1, 2009, the Russian state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom decreased the volume of gas shipped to Ukraine (90 million cubic meters per day as contracted in 2008). On January 2, gas shipments to European customers via Ukraine (up to 300 million cubic meters of gas per day), including Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland, reported drops in pressure and slight disruptions in supply as a result of the gas shut off by Russia. Romania reported gas decreases of 30 to 40 percent. Gazprom claimed in November 2008 that Ukraine was in violation of its gas agreements, citing late payment penalties totaling $614 million and an outstanding balance of $2.1 billion. A contract for 2009 was not signed as a result of the dispute, and deliveries by Gazprom to Ukraine were halted.
Eight years ago, on December 19, 2008, the United States and Ukraine signed a “Charter on Strategic Partnership” in an affirmation of the deepening of the security, economic, energy and other aspects of the bilateral relationship. And in the last sentence of the charter document, the U.S. announced its intention to open a U.S. diplomatic post in Symferopol. “Ukraine welcomes the United States’ intention to establish an American diplomatic presence (American Presence Post) in Symferopol.”
The document was signed at the U.S. State Department in Washington by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko. During a press briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the matter of opening a diplomatic presence in Crimea was a bilateral matter between the U.S. and Ukraine, and if the Russian government “chooses to be upset” by this, “well, there’s not much I can do about that.” The presence, he explained, would include one or two diplomats who would be tasked with working on cultural exchanges, events and political reporting, among other duties. Mr. Ohryzko noted that U.S.-Ukraine relations “have truly attained the level of a strategic partnership” in such areas as defense, security, the economy, human rights, cultural and people-to-people contacts.
Two years ago, on December 13, 2014, the Ukraine Freedom Support Act (S 2828/ HR 5859) was passed by unanimous consent by the U.S. Senate, thus passing both houses of Congress after the hotline vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 11. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on December 18. A statement by the White House Office of the Press Secretary, noted:
“…Signing this legislation does not signal a change in the administration’s sanctions policy, which we have carefully calibrated in accordance with developments on the ground and coordinated with our allies and partners. At this time, the administration does not intend to impose sanctions under this law, but the act gives the administration additional authorities that could be utilized, if circumstances warranted. …We again call on Russia to end its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, cease support to separatists in eastern Ukraine, and implement the obligations it signed up to under the Minsk agreements.
Twenty years ago, on December 6, 1996, Ukraine’s Parliament passed a resolution in response to the Russian Federation Council’s resolution that questioned the status of the city of Sevastopol in Crimea. The Verkhovna Rada also voted 227-38 with 11 abstentions to introduce a bill on the removal of foreign troops from Ukrainian soil (except those invited by the government of Ukraine). The Russian Federation Council’s statement noted “unilateral actions by the Ukrainian side aimed at severing from Russia a part of her territory are not only illegal from any viewpoint of international law, but are detrimental to Russia’s security.” Russia had refused to officially recognize Ukraine’s borders and respect its territorial integrity until Ukraine had granted Russia permanent basing rights in Sevastopol. Russia had also tied the division of the Black Sea Fleet to basing rights in Crimea. In the weeks prior to the standoff, Russia’s Duma had been concerned about the future basing of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.
Three years ago, on December 1, 2013, hundreds of thousands of protesters – some estimates ranged from 200,000 to 1 million – peacefully demonstrated at Independence Square in Kyiv following President Viktor Yanukovych’s November 30 decision not to sign an Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine during the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius that was hosted on November 28-29. Hundreds were injured in clashes between protesters and police, with the protesters outraged over incidents of police brutality at what would be known as the Euro-Maidan, later called the Revolution of Dignity. Although the protest began to secure Ukraine’s course toward Euro-integration, protesters demanded a complete overhaul of the government that had been plagued by corruption and mismanagement, with calls for the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych and the Cabinet of Ministers led by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. During the upheaval, Mr. Yanukovych flew to China on December 3 to secure additional loans for the tanking government, and Mr. Azarov called for charges to be filed against the Euro-Maidan participants. Ukraine’s Parliament held a vote to dismiss the Cabinet, but failed to gain enough votes, with another vote possible only after the next parliamentary session in February 2014.
Twenty-two years ago, on November 22, 1994, Ukraine’s President Leonid Kuchma made history with his arrival to the White House as the first Ukrainian head of state to be welcomed on a state visit to the U.S. capital. From the South Lawn of the White House, U.S. President Bill Clinton hailed Mr. Kuchma as a reformer, citing Ukraine’s signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In exchange, Ukraine received $900 million in aid packages (making it fourth in terms of amount of U.S. aid) in 1994-1995, as well as security assurances. During the visit, Mr. Kuchma met privately with Mr. Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore, and a luncheon was hosted by the State Department. The leaders of Ukraine and the U.S. signed a charter for American-Ukrainian Partnership, Friendship and Cooperation, and a Bilateral Civil Space Agreement.
Four years ago, on November 16, 2012, Ukraine’s Minister of Energy Yurii Boiko announced on Inter TV plans to reduce Ukraine’s dependence on Russian natural gas supplies, and even suggested the possibility that Russia would take Ukraine to the international court. “We know there will be arguments, even court battles with our Russian colleagues,” he said, but Ukraine intends to defend its national interests. Ukraine was purchasing 26 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Russian gas in 2012, which was a 1.5 bcm drop from the contracted amount for that year. Vadim Chuprun, deputy chairman of Naftohaz Ukrayiny, was cited by Russian business newspaper Vzglyad on November 17 as saying Ukraine would cut gas imports from Gazprom further, with a projected purchase of 20 bcm for 2013. At the time, Ukraine was paying $430 per thousand cubic meters in the fourth quarter of 2012.
Forty years ago, on November 9, 1976, following the signing of the Helsinki Final Act on August 1, 1975, by representatives of the Soviet Union, the United States, Canada and 33 European states, the Ukrainian Helsinki Group was formed. The founding members were Oles Berdnyk, Petro Grigorenko, Ivan Kandyba, Lev Lukianenko, Oksana Meshko, Mykola Matusevych, Oleksii Tykhy, Nina Strokata and Mykola Rudenko. From its early days, the group had been targeted by the Soviet regime and all of its founding members were sentenced to exile or imprisonment. At the end of 1979, six members of the group were forced to emigrate, while other dissidents were forced to remain in the Soviet Union. Others were detained in psychiatric hospitals or prison camps.
Thirteen years ago, on October 29, 2003, Ukrainian communities across the United States answered the call put forth by the Ukrainian World Congress to protest against Russia’s latest violation of Ukrainian sovereignty – the building of a dam from the Russian mainland to Tuzla Island in the Kerch Strait of the Black Sea. In Chicago, more than 300 people demonstrated at Daley Plaza at a protest that was organized by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. UCCA Illinois Division President Orest Baranyk said the demonstration had a three-fold aim: “to condemn Russia’s effort to land-grab Ukraine’s Tuzla Island as well as Moscow’s threat to “use bombs” against Ukraine; to demand that the U.S. vehemently protest Moscow’s threat, particularly since America gave Ukraine assurances in 1992 that it would protect Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons to Russia; and to reinforce Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryschenko in his meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in Kyiv on October 30. In New York City, protesters, including students of St. George Ukrainian Catholic School, members of the Ukrainian American Youth Association, Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization, the UCCA and the Organization for the Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine gathered at the Russian Mission to the United Nations.