How did Ukrainians win in 1991?

16 June, 01:10 PM
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The 20th century is full of our mistakes, which resulted in the suffering and death of millions of Ukrainians. But in the end, we achieved our main victory – an independent Ukrainian state, which emerged in 1991.

The goal of the Ukrainian national movement, formulated by Mykola Mikhnovsky in 1900 was achieved. The slogan of Ukrainian nationalists: “You will gain the Ukrainian state, or die in the struggle for it” was implemented. And the first part of it happened thanks to the sacrifice of thousands, throughout the decades.

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But how did the Ukrainians manage to win in 1991? This is a difficult question, and the simple answer offered by Putin’s propaganda is wrong: that the Americans destroyed the USSR.

After all, while the Americans tried to preserve global “stability” and preserve the integrity of the USSR, we, Ukrainians, put an end to the existence of the communist empire. And we laid the foundations of this collapse at the beginning of the Union.

Ukrainians forced the Bolsheviks to change the format of the former empire, turning Russia into a federation – a union of conditionally independent national republics.

It was a compromise that the Bolsheviks were forced to make with the Ukrainian national movement, even though it inflicted a military defeat.

In the 1920s, this compromise seemed a low price to pay for retaining power in conquered Ukraine. In fact, the features of the state that Soviet Ukraine had were symbolic. Yes, there were borders, symbols, republican authorities, and even participation in international organizations such as the United Nations. But Ukraine did not have its main prize – sovereignty.

70 years later, the existence of this formal framework, chosen by the Army of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, played an important role in gaining independence.

Ukraine did not have to create new frameworks, but only change and fill the existing ones with real contenders. But in order to take advantage of this legacy, it was necessary to protect its very existence in previous decades.

And for this, Ukrainians took up arms.

The armed insurgent movement – in Central and Southern Ukraine in the 1920s and 1930s, and in the West in the 1940s and 1950s – was suppressed by the Bolsheviks, but they did not destroy all Ukrainians.

In the 1960s and 1980s, we were able to use non-violent methods to protect our language and culture, our national self, from destruction.

Also at the cost of great sacrifice, including the death of the genius Vasyl Stus.

The differences between the two stages of the Ukrainian liberation movement are not only that the first used weapons while the second used words.

Involvement was also different. The armed stage was massive, with thousands of people from different walks of life. The nonviolent was small (several hundred across the country), elitist and its participants – mostly intellectuals and cultural figures.

In the late 1980s, the third stage exploded – the mass National Movement.

It won by combining the strongest features of both stages – it was non-violent but massive.

It was the nonviolent methods of struggle that proved most successful against the weakened communist empire. Gone were the days when communists exterminated millions of dissenters without any regard. The command economy brought the USSR to the brink of collapse. The urgent need for resource assistance from the West forced the regime to declare democratization.

Attempts to stop opposition movements by force discredited the Kremlin and cost it dearly.

On the other hand, the nonviolent struggle enabled millions of people to join in without requiring special training or even special psychological training, as required by armed resistance.

It was the nonviolent nature of the Velvet Revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989-1990 that ensured their mass participation and mass support in the rest of the free world.

The Ukrainian national movement also developed into a large-scale nonviolent protest, and Ukraine fit into the broad European context of the struggle for freedom. We have become on par with the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Romanians, and Baltics. We laid an important foundation for our victory in 1991.

Another factor was that the Ukrainian national movement combined the demands of independence (nationalism) with the desire to build a democratic state.

The combination of nationalism and democracy proved to be the most effective and victorious. Attempts at similar combinations alongside socialism (the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-1921), communism (like Khvylovy and the national communists in the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s) or authoritarian ideas (in the 1930s in western Ukraine) proved unsuccessful. They did not ensure the realization of the main goal of nationalism – independence.

The Ukrainian national movement, becoming a national democracy, achieved this goal in 1991.

Our advantage was multidisciplinary. People with very different goals of various walks of life united around the lofty goal of independence. Environmental activists, who became noticeable after the Chornobyl accident, those who wanted to restore both the Ukrainian Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches, defenders of the Ukrainian language and culture, young informants, fans of rock music and informal art movements, and people who wanted economic freedom and even miners who demanded normal working conditions and decent pay.

Versatility led to the national movement being less vulnerable to repression – this was multi-leadership. There was not a single person that the KGB could eliminate and stop the further development of the movement.

Chornovil, Lukyanenko, the Horyn brothers, Iryna Kalinets, Ivan Hel, and hundreds of other outstanding personalities steered this versatile movement in a single direction toward independence.

Another factor that laid the foundation for victory depended not only on us, but we took full advantage of it. It was the general weakness of the Soviet empire at that time. And we took advantage of the power struggle in Moscow and declared independence.

But representatives of the national-democratic opposition didn’t stop at forcing the communists to support the Act of Independence on August 24. They launched an information campaign throughout Ukraine. This provided full support for independence in a referendum in every region of Ukraine. The results of this referendum was the impetus for the international recognition of independent Ukraine. Currently, these results are the basis for an appeal to international law that Russia leave the territory seized after 2014.

Thus, the victory of 1991 was the ability of Ukrainians with very different goals to unite for a common lofty goal – independence, and the ability to place this goal in a broad international context.

Today, we also amaze the world with our ability to unite. Informal horizontal ties are the basis of a large-scale volunteer movement that has become as important a resource for our resilience as the army and Western aid. And this assistance itself is evidence that the West understands the importance of the current war not only for Ukraine but for the whole free world.

We are once again able to fit our struggle into the “Wind of Change.” So it is not for nothing that the legendary “Scorpions” sang their hit “Wind of Change”, in which we now hear the words: “Now listen to my heart, it says Ukrainian”.

So if we, like our predecessors, do not rest on our laurels, we will definitely will.  

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