Thirty years ago, on June 23, 1991, thousands of protesters, who were undaunted by thundershowers, marched down Kyiv’s main thoroughfare, the Khreshchatyk, to protest Ukraine’s intent to sign the union treaty with Moscow that summer.
A meeting of protest organizers, which included members of Rukh (the Popular Movement of Ukraine) and the Ukrainian Republican Party – led by Levko Lukianenko and Ivan Drach – demanded that the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR categorically reject the draft of the union treaty that was presented on June 17 by Moscow. Organizers passed a resolution that called the treaty an enslavement by Moscow, cynical and hopeless, and urged for the adoption of a Constitution of Ukraine as an independent nation.
The meeting also unanimously decided that its goal was an independent, democratic Ukraine with full and exclusive rights to its peoples’ economic and scholarly-technical potential created on its territory; with its own national currency, financial-credit system, Ukrainian customs service, national armed forces; and with its own full-fledged political, economic and cultural contact with other states of the world.
Two conferences were held in Kyiv on June 22-23, attended by representatives of politically repressed people from all over the world, as well as the all-Ukrainian union of workers’ solidarity. The conferences were held at the Republican Stadium in Kyiv. It was from this meeting that demonstrators began their protest march from the stadium to Independence Square.
Mr. Lukianenko, at the head of the march dressed in a light beige suit and a Ukrainian embroidered shirt, led the protesters – some of whom were dressed in prison outfits complete with identification numbers, among them former political prisoner Oles Shevchenko, Yevhen Proniuk (head of the Society of the Politically Repressed), and Les Taniuk (head of the Memorial Society).
Marta Kolomayets described the scene: “…Many of the participants in the front lines of the demonstration were physically broken because of the long years they had spent in exile, but their enthusiasm for an independent Ukraine ran high. They were for most of the crowd living history, evidence of a people who will not be suppressed by a Communist-totalitarian regime.”
Students, organized under the Union of Ukrainian Students organization, also came out to join the protests, and many planned to mobilize hunger strikes and other actions in the fall if the danger of Ukraine signing a union treaty continued to mount.
Volodymyr Filenko, vice-chairman of Ukraine’s National Council, said that if Ukraine were to enter any union, it would be as a full-fledged member of the family of nations in Europe.
Source: “Marchers in Kiev say ‘no’ to union treaty,” by Marta Kolomayets, The Ukrainian Weekly, June 30, 1991.