The struggle for Ukrainian independence — a battle for several centuries

The struggle for Ukrainian independence — a battle for several centuries

Not all citizens of Ukraine have always valued independence. According to the Razumkov Center, in 2003, only 46% of Ukrainians would support the Independence Act. Although this figure increased after the Revolution of Dignity, in the following years the trend was not linear. Support for independence ranged between 65 and 70% of the population.

Obviously, since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the attitude towards independence has changed. Russia has demonstrated that independence exists as long as it is defended. 

 At the moment, Ukrainians have reached, perhaps, the highest level of defense capability, unity and international recognition for all the time of nation-building. Throughout this process, we have had to create and defend what has been created under more unequal conditions than at present. SVIDOMI collaborating with the multimedia online platform about Ukraine's past and present, Local History recalls what it was like. 

Prepared by Candidate of Historical Sciences, researcher of the "Local History" project Pavlo Artymyshyn, journalists Oleksandr Ihnatenko and Anastasia Kondrat.

The Appearance of Ivan Kotliarevsky's "Eneida"

Print literature is the main engine of nation-building, one of the most influential theorists of nationalism, Benedict Anderson, believed. 

During the 16th-18th centuries, printed texts written in the Church Slavonic and Old Ukrainian literary languages appeared on the pages of panegyrics, poetic works, hagiographic, preaching and polemical literature, including those published by Orthodox brotherhoods.

Ivan Kotliarevskyi was the founder of the new Ukrainian literature, which was based on the folk language. In 1798, the first three parts of his satirical poem " Eneida" were published. Kotliarevskyi did what was difficult to imagine at that time – he used the Ukrainian language in a literary work. This made it accessible not only to the educated aristocracy. 

It has gained popularity among people of different backgrounds – from a "literate peasant to a rich gentleman", the Russian writer Vadym Pasek recalled. In other words, "Eneida" had a nation-building effect, because it culturally brought the speakers of one language closer.  

Kotliarevskyi worked on "Eneida" while the Russian army was suppressing the Polish uprising of 1794. He could not know how the tsarist government would perceive the appearance of a printed work in Ukrainian. However, he risked and caused unexpected consequences: over the next four decades, Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko founded the trend of fiction and the genre of social comedy in classical Ukrainian literature; Petro Hulak-Artemovskyi founded the genre of fable and romantic ballad, and at the end of the 1830s, there lit up the star of Taras Shevchenko, who was destined to become the founder of new Ukrainian literature and the "awakener" of the Ukrainian nation. 

Eventually, Ukrainianness grew from a literary level in the Naddniprianshchyna (the historic region in the central part of Ukraine, in the Dnipro valley) to a public level - in 1846, a secret Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius emerged in Kyiv, which in fact became the first political entity on these territories. And although in the spring of 1847 its participants were arrested and, according to the findings of the investigation, imprisoned and exiled, the very fact of their existence inspired the deployment in the 1850s of the Ukrainian national civic movement, which, despite constant repression and bans by the Russian authorities, remained an influential phenomenon, which formed the basis for the emergence of the first Ukrainian political parties in Naddniprianska Ukraine. 

Battle of Mount Makivka 

In the nineteenth century, the Ukrainian socio-political movement also developed in the part of Ukraine controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There were not only political parties, but also a number of organizations that taught military skills. Their members joined the Legion of Ukrainian Sich Riflemen - the first Ukrainian military unit of the 20th century, which was formed at the beginning of the First World War. 

During the autumn of 1914, the army of the Russian Empire managed to capture part of the west of Ukraine and halt in front of mountain passes of the Carpathians. According to the plan of the Russian General Staff, in the spring of 1915, the Russians had to pass through the mountains and quickly advance deep into Austria-Hungary along the Hungarian Plain. 

Sich Riflemen together with other units defended two of the three peaks of Makivka mountain. The Russians had to seize it in order to further bypass the Austro-Hungarian unit and circle it.

Although the Russian Empire's army was able to capture Makivka from the third attempt, Ukrainian Sich Riflemen resisted, exhausting the existing Russian forces, which made it impossible to continue the offensive any further. 

Liberation of Kyiv from the Bolsheviks in 1920

In the course of the Polish-Soviet and Soviet-Ukrainian war in April-May 1920, the Ukrainian People's Army and the Polish Army conducted a joint offensive operation to liberate Kyiv, which was occupied by the Bolsheviks in 1918. 

At the end of April, joint Polish-Ukrainian troops launched an attack against Red Army positions. They took up defense along the Chornobyl-Koziatyn-Vinnytsia border line with Romania. In Vinnytsia, Marshal of the Polish Army Józef Piłsudski made a speech in which he stressed the importance of the right of Ukrainians to independence.

On May 8, the cavalry units of the Polish army entered Kyiv, and on May 9, a joint parade was held in Khreshchatyk. After the liberation of Kyiv, the front line moved to the territory of Belarus. However, in mid-May the Bolsheviks occupied Kyiv again. 

Cooperation between Ukraine and Poland was not flawless. Under the Warsaw Treaty, Poland recognized the independence of Ukraine in exchange for control over parts of the Ukrainian western regions. However, the agreement showed that Ukraine can act at the international level on par with other countries.

Prison-Camp Uprising of 1953-1954 

From 1929 until the death of Stalin, mass repression continued almost uninterrupted. Their goal was not to destroy particular people, but to create a homogeneous community of Soviet citizens who would not question any policy.

During the late Stalinism, there were about two million people in the prison-camps, but the efficiency of their work was extremely low. There emerged conspiratorial groups of Ukrainian and Baltic activists. There was a struggle for resources between the criminal clans. It became increasingly difficult to manage the camps, but no one dared to reform the system during Stalin's lifetime. 

After Stalin's death, the head of the Soviet security forces, Laurentius Beria, initiated a large-scale amnesty, under which about a million people convicted of non-political crimes were released from the camps. 

The fate of political prisoners was hardly affected by the amnesty. Because of this, rebellions broke out in the Norilsk and Vorkuta camps. For the most part, they were headed by the Ukrainians and Balts. Prisoners refused to work and demanded that the party leadership come and see their conditions of detention.

The Norilsk and Vorkuta revolts were brutally suppressed. The following year, a similar mass uprising was held in the Steppe Prison-Camp in Kazakhstan. The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs used five tanks to quell the uprising. 

The rebels have proven that mass repression is not effective in the long run. In the end, the Communist Party abandoned them. Even under Soviet rule, Ukrainians could influence politics.

Liberation of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk  

In May 2014, the illegal armed group "Luhansk People’s Republic" seized the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk agglomeration. The enemy predicted that both cities would become key in the defense system of the pseudo-republic. But they didn't dream for long - in July, the Armed Forces of Ukraine together with the National Guard and volunteer formations launched a counterattack, during which Severodonetsk and Lysychansk were liberated. As a result, it made it possible to restore control over several areas of the Luhansk region, as a result of which the Russian troops, who hit the territory of Ukraine in August 2014, failed to break into the depths of the country in this direction.

After the Thirty-first Anniversary 

Further peaceful development of the Luhansk region was hindered again by Russians. On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation launched a full-scale aggression against Ukraine. The Armed Forces have repeatedly liberated cities of the Luhansk region. At the end of May 2022, almost the entire territory of the Luhansk region was occupied by the Russian military. Severodonetsk and Lysychansk remained free, but in June the Russians occupied them as well. 

This time, the Russian Federation uses significantly more human resources and weapons than in 2014. However, over the past 8 years, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have also improved, and the independence of Ukraine and its territorial integrity, which until 2014 were perceived as a certain data and abstract concepts, have turned into a national value. This gives confidence that the strength of the Ukrainian military with the consolidation of society will contribute to the liberation of not only the Luhansk region, but all the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia in the nearest future.