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Ukraine celebrates Day of Ukrainian Statehood for the first time

In 2021, during Independence Day celebrations (August 24), President Volodymyr Zelenskyy proposed introducing a new state holiday: July 28, the day of the conversion of Kyivan Rus to Orthodox Christianity to be celebrated as the official Day of Ukrainian Statehood.

Ukraine’s first ‘Statehood Day’ is being celebrated on the 1034th anniversary of the day when the Kyivan Rus converted to Christianity.

A presidential decree establishing the new holiday was signed by the President on August 24, 2021. On May 31, 2022, Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council) separately adopted a new law establishing July 28 as the Day of Ukrainian Statehood.

The purpose behind the holiday is to assert the continuity of Ukrainian statehood, protect Ukraine’s national interests, preserve historical justice, and eliminate fake narratives put out by the Russian Federation with respect to historical aspects of Ukrainian state formation.

The Kremlin, including the Russian dictator Putin himself, have numerous times derided the idea of Ukraine being an independent state, going so far as to deny that Ukrainians are a separate nation from Russians, or even that the Ukrainian language is anything else other than a dialect of Russian. The Kremlin’s narrative is simply “Ukrainians are Russians that forgot they were Russians”.

In an address to the Ukrainian nation, President Zelenskyy said that:

“Our great Ukrainian family is united by the family of the state symbols of Ukraine. These are three siblings: the National Flag of Ukraine, the Coat of Arms, and the State Anthem. I think it is very important not only to mark the emergence of statehood but to unite for its preservation. We thought we had rule over our land. Now, we are laying down our souls and bodies for our freedom because we forgot that not all enemies had already disappeared like morning dew in the sun… But, we did not forget our nation. And so, destiny shall definitely smile upon us because it is our destiny.”

In a commentary to the video address, President Zelenskyy noted how the morning of the holiday had been restless due to Russia’s use of terror rocket strikes against civilian targets, yet he stressed that:

“We will not surrender. We will not give up. We cannot be intimidated. Ukraine is an independent, free, indivisible state. And it will always be like that.”

Statehood Day celebrated

The holiday was celebrated, among others, in the city of Lviv in western Ukraine. Although far removed from the frontlines, rocket attacks by Russian invaders have struck the city several times since the full-scale invasion started, targeting primarily infrastructure which is vital for securing the arrival of Western weapons as well as other kinds of aid to Ukraine.

But Lviv lies in the part of Ukraine which throughout most of its history was outside of Moscow’s grip: for centuries a part of the Kingdom of Poland, after Partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth a part of Austria-Hungary, and then a part of the reborn Second Polish Republic. Only in 1939 did the city become part of the Soviet Union, incorporated into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and it remained so until Ukraine finally gained its independence in 1991.

And in spite of the fact that the city and its surroundings have only become a part of a free and independent Ukraine only recently, it has for a long time been a place where Ukrainians could nurture their culture and language relatively freely. It should come as no surprise then, that the locals feel very strongly about the notion of an independent Ukraine.

As part of the celebrations of the Statehood Day, the people of Lviv paid their respect to soldiers fallen in defence of their country at a commemorative ceremony at the Lychakiv cemetery, the city’s most famous necropolis and place of internment of many famous people whose lives were associated with the city, Poles and Ukrainians alike. In modern days, Lychakiv has unarguably become recognised as one of Ukraine’s national necropoles.

Celebration of Ukraine’s Statehood Day at the Lychakiv cemetery in Lviv, western Ukraine. Photo: Reuters

“Today’s holiday should be celebrated, despite the fact that the current situation in Ukraine is rather sad,” said Oksana Viitek, who participated in the commemorations. “I think that this holiday helps to keep up Ukrainian identity and suits our country very well.”

“I’m more than convinced that this holiday will become part of our tradition,” said Orest Chemeris, a physician. “We value every single Ukrainian defender [Ukrainian soldier] who risks his life and does everything possible and impossible for our common victory. That’s why we need to stand united now, show solidarity and walk with confidence towards victory.”

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