CELEBRATIONS AND COMMEMORATIONS OF UKRAINE'S INDEPENDENCE
Torontonians greet former President Leonid Kravchuk
by Nestor Gula
TORONTO - Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk was the keynote speaker as the Ukrainian community celebrated the sixth anniversary of the independence of Ukraine at the St. Volodymyr Cultural Center in Oakville, Ontario, about 30 miles from Toronto.
Under sunny skies over 3,000 people gathered to attend an ecumenical service and to see a concert that featured an address by Ukraine's first democratically elected president.
Mr. Kravchuk said he was happy to celebrate the sixth anniversary of Ukraine's independence in Canada because of all the help this community has given Ukraine. He said that while Ukraine is currently experiencing deep fiscal, social and political difficulties, "I'm convinced that these problems will be erased from our memories as time advances and all that will remembered is the great step forward the Ukrainian nation took on August 24, 1991."
The former president then recounted the events that led to the declaration of Ukrainian independence on that day. He said the key was the July 16, 1990, declaration of Ukrainian sovereignty by Parliament, "of which 90 percent of the members were communists." Mr. Kravchuk added that most of the deputies assumed that sovereignty meant sovereignty within the USSR, and said it was amazing that within a year so much had changed that Ukraine was able to achieve its independence.
Mr. Kravchuk also stressed the importance of the referendum held on December 1, 1991. "Many people were not convinced that the people in Ukraine would vote 'yes' to Ukrainian independence. I knew that Ukraine could only guarantee its independence through a 'yes' vote in a referendum. An act of parliament can always be canceled by another act, but a referendum decision can only be changed by another referendum."
The former president also made references to former American President George Bush's "Chicken Kyiv" speech in Kyiv, in which he warned the Ukrainian government about the perils of "suicidal nationalism."
Mr. Kravchuk said December 1, 1991, was the happiest day of his life, not because he was elected president, but because both he and then-president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, were wrong in predicting the outcome of the referendum.
"Mikhail said we would not even get 50 per-cent, while I said the yes side would poll about 75 percent. In the night of December 1, I phoned him and told him we were both wrong. The result was over 90 percent supporting independence," said Mr. Kravchuk. He noted that there was no area, town or village in Ukraine, even in Crimea, where the vote for independence was below 50 percent.
Mr. Kravchuk said that after achieving independence Ukraine quickly started the process of establishing new democratic and economic institutions and methods. "We are trying to achieve, in the course of a few short years, what other nations and states achieved over the course of decades of development." He concluded that although there are great difficulties facing Ukraine, all these problems will be summarily dealt with, and Ukraine will never waver from the path of complete independence.
After Mr. Kravchuk's speech, Ukraine's Consul General in Toronto Serhiy Borovyk bestowed the President's Medal on Toronto pysanka artist Odarka Onyschuk. Mr. Borovyk said, "while we in Ukraine were unable to keep our culture alive, people like Mrs. Onyschuk kept the tradition of pysanka making alive and popularized it throughout the world."
The diplomat noted that even the world famous tenor Luciano Pavarotti has several of Mrs. Onyschuk's pysanky in his collection, "and he knows a thing or two about art."
A concert followed the speeches, featuring the Baturyn marching band, soloists from the dance ensemble of Pavlo Virsky, the Prolisok youth choir, the Desna dance ensemble, the Troisty Muzyky, the Prometheus Men's choir and the Dibrova women's choir.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, August 31, 1997, No. 35, Vol. LXV
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