As 2016 is a particularly significant year for Ukraine, marking the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of the country’s independence, The Ukrainian Weekly approached several community leaders in the United States, Canada and Australia, as well as the Ukrainian World Congress and asked them to share their thoughts on Ukraine.
Following are their responses.
Eugene Czolij, president of the Ukrainian World Congress:
Ukraine and the diaspora today are a global force that is stronger and better unified than ever.
The 20-million strong Ukrainian diaspora led by the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) joins the people of Ukraine in marking the 25th anniversary of the Independence of Ukraine as proclaimed on 24 August 1991 – a day that saw the fulfillment of the dreams of so many who had dedicated their lives to this goal and a day that offered hope and promise to future Ukrainian generations.
Over the course of 25 years we have watched the rebirth of a nation that not only removed the shackles of oppression, but shattered them into pieces, ensuring that they can never again be used to deny our people their freedom, their aspirations or fundamental human rights.
The UWC – with its member organizations and global network today spanning 50 countries – has stood with the people of Ukraine at every stage of this often tumultuous journey. There was no greater unifying moment for the Ukrainian diaspora than the proclamation of Ukrainian independence, which resulted in the fall of the Soviet Union. Ukrainians around the world immediately rose to the challenge with renewed energy calling for the international community to recognize the newly proclaimed independent state and forging ties with the people of Ukraine to help develop a democratic, independent, sovereign state in which the rule of law prevails and fundamental human rights and freedoms are respected.
Generations of young people were just beginning to discover their history, culture, language and the wealth of opportunity now waiting to be seized. There were challenges in developing public institutions and exercising democracy; learning to celebrate a multilingual, multinational society while respecting individuality; building a civil society and understanding the power of the people.
Today, after 25 years of independence, we are witnessing the blossoming of a nation. The largest country in Europe with 70 percent of its population living in urban areas, Ukraine has a 99.7 percent literacy rate and the fourth most educated population in the world. It boasts the No. 1 software engineering force in Central and Eastern Europe and Ukrainian e-commerce has grown five times over the last five years. Ukraine is a leader in agro-exports with 33 percent of the world’s black-earth soil and has a full-scale aerospace industry with 5,000 aerospace graduates every year. Moreover, civil society has responded to the needs of the people with 63 percent of Ukrainians in 2014 donating to the army, internally displaced persons and to other societal needs.
Despite the harsh realities of the events that have transpired in Ukraine since November 2013, including the Revolution of Dignity, the illegal occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and its ongoing armed invasion of eastern Ukrainian territories, the Ukrainian people are forging ahead with the democratization of their country, aspiring to become fully integrated in the European community.
In another effort to stall this drive, a well-financed Russian disinformation campaign is aimed at convincing Europe, and the entire international community, that Ukraine is a failed state.
The UWC, with the support of Ukrainians worldwide and in cooperation with the governing authorities and civil society of Ukraine, has worked determinedly to keep the international community – including national governments, the United Nations, European Union, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO and human rights monitoring organizations – engaged, informed and active in the defense of Ukraine’s freedom and territorial integrity.
The UWC has also determined that the dissemination of information to raise awareness of Ukraine, its people and the immense unharnessed potential is a top priority.
There has been no greater positive influence on the 20‑million-strong Ukrainian diaspora than 25 years of Ukrainian independence because today, together with the people of Ukraine, we are a global force that is stronger and better unified than ever previously in the country’s history in working toward the common goal of attaining, developing and strengthening a fully independent, sovereign and territorially integral Ukraine.
Once Ukraine succeeds in protecting its territorial integrity, in fully implementing needed reforms, in significantly reducing corruption and in overcoming its current economic crisis to become a flourishing European country, this will be the greatest modern-day success story.
On Independence Day we join in prayer to honor all those who, in modern history and throughout the centuries, have made the ultimate sacrifice for Ukraine’s independence. Let us keep in our thoughts the men and women who today continue to stand on the front lines against the Russian aggressor, and the countless families in eastern Ukraine and Crimea whose lives have been forever changed.
We can state with certainty on this Independence Day that our future direction is only forward. The Ukrainian people have understood their power, declared their choice determinedly and with their actions, have demonstrated a very high level of national maturity and solidarity, a dedication to the principles of democracy and the ideal of freedom, as well as a responsibility for their future.
On this August 24, 2016, may the blue-and-yellow flag of the independent state of Ukraine wave freely in every corner of the world reminding each and every one of us of our individual and joint responsibility to continue writing this remarkable story.
Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Our Heroes!
Tamara Olexy, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America:
August 24th marks 25 years since the people of Ukraine proclaimed an end to centuries of bondage, resolutely vowing to defend their democracy and laid the foundation for a truly independent and sovereign nation. Tragically, the people of Ukraine have spent the past two years defending their country against an outright Russian invasion and the destabilizing actions of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
Despite the many difficulties that Ukraine continues to face, our brethren have shown exceptional fortitude in the face of Russia’s continued hybrid war. Witnessing how Ukrainians have come together despite so many adversities has inspired the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) to continue our efforts with renewed vigor. After decades of disillusionment, Ukraine has proven to the world, through words, deeds and, most profoundly, the blood of its people, that it is deeply committed to democracy, European values and an independent future. The resilience of our Ukrainian brethren has bolstered our spirits and given us the strength to continue to do everything within our power to help restore independence and dignity in Ukraine.
The past two years have been very challenging for the UCCA and the entire community, for at no other time in Ukraine’s recent history has its existence as a sovereign nation been under such severe threat. But I am heartened by the immense feeling of patriotism that has permeated us as a global community, and extremely proud of the work that has been accomplished, especially the critical role our Ukrainian American community has played, and continues to play, in securing Ukraine’s democratic future.
Let us not forget that the road ahead is fraught with challenges. In the 25th year of renewed independence, our brethren in Ukraine continue to fight to protect their independence and territorial integrity, and we, as their voice before the U.S. government, must stand with them. Our assistance for Ukraine will require dedication, skill and commitment. The magnitude of the present crisis demands no less.
Therefore, I urge the Ukrainian American community to work together so that we can continue to rally to Ukraine’s defense by encouraging the United States to: maintain and strengthen targeted economic sanctions against Russia until it fully complies with its international obligations; provide Ukraine with the military assistance it needs; continue to supply Ukrainians, and especially our volunteer soldiers, with life-saving humanitarian aid; and, raise awareness about the ongoing war in Ukraine. Let’s make our collective voices heard! Our united efforts are needed now more than ever!
And on this historic 25th anniversary of Ukraine’s renewed independence, let us honor those who sacrificed their lives on the frontlines of democracy and pray for those who continue to risk their lives for freedom.
Stefan Kaczaraj, president of the Ukrainian National Association:
We greet our brothers and sisters on Ukrainian Independence Day!
For 25 years, the sunlight of freedom has shone upon Ukraine. For 25 years the Ukrainian people have benefited from the state independence re-established in 1991 – this after many decades of subjugation, and national, religious and linguistic-cultural persecution.
I probably would not be wrong if I spoke in the name of the Ukrainian National Association and all Ukrainians of America to note that this last quarter century, beginning on August 24, 1991, has passed by for us more quickly than for other ethnic groups in our country, more quickly than for other nations. That’s because all of us, beyond our daily jobs, our professional and familial responsibilities, lived with Ukraine – its concerns, its uneasy fate and its great obstacles on the road from formal to real independence. We follow all the news from our Ukrainian homeland, especially from those regions whence our families and ancestors came. And because the news changed so quickly, and oftentimes was unexpected and even shocking, time flowed for us so much more swiftly.
We here in the U.S. receive all the most important and the latest information, including negative information, from Ukraine, but we look at news about the latest developments from a somewhat different perspective. Yes, unfortunately, there still are negative developments. Among them is disturbing news connected with the normal growing pains of a country undergoing development and transformation, but there is also other, very worrisome information.
But consider this: Was such news from Ukraine something new for us? Our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents knew whence the perpetual evil was coming onto our land, affecting our suffering nation. For over three centuries, Muscovy pillaged Ukraine, poisoned our national blood, and destroyed the best and most promising sons and daughters of our nation, thus seriously damaging our gene pool. This horrible horde is unchanging, and we should have no illusions about it. Instead of seeking forgiveness from Ukraine for what it has wrought, Moscow continues to do what it always did: seize Ukraine’s territory, attempt to turn back history and enslave the people of Ukraine.
We see all this, and we understand who is who in this complex, unpredictable world. But we also clearly see what is most important: Ukraine, despite many grave challenges, both external and internal, has completed a 25-year journey of independent existence. In that time, a new generation has been born and has taken its place in society. That generation was born after Ukraine’s independence was re-established; thus, for that generation, freedom is as natural as breathing. Furthermore, these young people know the world beyond Ukraine and have learned from it valuable lessons and gained priceless experience that will help establish Ukraine in the circle of world democracies.
I say this with certainty: 25 years is a significant historical period, and our longtime enemy will not be able to attain its goal. Ukraine was, is and will be. Let’s us all celebrate together with her!