For many Ukrainians around the world, August 24 is a day to celebrate the moment when, 30 years ago on August 24, 1991, a long-held dream finally became a reality. It marks the day when the Ukrainian parliament adopted an act to reestablish Ukraine as an independent nation. While parliament proclaimed Ukraine’s independence, it also noted that the issue was subject to a nationwide referendum. That referendum, held on December 1, 1991, passed with more than 90 percent of the population of Ukraine voting to uphold parliament’s declaration of independence.
While Ukrainians around the world will rightfully celebrate these two momentous days, we hope they do so with a cautious eye that further Russian aggression waits around Ukraine’s borders. After all, we know all too well that Russian President Vladimir Putin is an opportunist who will seize the moment when an adversary’s guard is dropped and take what he is essentially given.
Nonetheless, August 24 is a day to celebrate, and celebrate rightfully, joyfully and proudly. For far too long Ukrainians have felt oppressed and beaten down. This is a day to stand tall and celebrate that a long-held dream built on the backs of millions who perished fighting for Ukraine’s freedom has been realized and maintained for three full decades. But these words are written on August 19, and no celebration of Ukraine’s three decades of renewed independence would be complete without first paying homage to the truly heroic and brave actions that led up to August 24.
As word spread throughout Ukraine that hardline Communist leaders of the Soviet Union had attempted a coup d’état in an effort to seize power from Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet president and general secretary of the Communist Party, political leaders in Ukraine were faced with a potentially treasonous decision. If they got it wrong, they would likely face the gravest of consequences from a regime known for its brutality and cruelty.
Leonid Kravchuk, who was chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR, issued a statement on August 19 that urged Ukrainians to remain “calm and patient,” reassuring them that authorities in the country remained in control of Ukraine. Historians have pointed out that Mr. Kravchuk’s statement could have been more decisive.
A decisive statement came from the members of Rukh, the Popular Movement of Ukraine, who heard U.S. President George H.W. Bush on August 1 caution Ukrainians against “suicidal nationalism.” Ignoring Mr. Bush’s caution, on August 19, 1991, Rukh members drafted one statement and two appeals in the span of several tense and incredibly uncertain hours.
“Rukh calls upon all citizens of Ukraine to defy the will of the leaders of the coup and instead to create organizational structures of active resistance that will coordinate an all-republic strike, which we recognize as a peaceful and effective method in our struggle for the freedom and prosperity of the Ukrainian nation,” read a portion of their appeal, which was courageously signed by Ivan Drach, Rukh’s president.
As we prepare to celebrate Ukraine’s 30th anniversary of renewed independence on August 24, let us take a moment to also recall the remarkable bravery it took to draft and release in both Ukrainian and English these documents that helped set Ukraine on the path to independence. Slava Ukraini! And, indeed, heroyam slava!