KYIV – With Russian forces controlling 20% of his country’s territory, tens of thousands of his citizens are killed and scores of cities and towns are reduced to ashes.
“All the stages of the history of the formation of the state of Ukraine, the process of defending and fighting for it can be described in one sentence: We have existed, are and will be!”
This was the speech marking the first anniversary of a new national holiday, National Day, created last summer when the threat of war and a Russia was in dire straits.
The date chosen by the Ukrainians coincides with the day Kyivan Rus, the first Slavic state, was baptized 1034 years ago by Grand Prince Volodymyr of Kyiv – a figure claimed by both Russia and Ukraine to be central to the country’s national identity. surname. .
Ukraine celebrated Independence Day, on August 24, to mark the country’s secession from the Soviet Union in 1991. But officials said the government felt it was necessary to create a new holiday in the summer. last year after Russia illegally annexed Crimea, sparking an uprising in the east and threatening further aggression.
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In contrast to Independence Day, National Day aims to address a more existential question by spanning a millennium to demonstrate that Ukraine has its own history and culture independent of Russia.
Questions about history – and how to interpret that history – may have been the subject of nuanced discussion in university lecture halls. But they were weaponized in the run-up to the war in Ukraine as President Vladimir V. Putin sought to justify his gratuitous invasion of a neighbor with a shared historical and cultural ties. profoundly.
Just three days before launching the first missile at targets across Ukraine on February 24, Putin claimed Ukraine was an invention of the Bolshevik revolutionary leader, Vladimir Lenin. He argued that the very idea of Ukraine’s statehood was a fiction and that it was wrong to give Ukraine a sense of statehood by allowing it to be autonomous within the newly formed Soviet state. .
“Modern Ukraine was completely created by Russia, more specifically Bolshevik, a communist Russia,” Putin said. “This process practically began immediately after the revolution of 1917, and more than that, Lenin and his associates did it in the worst way in terms of relations with Russia – by dividing, tearing to pieces its own historic territory.”
The creation of Ukraine’s Independence Day holiday is a response to Putin’s longstanding historical revisionism, which has been criticized by many historians as a very serious historical misread.
On Thursday, Mr. Zelensky tried to emphasize what Mr. Putin had attacked: Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence. “We will survive, because our state has incredible sons and daughters who stood up for it,” he said.
“Every day we fight to let everyone on the planet understand: We are not a colony, we are not a land, we are not a protectorate,” Mr. Zelensky said. “Not gubernia, a witness or a crown land, not part of foreign empires, not a ‘part of the land,’ not a union republic. Not an autonomous regime, not a province, but a free, independent, sovereign, indivisible and independent nation.”
When the new holiday was enshrined in the law, July 28 was considered a bank holiday. But Ukrainians will have to wait for peacetime to take a day off from work. Under martial law, which was recently extended until August 23, nearly all of the work is deemed necessary.
Befitting a country at war, the holiday is marked only by modest celebrations, placing flowers on monuments, raising the Ukrainian flag and exchanging words of support and encouragement between friends. and neighbours.
“We don’t need fireworks and fanfare to show how important our state is to the Ukrainian people,” Zelensky said. “Today we defend it with weapons in hand.”