On August 24th, Ukrainians around the world celebrate their country’s national holiday, Independence Day. After centuries under the control of regional powers, Ukraine finally declared sovereignty in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Each year, August 24 marks the adoption of its Declaration of Independence and commemorates the sacrifices made to achieve self-determination.
A Long Road to Autonomy
Ukraine has faced a winding journey to become an independent state. Its strategic location between Europe and Asia put it in the crosshairs of rival empires vying for regional dominance. Ukraine first unified as an identity under Kievan Rus’ from the 9th to 13th centuries, adopting Orthodox Christianity and the Slavic language.
But after the Mongol invasions shattered Kievan Rus’, Ukraine splintered among competing powers like the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Ottoman Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Russia gradually exerted control over eastern Ukraine, while western regions were heavily influenced by neighboring European states. Ukrainian language and culture were often suppressed under foreign rulers.
Brief independence after World War I with the Ukrainian People’s Republic was cut short by Soviet forces. Under Stalin in the USSR, Ukraine suffered immensely, including a devastating famine in 1932-33 killing millions. Nazi occupation during World War II brought even greater horrors before Soviet re-annexation.
But the winds of change swept Eastern Europe in the late 1980s during Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms and the decline of the USSR. Mass protests in Ukraine demanded liberty. The Parliament overwhelmingly adopted an Act of Declaration of Independence on August 24, 1991. After affirming independence in a national referendum that December, Ukraine was finally reborn as a sovereign country.
Celebrating the Modern Ukrainian Identity
Independence Day is the most important national holiday in Ukraine commemorating its hard-won autonomy. Cities are adorned with blue and yellow flags, wreaths are laid at memorials honoring national poets and heroes, and lively cultural programs unite the public. Common Independence Day traditions include:
- Massive concerts and festivals with traditional music, dancing, and modern pop performances.
- Parades showcasing Ukrainian creativity and heritage with vibrant folk costumes, bands, dancers, and embroidered banners.
- Public speeches, poetry readings, and reenactments honoring key figures in Ukraine’s path to sovereignty.
- Wreath-laying ceremonies at monuments commemorating the Declaration of Independence, as well as memorials to those lost in the country’s many conflicts.
- Fireworks, feasts, and family gatherings celebrating national pride. Many toast with vodka and partake in communal meals.
- Flag-raising ceremonies mark the blue and yellow banner being hoisted ceremonially to the sound of the national anthem.
Looking to a Hopeful Future
Independence Day holds special meaning in 2022 as Ukraine defends itself after Russia’s invasion in February. But even in times of conflict, August 24th represents the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian people. Independence Day honors the sacrifice of those who came before to secure liberty for future generations. As Ukrainians worldwide celebrate their heritage and hope on this day, they look forward to a peaceful, prosperous future united in freedom.