August 16, 2019

On Ukraine’s Independence Day 2019


In less than a week, Ukraine will celebrate the 28th anniversary of the re-establishment of its independent statehood. We already know that this year’s celebrations of Ukrainian Independence Day on August 24 are going to be different from that in years past. For starters, there will be no military parade featuring military equipment. Instead, the head of the Presidential Office, Andriy Bohdan, said there would be a “Walk of Dignity,” in which “everyone who is proud of Ukraine” will be honored, followed by a grand concert in Kyiv’s city center. Among those expected to participate will be members of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, veterans, doctors, teachers, athletes and diplomats.

But what’s not different is that Russia’s war on Ukraine continues. The toll now stands at over 13,000 killed, some 30,000 injured and more than 1.5 million displaced. The Joint Forces Operation (formerly known as the ATO) reported on August 15 (when this editorial was being written) that, in the last 24 hours, yet another of Ukraine’s soldiers was killed in the line of duty in the country’s east and that Russian-backed forces violated yet another ceasefire 13 times.

Crimea continues to be occupied by Russia, which has, for all intents and purposes, transformed the peninsula into its military base. Russian President Vladimir Putin made yet another one of his visits to the Ukrainian peninsula on August 10, and Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry protested this “gross violation” of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia, of course, describes such visits as “domestic trips.” Thankfully, recently elected President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is talking with Crimean Tatar representatives about efforts “to de-occupy and reintegrate” Crimea. And, let’s not forget that the United States stands firmly behind Ukraine as regards Crimea, on July 25, 2018, having issued the “Crimea Declaration” which states: “… the United States reaffirms as policy its refusal to recognize the Kremlin’s claims of sovereignty over territory seized by force in contravention of international law. In concert with allies, partners and the international community, the United States rejects Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and pledges to maintain this policy until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored.”

Russia continues to hold at least 80 Ukrainian political prisoners, including many Crimean Tatars, as well as prisoners of war, among them the 24 crew members of three Ukrainian naval vessels seized last November by Russian forces near the Kerch Strait. Some of these political prisoners have been sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment on trumped-up charges reminiscent of the Soviet era. We must continue to press for their release.

Speaking on August 7 at a press conference in Ankara with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, President Zelenskyy stated: “Together, we will surely find a way to make Russia respect international law, return peace and stability in the region, protect the rights and freedoms of the Crimean Tatars and liberate the political prisoners of the Kremlin.” Hopeful words, to be sure. We pray they become reality.

Looking ahead, here are some things to watch as Ukraine celebrates another year of its independence.

Ukraine’s newly elected Verkhovna Rada, in which Mr. Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party holds a majority of seats, will be sworn in on August 29. Also on that day, the president will deliver his first state of the nation speech to the Parliament. Soon afterwards, a new Cabinet of Ministers will be formed (observers say that’s likely by the first week of September). We’ll then learn more about the program of this new administration and the new government, and we’ll see its first concrete steps. We hope some of our questions about the Zelensky team will be satisfactorily answered and that these Servants of the People live up to the expectations of the Ukrainian nation.

In addition, all eyes will be on President Zelenskyy when he visits the United States in September for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly’s 74th session, as well as his upcoming meeting with President Donald Trump. There is great hope that this young new leader will be equal to the task.

Thus, as the next chapters in independent Ukraine’s history are being written, we pray that the future for our dear Ukraine will be brighter. In the meantime, we greet all on Ukrainian Independence Day. Slava Ukraini!