Ukraine celebrated a new state holiday – the Day of Ukrainian Statehood – for the first time on July 28.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the new holiday a year ago, on Aug. 24, 2021 – on the day Ukrainians celebrated the 30th anniversary of Ukraine's independence.
During a live broadcast of his speech on that day on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kyiv, Zelenskyy signed a decree instituting the new holiday.
This document replaced an old state holiday that was previously celebrated on July 28 – the Day of Baptism of Kyivan Rus – Ukraine. Previously, Ukraine honored on this day one of its first state-builders, Volodymyr the Great, Prince of Kyiv.
The presidential decree states that the history of Ukrainian statehood goes back to “the founding of the city of Kyiv and the flourishing of the state during the time of Prince Volodymyr the Great of Kyiv.” It was he who, having accepted Christianity in 988, “made a civilizational choice for the Kyivan Rus.”
Ukraine considers the following states to be the heirs of the Kyivan Rus state of those times:
- Galicia-Volyn principality,
- Ukrainian Cossack state,
- Ukrainian People's Republic,
- Western Ukrainian People's Republic,
- Ukrainian State,
- Carpathian Ukraine
- modern independent Ukraine.
The decree also states that Ukraine celebrates the Day of Ukrainian Statehood in accordance with the Act of Proclamation of Independence of Aug. 24, 1991, which was approved by a national vote on Dec. 1, 1991.
On this day, Ukrainian society also commemorates the lives and works of Taras Shevchenko, Mykola Kostomarov, Volodymyr Antonovych, Mykhailo Drahomanov, Ivan Franko, Lesya Ukrainka, Mykhailo Hrushevsky, as well as other “outstanding representatives of the national elite and fighters for the statehood and independence of Ukraine.”
“We are the young descendent of the glorious dynasty of Kyivan Rus – Ukraine,” said Zelenskyy in his speech on the Maidan on the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence.
“(We are a people) from the founders. A baptized people. A brave people. A wise people. A Cossack people. We are not orphans that cannot be found; we are the descendants of a powerful country that was the center of Europe.
Orthodoxy began here, the Old Slavic language began here – the successor of which is the modern Ukrainian language. This is where our statehood began. We will celebrate the birth of our statehood on the day of the flowering of our statehood – on the day of the Baptism of the Kyivan Rus – Ukraine."
On that same day, the president made a separate speech in the Verkhovna Rada, asking the people's deputies to make the Day of Ukrainian Statehood a non-working day. For this purpose, a special draft law (No. 5864) was submitted to the parliament
The parliament adopted it on May 31, 2022. The new law provides for amendments to Art. 73 of the Labor Code of Ukraine. It was supplemented with a new paragraph on the establishment as a holiday of July 28, the Day of Ukrainian Statehood, and the law entered into force on June 9, 2022.
So do Ukrainians have the day off?
Unfortunately, no. Currently, Ukraine is under martial law, during which Article 73 of the Labor Code regarding the determination of holidays and non-working days is suspended.
Therefore, until the end of martial law, all public holidays in Ukraine are considered working days – even the Day of Ukrainian Statehood.
Ukrainian statehood day during the war with Russia: Why it is important?
A few days before Ukraine's first celebration of the Day of Ukrainian Statehood, President Zelenskyy spoke of why this holiday is especially symbolic in the sixth month of a full-scale war with Russia, and after eight years of war with the aggressor state in the Donbas.
According to the president, this day proves that “Ukrainians cannot be broken” and will strengthen the bonds between the modern generation of Ukrainians and the many previous ones.
“Now in many feats of our soldiers, in the wisdom of our people in battles, even simply in the conversations of ordinary Ukrainians about what is happening, we can see, we can hear and understand examples of the same characters, but from hundreds of years ago,” Zelenskyy said.
“We can see examples of the same bravery, the same attitude to life, and, most importantly, the attitude towards Ukraine and the enemy,” he added.
“Only those who absolutely do not know the truth of history and absolutely do not feel its meaning could decide to attack us. After all that our nation has gone through, after all that we have learned over the centuries, Ukrainians will never give up their independence. And they will not break from the inside, as has happened more than once. Not this time!”
Zelenskyy said the most important national task for Ukraine was to “preserve unity and work together for victory.”
“We will be able to do what previous generations could not do before,” he said. “This applies to our defense in this war for independence, and our movement to a united Europe, to full membership of the European Union, and our ability to become one of the most modern states in the world. There is no one now who can doubt this. There are only those who argue about how to achieve this.”
Russia's reaction to first Day of Ukrainian Statehood
Last year, shortly after the announcement of the new holiday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quick to call Zelenskyy’s initiative a “curiosity,” while also claiming that the statement that Ukrainian statehood was born at the same time as the baptism of the Kyivan Rus was “incorrect.”
"They have privatized the Baptism of Russia Day,” said Lavrov said a year ago. “Maybe soon Mr. Zelenskyy will decide that the New Year can be celebrated only in Ukraine, because the rest (of the world) is not Ukrainian.”
Lavrov’s counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba issued a sharp retort, noting that Kyiv's answer to Lavrov was simple: Ukraine, unlike the Russian Federation, “does not need to privatize anything, because we have been on our land for 1,000 years, so we will remain on it.”
“It is you who come to someone else's land, trying to appropriate it, it is you who try to appropriate someone else's history, someone else's food, someone else's culture,” said Kuleba.
“Ukraine was, is, and will be – and the decree of the President of Ukraine simply recorded this fact.”
Kuleba also said that “Moscow, as a historical periphery, (has been trying for hundreds of years) to be described as the center.”
“But the fact remains: there are not two Kyivs,” Kuleba said.
“There is only one Kyiv, and it is the Ukrainian Kyiv, the capital of the Ukrainian state, which was from the very beginning the capital of Ancient Russia. This is our history, our past, our present, and our future.”