On 24 August 2011 Ukraine celebrates its 20th anniversary of independence. With this date in mind, now seems like the right time to look back and take stock of what has happened during this brief period in the country’s recent history.
The first steps towards independence were made on 16 July 1990 when the newly elected Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine. Witnessing the break-up of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians were strongly united in their determination to create their own state.
One year later, on 24 August 1991, the Verkhovna Rada adopted the Act of Declaration of Independence, which passed with 321 votes in favour, two votes against and six abstentions. And it was subsequently successfully supported by more than 90 per cent of the Ukrainian population during a referendum held on 1 December 1991. Shortly afterwards, Ukrainian independence was recognised throughout the world.
Since these key events 20 years ago, we have celebrated 24 August as an annual national holiday – our Independence Day. Ukrainian independence has become a sacred celebration for this 1000-year-old nation for each individual Ukrainian as well. It has also become a landmark event for Ukrainians abroad, particularly in the UK.
The reason is very clear. Every facet of today’s life in Ukraine – from politics and the economy to one’s personal life – could have been very different if independence had not been achieved. For one, I would have never become Ambassador of Ukraine in the UK – and you would never have read this article.
To understand Ukraine today, it’s important to retrace some of the key moments in its history. The origin of Ukrainian statehood goes back to the eleventh and twelfth centuries – to the medieval state Kyiv Rus. Between 1648 and 1654, Ukraine became an independent state for the first time – known as the Kozak State of Bohdan Khmelnitsky. Under Het’man (Head of State) Ivan Mazepa (1682-1709), Ukraine enjoyed autonomous status within the framework of the Russian Empire.
The next time the country enjoyed independent status was between 1917 and 1918 when the Ukrainian People’s Republic (Ukrains’ka Narodna Respublica) was created after the revolution of 1917. As the result of a coup d’état the following year, Pavlo Skoropadskyi came to power as Het’man, and was subsequently replaced by the Directory of Simon Petlura (which lasted less than a year). From these struggles one could easily come to the conclusion that the desire of Ukraine to become an independent state is deeply rooted.
Even as part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine retained certain signs of a sovereign state. Thus in 1945, as a result of World War II, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic became one of the founders of the United Nations.
This history of self-identification finally led to the creation of an independent state named Ukraine. Today, Ukrainian independence can never be reversed, for several reasons.
Firstly, after its declaration of independence in 1991, Ukraine was recognised by a majority of countries as a legitimate member of the world community.
Secondly, according to laws of nature, the first and the seventh years are extremely vulnerable in any social reform, whether it is a family or a state. For the first time in its history Ukraine has successfully passed these critical points, while continuing to move forward.
Thirdly, in the early days, every stage of Ukrainian independence was associated with a certain political figure whose failure led to loss of independence. During the past 20 years, Ukrainians have democratically elected four presidents, each with the aim of ensuring the further development of an independent Ukrainian state.
Being the Ambassador to the UK, I would like to draw your attention to the following fact. While the recognition of the Ukrainian People’s Republic by the UK in 1917 was strongly contested by many historians, London’s decision to recognise Ukraine on 31 December 1991 gradually developed into a real strategic partnership between our states.
Regardless of political changes within Ukraine and the UK, the relationship between the two countries has always remained friendly and the strategic character of this partnership means that both countries stand to benefit greatly.
The basic factor that defines the bilateral relationship today is the UK government’s strong support for Ukraine’s integration into the EU. The UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Ukraine Group was established in January 1992 and remains active today. Ukraine also closely interacts with the UK within international organisations, primarily UN bodies. Our soldiers fight shoulder-to-shoulder with other nations in peacekeeping missions for the sake of worldwide security, stability and democracy. In this regard, I would like to stress that being a non-bloc state, Ukraine participates in all NATO-led operations, confirming its role as one of the key providers of European and world security.
Modern Ukraine also pursues a policy of non-proliferation and disarmament. Following a pivotal decision in 1994 when Ukraine – inheriting huge nuclear potential from the USSR – voluntarily decided not to become a nuclear power, the country also disposed of its highly enriched uranium, in 2010.
These decisions clearly demonstrated the peaceful and pragmatic policy of the current Ukrainian leadership. Since President Viktor Yanukovych’s election in 2010, the new government has been working tirelessly to advance Ukraine’s European aspirations and improve legislation (with the majority in the Verhovna Rada) in order to implement a central programme of social and economic reform. Although much work still needs to be done, political stabilisation and systemic reforms introduced by the President mean there are genuine signs of economic recovery. Moreover, Ukraine’s present pragmatic policies taking place at a national level add to the possibility of enjoying strong international support and continuing the state building process.
To conclude, I would like to encourage foreign investors together with local businesses to participate in projects in Ukraine. I would also like to invite everybody to visit the fantastic places of interest Ukraine has to offer. And we’ll also be welcoming your favourite national football team to next year’s Euro 2012 competition, co-hosted by Ukraine.
And last but not least, I would like to emphasise that I am proud to be Ukrainian.
Getting to Ukraine
Those wishing to travel to Ukraine should do so with Ukraine International Airlines (UIA). This award-winning airline is Ukraine’s leading international airline, with a route network that stretches from Europe
to Central Asia and the Middle East. UIA operate daily flights from London Gatwick to Kiev with excellent connections to Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Simferopol and Odessa – and a new connection, Lviv in Ukraine. Further afield, UIA connects to Tbilisi in Georgia, Almaty and Astana in Kazakhstan, Moscow and Samara in Russia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi in UAE and Tel Aviv in Israel. From 20 July, UIA is adding a twice-daily service between Kiev and Moscow Domodedovo. All UIA international scheduled flights operate from Terminal F in Kiev’s Borispol airport.
Customers appreciate UIA’s excellent quality of service, along with its affordable fares. Travelling in economy, customers enjoy the comfort of a 20kg baggage allowance, assigned seating , a hot meal and flying on UIA’s Boeing 737 New Generation fleet. For business class customers, extra benefits include separate check-in, lounge access, a generous baggage allowance of 40kg, and the luxury of a spacious cabin and roomy seats.
As part of the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of Ukrainian Independence, UIA’s Panorama Club members will receive double miles in Business Class on flights from London in July and August 2011. UIA’s frequent flyer programme is free to join and offers regular customers extra benefits and services, including award tickets, fare discounts, the ability to earn and redeem miles not only on UIA partner airlines, but also on many non-airline partners such as car hire, hotels and chauffeur services from any part of London to Gatwick Airport to catch your flight.
The airline connects Ukraine with nearly 3,000 locations around the world, operating about 350 scheduled flights a week and carrying nearly two million passengers a year.