Ukraine: Fighting for its soul after 25 years of freedom
Our nation’s silver jubilee last week was “both spectacular and sad,” said the Kyiv Postin an editorial. The 25th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union was celebrated with a military parade in the capital, Kiev, an appropriate display in our third year of war with Russia. As our brave troops battle Russian invaders and Moscow-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region, it is right that we show these heroes “respect and support.” But how depressing it was to see Ukraine’s soldiers march past stands full of corrupt politicians, our sorry excuses for leaders. Those in high office have sabotaged reform and enriched themselves. What a contrast between the soldiers, “who put the nation’s interests above their own,” and the leaders, “who put their own interests above everything.” Which group will ultimately prove ascendant and define the next 25 years of our history?
One thing is clear: Ukraine’s sovereignty “is historically irreversible,” said Larissa Voloshin in Den. Since 1991, we have “defined our own fate,” separate from that of Russia. Even our national days show the difference. Russia Day is celebrated every June 12, the date when, in 1990, a crumbling USSR recognized its constituent states as having autonomy within it. But Ukraine was not satisfied with that declaration—under which Kiev would remain subservient to Moscow—and declared independence on Aug. 24 the following year, casting off “centuries of Russian occupation.”
Yet we still have not yet shed our “slave mentality,” said Stefan Kurpil in Vysoky Zamok. The name “Ukraine” is derived from the Slavic word for “borderland,” and it will take years to rid ourselves of the feeling that we are the outer borough of a neighboring imperial power. We must stop thinking of ourselves as Russia’s “brothers.” President Vladimir Putin has shown how his “brotherly people could take up weapons and grab our territory.” Yet during the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, we saw Ukrainian athletes fraternizing with their Russian rivals, laughing and joking with them and celebrating their victories. “Obviously, many centuries of enslavement left deep traces in the minds of the Ukrainian people,” and 25 years may not be long enough to heal the wounds.
Look to the young, said Katerina Hladka in Ukrainska Pravda. I was born in 1991, and my generation has known only freedom and the struggle to defend it. When we were children, we watched our parents rally in the Orange Revolution of 2004, casting off the oligarchic regime. When we came of age, we rallied for democracy in Kiev in 2013. We speak Ukrainian, not Russian. We “refuse to pay bribes.” And we won’t let this country go backward. We are now a war generation, said Dmitry Nataluha, also in Ukrainska Pravda. Many of us may wish we were in college, studying art or engineering, but instead we are learning “military strategy or first aid.” We are “ensuring peace for future generations,” so our children will live as free Ukrainians.