How Ukrainians created human chain in late USSR to mark anniversary of Ukraine’s unification: archival photographs

1990 Human Chain. 

Culture, History

Editor’s Note

30 years ago on 21 January 1990 hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians created an almost 700-kilometer-long human chain, the “Ukrainian Wave,” that stretched from Kyiv to Lviv. People stood in a row on the ever of the 71st anniversary of the Unification of Ukraine or Zluka. Back on 22 January 1919, the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR) that united the Ukrainian provinces of the Russian Empire and the West Ukrainian People’s Republic (ZUNR) that joined the Ukrainian lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire signed an Act of Unification (Akt Zluky).

The Ukrainian 1990 Human Chain action that took place still in the late USSR at the times of Gorbachev’s liberalization, was one of the most notable rallies of this kind in world history and the largest public demonstration in late-Soviet Ukraine. It became one of the important steps towards the restoration of Ukrainian statehood. People joined hands to demonstrate Ukraine’s unity on its path to independence.

Radio Svoboda has collected archive photos of the 1990 Human Chain.

The Human Chain action was organized by the People’s Movement of Ukraine (Rukh), the leading pro-Ukrainian organization and political party that advocated for Ukrainian independence. At that time, Ukrainian poet Ivan Drach headed the Rukh and former political prisoner Mykhailo Horyn was the chairman of the organization’s executive body. The preparations for the action began five months before the rally, in September 1989. Organizers from different provinces were meeting up every two weeks.

The beginning of the Chain was in Ivano-Frankivsk, a city in western Ukraine that was the capital of ZUNR in 1919, from the Central People’s House (the former residence of the ZUNR Parliament and the place of adoption of the Unity Act). Further on, the Chain went through the town of Stryi (here one branch went to Transcarpathia), then via Lviv, Ternopil, Rivne, Zhytomyr to Kyiv.

The Human Chain stretched for about 700 kilometers. According to official data of the Soviet regime, some 450,000 people took part in the action. Unofficial estimations range from 1 million and more.

The density of the Chain varied ranging from several rows in the center of Lviv to an interval of tens of meters in some rural areas of Kyiv and Zhytomyr oblasts. Anticipating this situation, the headquarters of the rally directed buses with activists from Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk to fill such gaps. The fundraising to make the Chain possible did not meet any problems due to the enthusiasm of the activists. For example, participants themselves provided fuel for transportation.

The Human Chain action was followed by rallies in Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Lviv, and Ivano-Frankivsk. This action was important for the further success of democratic political forces, first of all, Rukh’s, at the first competitive elections in the USSR that took place in March 1990. Democratic opposition won 25% of seats in the parliament of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. It was an important step for the subsequent adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine on 16 July 1990. The Declaration established the principles of Self-Determination of the Ukrainian Nation, Rule of the People, State Power, Citizenship of the Ukrainian SSR, Territorial Supremacy, Economic Independence. And it made it possible to finally declare state Independence of Ukraine on 24 August 1991.

Read more on the Act of Unity: 100 years ago, west and east Ukraine united in short-lived independence amid invasion from all sides

Human Chain in the capital of Ukraine. It extended up to Lviv and then to Ivano-Frankivsk. Kyiv, 21 January 1990. Source of this and all the photos below: Radio Svoboda


Human Chain in Kyiv.


Human Chain in the center of Kyiv near Taras Shevchenko National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater.


Kyiv. People joining hands to demonstrate Ukraine’s unity in the path to independence


Representatives of Donetsk and Kharkiv at the Human Chain in Kyiv. The sign reads, “Kharkiv and Donetsk are Ukrainian from time immemorial”


Delegation from Donetsk has come to Kyiv.


Delegation from Bukovyna (Chernivtsi Oblast) in Kyiv.


Human Chain in Lviv.


Rynok Square in Lviv.


Lviv residents standing in line on Lychakivska street along the tram tracks.


Human Chain in Lviv. The arrow points towards Kyiv.


Lviv. The road sign informs about the direction to Ternopil – this is the next regional center where was the Human Chain.


Human Chain in Rivne (photo provided by Zvenyslava Kalynets-Mamchur)


Rally at the Spartak Stadium in Zhytomyr on the day of the Human Chain. The banner reads, “22 January 1919 – the Act of Unification. 17 September 1939 [day of Soviet invasion in Poland – Ed.] – political gambling.”

Demonstration in the capital of Ukraine on the Sofia Square (at that time the Square of Bohdan Khmelnytskyi) after the Human Chain.


Kyiv rally.


Demonstration in Kyiv.


Sofia Square (at that time the Square of Bohdan Khmelnytskyi).


Representatives from Cherkasy were also at the Rally, as the banner shows.

Celebrating the Day of Unity today, people create many small human chains on the bridges over Dnipro. That symbolizes the unity of Ukraine’s east and west – two banks of the arterial Dnipro River.

People posing after the Human Chain action on the bridge over Dnipro in Kherson. 22 January 2020. Source: Twitter/9IBqFUhMKO3QB34

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