Ukraine marks 25 years of independence and hopes Russia pays attention

The World
Servicemen march during Ukraine's Independence Day military parade in central Kiev, Ukraine, August 24, 2016.

Servicemen march during Ukraine's Independence Day military parade in central Kiev, Ukraine, August 24, 2016.

Valentyn Ogirenko

There were tanks, missile carriers and hundreds of uniformed troops out in Independence Square in Kiev on Wednesday as Ukraine marked a quarter century of independence from Russia.

Back in 1991, Ukraine's parliament adopted a declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. And like that, Ukraine was no longer under Soviet rule.

Ukrainians carried their national flag and some were dressed in traditional embroidered shirts. They cheered “glory to Ukraine” and “death to enemies!”

President Petro Poroshenko spoke defiantly.

“From this parade, our international partners will get the message that Ukraine is able to protect itself, but it needs further support,” he said, speaking to a large crowd.

Brian Whitmore, with Radio Free Europe, believes the parade was a show by Ukraine that its independence is irreversible.

"I think this is a message that they are willing to defend their independence,” he says.

Whitmore recalls when Russia and Ukraine went their separate ways. 

Whitmore was in Ukraine and Russia in the summer and fall of 1993. At that time, he explains, both countries were facing an almost identical political crisis: There was a nominally reformist president and both were facing a parliament that was anti-reformist.

“In Russia, the problem was solved with President Yeltsin shelling the parliament with artillery. In Ukraine the problem was solved in a very different way — with early elections for both the president and the parliament,” Whitmore says.

After the Ukrainian president lost re-election, he simply stepped down.

“That was the first time that happened in a former Soviet state,” says Whitmore.

Since then, he adds, Ukraine has gone on to embrace democratic values, whereas Russia has done the opposite.

Ukraine today is under constant threat from Russia. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and today a war in the eastern part of the country bubbles along, thanks partly to Russia.

Vladimir Putin famously told George W. Bush in 2008, "You have to understand, George. Ukraine is not even a country.” 

Whitmore says Russia will likely keep trying to undermine Ukraine's independence, but Ukrainians are very mindful of this.

"Ukrainian civil society is developed to the point where it's extremely strong and they will not accept giving up their independence," he says.