Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 21.01.2018
Independence and Reunion Day, celebrated on 22 January in Ukraine, is momentous because of four events that occurred on the 21st or 22nd of January over the past century. Their common theme is the unity of all Ukrainians, and the continuity of the independence of Ukraine.
On 21 January 2015, Ukrainian armed forces withdrew from the ruins of Donetsk International Airport, ending a battle with Russian armed forces that had lasted 240 days. Putin’s army invading Ukraine in Donbas poured limitless troops and weaponry into this battle, and the death toll on the part of the Russians was horrendous. Ukraine lost more than 200 servicemen killed in action defending Donetsk airport. The Ukrainian defenders became known as “cyborgs” and heroes to the Ukrainian public. Donetsk airport was allowed to fall into enemy hands because Ukrainian military command assessed the ruins as being no longer suitable for defence. Since the fall of Donetsk airport, Ukrainian armed forces have established an effective line of defence around the nearby villages of Pisky, Vodyane, Opytne, and the Butivka coal mine.
The Battle of Donetsk Airport was to Ukraine like the Battle of Thermopylae was to ancient Sparta. Courage against overwhelming odds and a a fierce patriotism, knowing they were fighting for their home and native land, characterized the Ukrainian defenders. The “cyborgs” embodied the unity of Ukraine, coming from every region including the temporarily Russian-occupied regions of Crimea and Donbas. The independence of Ukraine was being fought for, and still is against the foreign Muscovy invaders who would deny it.
On 21 January 1990, three million Ukrainians formed a human chain from Lviv to Kyiv. The date was chosen to commemorate the unification of the Ukrainian National Republic and the West Ukrainian National Republic in 1919. The event was organized by Rukh, the People’s Movement of Ukraine. For the first time since the Russian occupation of Ukraine began in 1920, the yellow and blue Ukrainian flag was flown without somebody being arrested. The overwhelming popularity of the human chain demonstration in 1990 gave impetus to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the (re-)declaration of independence of Ukraine which was to occur the following year. The resumption of independence in 1991 did not come about because of events in Moscow: it happened because of activism in Ukraine which demonstrated unity for the Ukrainian nation and against the Russian occupation.
On 22 January 1919, the Unification Act (Act Zluky) was signed between the Ukrainian National Republic and the West Ukrainian National Republic in the square in front of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv. The Act stated: “Dreams, which the best sons of Ukraine fought and died for over centuries, have come true.” Unity and independence of the Ukrainian people shone forth in this moment. But as almost always in Ukrainian history, foreign invaders were attacking. In 1919 it was the Russians and the Poles. By December 1920, united and independent Ukraine was suppressed.
On 22 January 1918, the Fourth Universal was signed by the Central Rada, the parliament of the Ukrainian National Republic, declaring full independence of Ukraine from Russia, condemning Bolshevik aggression and asserting Ukraine's right to conclude international treaties. This Universal stated: "From now, the Ukrainian National Republic becomes independent, not dependent on anyone, free sovereign state of Ukrainian people. We want to live in harmony and peace with all neighboring states — Russia, Poland, Austria, Romania, Turkey, etc; but none of them may interfere in the life of the Independent Ukrainian Republic."
Unity of a people and independence of the nation is not a gift. It is a result of constant struggle. From Galicia to Kuban and from the headwaters of the Dnipro to Crimea, the Ukrainian nation is a project. Ukraine in the modern era (since the Treaty of Pereyaslav in 1654) is a living artifact of fighting for self-determination and fighting against foreign occupation by Muscovy. The Fourth Universal of 1918, the Act Zluky of 1919, the human chain of 1990, and the end of the Battle of Donetsk Airport in 2015 are heroic moments that demonstrate the enduring unity of Ukrainians and independence of Ukraine.