As fate has willed, Ukrainians live in that part of Europe, where individual’s inalienable right to freedom and nation’s right to self-determination are still treated with skepticism, where empires are still not a thing of the past, and where tyrants continue to dream of conqueror’s laurels. Here freedom is not acquired once and for all — it must be paid for again and again, its trunk generously showered with the heroes’ blood. Not so long ago we were proud that unlike in Russia, we did not lose the life of even one Ukrainian in an armed conflict in our territory since 1991. Now, when the war came to us from Russia, tens of people die every day in Donbas and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes. Thousands Ukrainians have become volunteers and tens of thousands are on the enlistment waiting list to become the defenders of their country. One either pays a heavy, at times disproportionate price for freedom, or continues to live as a slave.
For some today’s independence of Ukraine is a historical fortuitousness, a gift of fate. Emperors and General Secretaries have been “collecting” its lands, while independence just dropped on Ukrainians from the blue when Soviet empire collapsed under the heavy burden of its inefficient economy. But it was not Stalin in 1945, but the will of the Ukrainian people in the distant 1919 which has revived the united Ukrainian state within all ethnically Ukrainian territories.
Resurrected from the ruins of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires, on 22 January 1919 Ukraine has adopted an Act of Reunion between the Ukrainian People’s Republic and Western-Ukrainian People’s Republic, which pronounced the merger of “the parts of Ukraine which for hundreds years have been torn apart from one another – … Galychyna, Bukovina, Hungarian Ukraine and Great Trans-Dniester Ukraine”. Established on all ethnically Ukrainian lands, including Crimea, Donbas and Transcarpathia, the united Ukrainian People’s Republic fell few months later under the attacks of interventionists – Bolsheviks, White Guard, Poles. According to the 1991 and 1992 acts, Ukrainian state is a successor equally of both UPR and USSR.
Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) – was no more than a semblance of statehood, an autonomy, which the Bolsheviks had to grant to Ukrainians within the Soviet Union. The illusion of having their own state, widespread during the first years of the USSR’s existence, was very soon destroyed by Stalin’s all-out repressions. Forcible collectivization of villagers’ farms, executed to provide finances for industrialization, resulted in the end in Holodomor (manmade famine), which took the lives of millions of Ukrainians and changed the ethnic map of eastern and southern regions of Ukraine beyond recognition. Millions of victims of famine in Ukraine have been replaced by hundreds of thousands of migrants from inner regions of Russia.
The civilized world has recognized Holodomor as an act of genocide against Ukrainians and/or a crime against humanity. While the rural population of Ukraine was being starved to death in villages, Ukraine’s elites were being exterminated in cities from late 1920s to early 1950s. Holodomor of 1932-33, Stalin’s terror, mass deportations from Western Ukraine, Famine of 1946-47 have cost Ukraine 6 million human lives. World War II has taken another 7 million –every fifth Ukrainian.
In December 2010 Vladimir Putin announced, that USSR would have defeated Nazism even without Ukraine and that 70% of casualties in WW II were Russians. In reality, relative to overall losses of the USSR, Ukraine’s demographic loss in WW II amounted to 40%, while material damages (destroyed infrastructure) – around 44% of the USSR’s total.
Ukraine’s input into the victory over the Nazi Germany was so immense (6 million Ukrainians were mobilized into the army, there were only 300 Ukrainian generals in the Red Army, out of 115 two-times Heroes of the Soviet Union – 35 were Ukrainians), that the name “Ukrainian” was given to 4 fronts, while after the end of the war Ukraine became, even if formally, a state founding member of the UN.
The fight of the Ukrainian Insurrection Army simultaneously on two fronts – against Hitler and Stalin, and then another 9 years after the end of the World War II one-on-one against the whole Soviet empire, the dissident movement of 1950-80s, which fought against the total Russian cultural expansion, have led to the formation in the end of 80s of a popular mass-movement of Ukrainians for cultural and national revival, for the re-creation of an independent Ukrainian state.
Tens of millions human victims, land, disfigured by the Chornobyl disaster, we’ve had enough! –Ukrainians have made up their mind. By 1990 Ukrainian flags were already flying above local authorities in Western Ukraine and Trans-Dniestria. In August 1991 thousands of Ukrainians participated under national flags in mass protests against the Coup d’etat in the streets of Moscow, while on August 24 hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Kyiv have forced the Supreme Council of USSR to adopt the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine. On 1 December 1991 more than 90% of Ukrainians have voted on a referendum for the creation of an independent Ukrainian state. Moreover, this historic decision was supported by the majority of citizens in all regions of Ukraine without exception.
Having gained freedom, in 1990s Russia and Ukraine, unlike other post-socialist countries, failed to implement lustration. For the yesterday’s party nomenclature and the criminals, which have merged with them, independence became a mere convenient smoke-screen for turning Ukraine into a haven of total corruption. Still, while in Ukraine the emphasis throughout the years was on peaceful, non-aligned path of development, Russia went down the alley of stirring up local wars across the post-Soviet area, having set itself the aim of “re-collecting” territories which formerly belonged to USSR and Russian Empire. For decades Russia’s oil billions have been spent on propaganda of separatism, Ukraine-hating and on the creation within the Ukrainian society of artificial division lines.
Following the collapse of the puppet regime of Yanukovych, when this plan was blown out of the water, Russia decided to openly intervene militarily, stealing Crimea from Ukraine and launching a full-scale war in Donbas. Hoping that Ukraine will soon collapse under pressure, Russian aggression in fact served as a consolidating factor for the Ukrainian nation, helping it overcome internal contradictions. The bloody conflict in Donbas is resurrecting almost from ashes the Ukrainian army, destroyed earlier by corruption, while the state begins to implement reforms about which Ukrainians couldn’t’ even dream of before. Yes, the price of freedom is too high today and alien empires and wars have cost Ukrainians tens of millions of lives. Ukrainians have chosen freedom long time ago and are ready to re-affirm their choice again and again.