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15th Anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

109th Congress, Second Session

Mr. Speaker, August 24th marked the fifteenth anniversary of Ukraine’s rebirth as an independent state, finally being freed from the shackles of Soviet misrule that included a reign of terror, cultural suppression and a genocidal famine.

The last fifteen years have witnessed peaks and valleys as the Ukrainian people have struggled to overcome the legacy of communism and Moscow’s imperialism. While the process of Ukraine’s restoration is still a work in progress, great strides have been made to consolidate that nation as an independent, free and democratic state. The December 1,1991 referendum on independence, the 1996 Constitution and especially the 2004 Orange Revolution stand as highlights, demonstrating Ukrainian resolve for independence, rule of law, democracy and freedom, and the continuing promise of a better life.

In contrast to the first 13 years of independence, Ukraine is now “free”, and not merely “partly free.” The March 26 parliamentary election was one of the freest and fairest ever held among post-Soviet states. The Ukrainian economy is on the road to recovery and development after the initial post-Soviet decline of the 1990s. Ukraine is a responsible neighbor and has shown its mettle as a partner for peace and security in the world.

Of course, challenges remain despite the real progress that has been made. There have been missed opportunities. Many of the promises of the Orange Revolution are only partially fulfilled. The rule of law, including a truly independent judiciary, remains to be consolidated. Corruption, although not as egregious as before the Orange Revolution, still rears its ugly head. Many Ukrainians believe all too many among the political elites look first toward their personal interests rather than to the good of the people and of the nation they are supposed to serve. As the last months have demonstrated, political stability can be elusive, and it remains to be seen what direction the new government will take. Nevertheless, Ukraine continues to show tremendous potential, and I am firmly convinced that this still relatively young 15-year-old independent state will fulfill its potential.

Mr. Speaker, in looking over the last fifteen years, we must not forget the sacrifices of millions who fought for Ukraine’s liberty over the course of the last century, often against great odds and at great personal risk. Whether in the struggle for Ukraine’s short-lived independence in 1918–21, or the insurgent armies that fought against both Nazi and Soviet rule during and after World War II, many Ukrainians made the ultimate sacrifice.

More recently, in the final decades of Soviet domination, Ukrainian Helsinki Monitors and other human rights activists challenged the system, calling upon the Kremlin to live up to commitments voluntarily undertaken when Leonid Brezhnev signed the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. One such renowned activist, Ukrainian Helsinki Monitor Nadia Svitlychna, who served three years in a Soviet labor camp for her tireless defense of human rights and freedom, died last month. We honor the memory of Mrs. Svitlychna, recalling that it was courageous and dedicated individuals like her who, as much as anyone, paved the way for an independent, democratic Ukraine.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud of the role that the Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, has played throughout its 30-year existence in firmly supporting human rights and freedom for Ukraine. I am pleased that the Congress has stood firm in support of Ukraine and am confident that the United States will continue to extend the hand of friendship as Ukraine moves toward its rightful place as a fully integrated member of the Euro-Atlantic community of nations.

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