Kyiv, 22 January, 2018, people gathered at Paton's bridge in Kyiv to mark the Act of Unity. Photo: @backandalive
On January 22, Ukraine marks two significant historical dates. On this day in 1918, the Ukrainian People’s Republic proclaimed its independence by adopting the IV Universal of the Ukrainian Central Rada (parliament). A year later in Kyiv, the Act of Unity between the Ukraine’s People’s Republic and Western Ukrainian People’s Republic, two state entities which formed during Ukraine’s struggles to form its own states out of the shambles of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires, was declared.
Today, people in Kyiv traditionally gathered at Paton’s bridge. The activists connected the right and left banks of the Dnipro river, remembering the human chain linking Kyiv and Lviv in 1990. That time around three million people in Ukraine took each others hands to connect the two cities. Remarkably, it was during the time when Ukraine still was a part of the Soviet Union.
Today people held a 30-meter-long flag of Ukraine, with two columns moving towards each other from the opposite sides. One column carried the blue cloth and another – the yellow one. The columns met each other on the bridge. Afterwards, they sang Ukrainian hymn and commemorated those who died during the Euromaidan Revolution and in de-facto war in eastern Ukraine.
To understand what the Act means for Ukrainians, one needs to recall the historical context in which it was signed. Then, Ukraine was in even worse conditions than now: it experienced aggression not only from the side of Russia, but also from its western neighbors.
West Ukrainian People’s Republic
On the eve of the World War One, a large part of the territories of modern Ukraine, in particular eastern Galicia, Bukovyna and Transcarpathia, were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In October 1918, the Empire ceased existing because of the defeat of Austro-German bloc in the War and because of the struggle of nations that were part of it for their independence.
Western Ukrainians also started creating the own state. In the end of 1918, a military commissariat was established in Lviv to plan a military uprising against the Austrian government. On 18 October 1918, in Lviv at the meeting of all Ukrainian deputies of Austrian Parliament, Ukrainian members of Galicia and Bukovyna Seims, representatives of the parties of Galicia and Bukovyna, clergy and students created the Ukrainian National Rada (a Council) which became a political representative body of Ukrainian people in Austro-Hungarian Empire. In October 19, according to the right of people to self-determination, the Rada claimed the creation of a Ukrainian state on all ethnic territories of Galicia, Bukovyna and Transcarpathia. On this meeting Yevhen Petrushevych was appointed as the President, and the decision to create a democratic constitution was made. The Rada also raised the question on giving all the power to Ukrainians, however, the Austrian side rejected it.
Then, on the evening meeting of 31 October 1918, a decision to seize power in Lviv in a military way was made. Rifle regiments captured the buildings of important state institutions. A temporary body of executive power was created, and the law on “The basic temporary law on state independence of Ukrainian lands of ex Austro-Hungarian Empire” was approved. According to this law, the new state was called Western Ukrainian Peoples Republic (ZUNR), which included Ukrainian ethnic lands and covered Galicia, Bukovyna and Transcarpathia. The population of the state was 6 million people. National symbols also were approved and the main law later was complemented by the number of laws directed on political and economical aspect of life of the new republic.
As a result of active foreign policy, embassies were opened in Austria, Hungary and Germany and diplomatic representations were opened in Czechoslovakia, Canada, USA, Brazil, Italy and others.
However, the movement of the new republic towards independence was interrupted.
The Poles initiated hostilities against the Ukrainian government. Simultaneously, Romanian troops crossed the border of ZUNR. As a result, despite the local population’s resistance, Romanians captured the city Chernivtsi and later all South Bukovyna. After bloody battles, Polish troops captured Lviv. Ukrainian Government moved to Ternopil, and later to Ivano-Frankivsk (then, the city was called Stanislav). A new government headed by Sydir Golubovich was formed.
Ukrainian People’s Republic
Ukrainian Peoples Republic (UNR) is the name of the Ukrainian state during 1917-20 years.It was declared by the Third Universal of Ukrainian Central Rada (council). In the circumstances of military aggression of Bolshevist Russia, Ukraine’s Central Rada declared the independence of UNR as a free sovereign state. According to the third Universal, the republic included Kyiv, Podil, Kharkiv, Katerynoslav, Kherson and Tavr (excluding Crimea) gubernies, the administrative units of that time.
The highest legislative body Ukrainian Central Rada was headed by the president Mykhailo Hrushevsky. The new Republic was facing the obstacles on the way towards it’s development, the main one being aggression of Bolshevist Russia.
One important diplomatic action of UNR was signing the Brest Agreement in February 1918 with the countries of Quadruple Allianceб which defined UNR as an independent state. It was also recognized by Romania. The new republic opened embassies in Berlin, Constantinopol, Vienna, Sofia, and Bucharest. Also here, national symbols and currency – hryvnya, the same currency as in modern-day Ukraine, were introduced. Ukrainian Central Rada elected the president – Mykhailo Hrushevsky, and the constitution was adopted. However, at that time Ukraine was plagued by an internal power struggle. In April 1918, the Central Rada was removed from power by the Ukrainian Congress of Farmers and Petro Skoropadskyi was elected as the new Hetman of Ukraine. As a result of anti-hetman uprising in 1918, UNR was replaced by the Directoria.
The Act of Unity
The authorities of ZUNR considered the unity with UNR as the main state priority. This position was supported by the population. Ukrainian Central Rada sent its representatives to Kyiv to talk to the Hetman Petro Skoropadsky. After the beginning of anti-hetman upheaval the negotiations were conducted with the Directoria. A Preliminary agreement on Unity was signed in the end of December 1918.
In 22 January 1919, the Act of the Union claimed that UNR and ZUNR are united in one independent state. It was stated in the Universal that this state include Galicia, Bukovyna, Hungarian Rus and Central Ukraine. At the same time, on Sofia Square in Kyiv, in official atmosphere the delegations of the both republics read this decision to people.
The decision was not implemented on practice because of martial law. Later, it also became clear that the two republics have different strategic visions. However, from today’s perspective, the Union had a significant meaning for Ukraine and for its people, showing that for a long time Ukrainians were struggling to be united, not separated.