Sunday, October 14, 2018

When did Ukraine get Independence?

When, would most Ukrainians say they gained independence?  Most would give the date of August 24, 1991, the day when Ukraine became a separate country, independent of the Soviet Union.  This is the date that Ukrainian independence has been celebrated for 27 years.

However, when a Canadian friend asked a Ukrainian what date Ukraine really gained its independence, she stated that it occurred sometime in 2014, after Russian military intervention in the southeastern corner of Ukraine.  It was at that time that Ukraine felt the need to actually become independent.  Sadly, too often in history it takes a war or a conflict to develop one's own sense of destiny. This person said that it was only after the war began that the country started to feel and act in an independent manner.  It started to seriously build its own army, reach out to other European countries, and make significant legal changes. 

This weekend Ukraine will celebrate one of its 11 public holidays.  On October 14 Ukraine celebrates "Defender Day".  When Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union everyone celebrated "Defender of The Fatherland" Day.  Ukraine has now abandoned that holiday but has instead integrated it with a previous Cossack holiday held on October 14, "Day of the Ukrainian Cossacks".  That celebration by the way, started in the 12th century and now has been revived with the bringing together of the army and the Cossacks.  One of the ways we show independence is by bringing together something significant in our history and combining it with something current.

We were invited to a local school to see their youth, together with some adults celebrate "Defender Day".  The community youth band students performed and are still enjoying many of the instruments donated by Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Canada, as well as others which were purchased by the Mennonite Centre.  In the school gym, the sound carried effortlessly and the youth played very well.  A much-acclaimed group of young dancers came on stage and skillfully showcased their talents in their beautiful bright costumes.  There were also a few national songs sung by various talented and powerful voices that didn't really need much amplification.  Young soldiers and veterans received special awards and strong applause from all in attendance.  The dancing group returned and this time was accompanied by a number of male youth dressed in Cossack attire. The boys in particular displayed great agility in near-acrobatic dance maneuvers; all this combined with swift and intricate sword skills.  We thought it might be wise to have an ambulance nearby, but everything went well.  This dance number meaningfully portrayed both the present and the past. Young soldiers and veterans received special awards and strong applause from all in attendance.

Perhaps the most dramatic part of the program was when the dancers were joined by a number of male students who represented soldiers in their uniform costumes.  It is difficult to look at these young students dressed as soldiers, realizing that in a few short years they could be at the front. They were accompanied by a very talented young voice singing a nationalistic song.
This part of the program ended with a very thought-provoking depiction of a young soldier being carried off the stage; as one who had sacrificed his life for a new independent Ukraine.

But independence doesn't only come as a result of war.  It can also develop from a peaceful, open  society that people can be proud of.  A few days ago we were reminded of a very real change in the new Ukraine.  Our driver was stopped by a policeman who when approaching the car with a non-threatening voice, stated "I stopped you because you are required to have your daylight running lights on," and cited the applicable Article number of the legal code.  He was very professional and basically reminded our driver to turn on the running lights and have a good day.  There was no hint of  requesting money.

A mother reminded me this week that one of her two daughters lives in Crimea and requires a visa to get out of the country. She knows her travel options are limited. Her younger sister with her Ukrainian passport, has now gone to Germany on more than one occasion with her new biometric passport.  That also gives a sense of independence and much sought-after freedom.

And this week the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been recognized as a separate orthodox church no longer under the rule of the Moscow patriarch.  For many, this is a monumental milestone, reaffirming their new status in the Eastern Orthodox world. 

To our friends, cherish the freedoms that have been given to you.

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