October Revolution Square (now called Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), Independence Day celebration, Kyiv, July 16, 1991
But, did you know that for the first and last time, Ukraine celebrated Independence Day on July 16, 1991? The chosen date was based on the first anniversary of the 1990 Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine, which enshrined political and economic autonomy within the borders of the Ukrainian SSR, Ukrainian citizenship, a Ukrainian constitution, army, national bank and currency, and state budget. It was also decided to officially celebrate Independence Day of Ukraine on July 16, despite the fact that the country was still formally part of the USSR. However, the new date for Ukraine’s Independence Day – August 24 – appeared the following month.
In the late 1980s, as the economic and political crisis in the Soviet Union intensified, several republics began resisting central control from Moscow, while increasing democratization led to a weakening of the central government. This set in motion the 1990 “sovereignty parade” that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union within 18 months. The Baltic, Asian and Transcaucasian republics, as well as Moldova and Russia (at that time the RSFSR) proceeded to declare their independence and sovereignty.
The same year – 1990 – saw the dawn of Ukrainian state independence. On July 16, 1990, the Verkhovna Rada of the Ukrainian SSR adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine by an absolute majority (355 votes against 4). The document consisted of 10 sections detailing the policy for a national political and economic system and underlining Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty.
On the same day, the Verkhovna Rada decided “to establish July 16 as Independence Day of Ukraine and annually celebrate this day as a national holiday”.
The first anniversary of the Declaration of Sovereignty and the first Independence Day were celebrated massively in Kyiv and all over Ukraine on July 16, 1991. The communist party leadership solemnly laid flowers at the foot of Lenin monuments. An important meeting was held at the Ukraine Palace, where the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, Leonid Kravchuk, declared:
“Today, for the first time in our history, we have gathered together to celebrate our Independence Day. The path leading to this day has been difficult. With great faith in our people, in their right to freedom and independence, we have followed the calling of our hearts, and the voice of public conscience and national duty. And, that day has finally come.”
Thousands of people dressed in national attire marched along Kyiv’s main street – Khreshchatyk Avenue – waving blue and yellow flags. In the evening, popular Ukrainian bands and artists performed on October Revolution Square (now called Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). The evening culminated in a grand performance by Lviv rock band Brothers Hadiukiny and a fireworks display.
On August 24, 1991, three days after the failed coup in Moscow (August 19-21, 1991), the Verkhovna Rada of the Ukrainian SSR convened an extraordinary session, where the MPs adopted the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine, re-establishing the full independence of Ukraine (321 ayes, 2 nays, and 6 abstentions, out of 360 attendants). On February 20, 1992, confirming “the historical significance of the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine”, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted a resolution proclaiming August 24 as Independence Day of Ukraine.
The Resolution on the Declaration of Independence was adopted on the same day. It scheduled a referendum for December 1, 1991. The nationwide poll included just one question: “Do you endorse the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine?”
Some 90.32 percent of Ukrainians gave a positive response, with 7.58 percent against. The participation rating was estimated at 84.18 percent.
Слава Україні! Героям слава!
Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!
Photos : Oleksandr Klymenko