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On the Way to the Independence

‘Perestroika’ brought modernisation to different spheres of life. The policy of ‘Glasnost’ (which meant openness in political and social issues) raised questions that had been secret or muted for decades. Chernobyl disaster started the discussion about ecological situation and pollution causing criticism about the Soviet industrial model. Publishing new documents on Ukrainian history became more common. Thus, the masses learned the truth about Holodomor of 1932-1933 and the great terror of the 1930s, the repression against Ukrainian intelligentsia and political activists. Soviet ideology and its myths started to dissolve. This led the society to seek changes.

In 1989 a new organisation was founded in Kiev. It was called ‘Narodnyi Rukh Ukrainy za Perebudovu’ (People’s Movement of Ukraine for Perestroika), or simply Rukh. In a few months it gained 300 000 members and the number was rapidly increasing. Rukh stood for the sovereignty of Ukraine, for the support of Ukrainian language and culture, raised concern about ecological issues, and stressed the democratisation of economic, political and social life.[74] Rukh became the first strong movement opposed to the communist regime.

On 15 May 1990 the newly elected Supreme Council of Ukraine started its work. Due to the policy of ‘perestroika’ and the liberalisation of political life the parliament consisted not only of the communists but also included for the very first time the representatives of the new democratic parties. The Democratic Block (which included Rukh, Ukrainian Helsinki Group and a few other organizations) received 90 seats in the parliament. Even though the communists still had an overwhelming majority this was a victory, as for the first time the opposition was represented in the highest legislative body. As a result of the Demoratic Block’s work, on 16 July 1990, the Supreme Council signed a historical document – “The Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine”. During the next year, ideas of Ukrainian independence spread among the population and a number of public pro-independence rallies were held by the opposition parties and organisations. The Soviet Union was on the edge of collapse.

On 19 August 1991 the conservative group of the Central Committee of the CPSU attempted to organise a coup d’état. Having isolated Mikhail Gorbachev in Crimea, a state of emergency in the country was announced and the State Committee of the Emergency created. It was supported by a part of the Central Committee of the Communist Party by the military commanders as well as the KGB. Their aim was to preserve the old regime.[75]

On 24 August, an extraordinary session of the Supreme Council of Ukraine was held. The opposition insisted on protecting Ukraine from possible violations to its sovereignty. Thus, on 24 August 1991, the Supreme Council of Ukraine announced the historical “Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine”. 346 members of the parliament voted for it.[76] Soon the decree “About the prohibition of the activity of the Communist Party of Ukraine” was issued by the Presidium of the Supreme Council of Ukraine.[77]

On 1 December 1991, a referendum on Ukrainian independence was held. The overwhelming majority of the voters (90.3 per cent) voted for Ukraine’s independence. Even in Crimea, 54.1 per cent voted for the independence.[78] On the same day the presidential elections took place and Leonid Kravchuk was elected as the first president of the newly independent Ukraine.

The 1990s became the time of big expectations and big disappointments. Quick shift from socialism to market economy caused high levels of inflation, unemployment and poverty. Ukrainians had to learn to stop relying on the help of the state. Under these circumstances a new social group of people emerged: these were the first Ukrainian businessmen of the 1990s, most of whom earned their income by trading goods from neighbouring Poland and Turkey. The widespread process of privatisation created another social group: the former directors of Soviet state firms and enterprises who managed to achieve the rights of ownership over property.

The political life changed as well. In 1994 there were 30 officially registered parties represented the wide political spectrum. The presidential elections of 1994 brought a new leader Leonid Kuchma to power. For the first time in Ukrainian history, the change in power happened democratically and peacefully. On 28 June 1994 the first Constitution of Ukraine was adopted according to which “Ukraine shall be a sovereign and independent, democratic, social, law-based state”.

Independence also brought changes to the foreign policy of Ukraine. Controlling 15 per cent of the nuclear weapons arsenal of the former USSR, Ukraine was the third nuclear power in the world after the USA and Russia. However, under the pressure of these two states, Ukraine was announced a nuclear-free nation. In January 1994 an agreement was reached between the USA, Russia and Ukraine which regulated the process of disarmament. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was adopted by the Ukrainian parliament in exchange for the security assurances from the USA and Russia. Geographical location of Ukraine and its historical experience determined its international policy in 1990s as so-called ‘multi-vector’: an attempt to balance between Russia in the east and Europe in the west. In December 1991 Ukraine together with Russia and Belarus became one the founders of the Commonwealth of Independent States: an international organisation aimed at regulating relations between the former Soviet states. In November 1995, Ukraine was accepted as a member state to the Council of Europe.

Orange-clad demonstrators gather in the Independence Square in Kiev on November 22, 2004Orange-clad demonstrators gather in the Independence Square in Kiev on November 22, 2004


[74] Ibid. 699.

[75] Н.М. Кіндрачук ‘Змагання НРУ за прийняття «Акта за незалежність України»’ in Народний Рух України: місце в історії та політиці: матеріали VIII Всеукраїнської наукової конференції, присвяченої 20-річчю Незалежності України (Одеса: Астропринт, 2011), 157.

[76] Зайцев, Історія, 433.

[77] Ibid. 435.

[78] Н.М. Кіндрачук ‘Участь Народного Руху України в проведенні Всеукраїнського референдуму 1 грудня 1991 р. на підтвердження «Акту про незалежність України»’ in Народний Рух України: місце в історії та політиці: матеріали VІІ Всеукр. конф., присвяченої 20-річчю НРУ, 28–29 травня 2009 р., м. Одеса (Одеса: Астропринт, 2009),  91.


  • About 15 million persons suffered from Communist repressions in Ukraine
  • On 30 December 1922, along with the Russian, Byelorussian, and Transcaucasian republics, the Ukrainian SSR was one of the founding members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)