Ukraine’s Union Day, marked by our compatriots on January 22, is a special holiday. The struggle for the Ukrainian state and the spiritual unity of all ethnic Ukrainian lands is the politically and morally dominating idea of our history — from Volodymyr the Great, Grand Prince of Kyiv, and Danylo Romanovych, Prince of Volhynia and Galicia, to Bohdan Khmelnytsky, who strove to unite all ancient Ukrainian lands under the hetman’s rule, to our days.
On Jan. 22, 1990, the “union chain” of Ukrainians, who supported united Ukraine, stretched from Lviv to Kyiv, providing a powerful impetus in the struggle for our independence. That day tens of thousands of people participated in this historical event. They all remembered that the Union Act solemnly proclaimed on Jan. 22, 1919 was a life-giving national tradition and a call for specific practical actions.
In the 17 years of our independence we have become deeply convinced of the need for precisely this type of action: without it Ukrainians’ patriotism will be limited to flowery and empty phrases, while Ukraine’s union as a common polity resting on the foundation of common values and common future will be unachievable. In what follows Professor Mykola LYTVYN tells about the history of the struggle for united Ukraine.
Back in 1905 Ivan Franko addressed Galician youth with the words: “We have to learn to identify ourselves as Ukrainians—Ukrainians without official borders, rather than Galicians or Bukovyna Ukrainians. This feeling should not be an empty phrase for us — rather, it must entail practical consequences.” This appeal is relevant even today.
In January 1918, after several centuries of statelessness, the Ukrainian people restored our state—the Central Rada in Kyiv proclaimed its Forth Universal, establishing the independent Ukrainian National Republic (UNR). One year later, on Jan. 22, 1919, Kyiv’s St. Sophia Square heard the solemn proclamation of the UNR and ZUNR Union Act, which said: “From now on the parts of Ukraine that for centuries have been separated from each othe r— the Western Ukrainian National Republic (Galicia, Bukovyna, and Hungarian Rus’) and the Dnieper Great Ukraine — shall be one. The centuries-long dreams that Ukraine’s best sons lived by and died for have become a reality. From now on there shall be one independent Ukrainian National Republic.” As we can see, the union would not have been possible without independence, while independence would have also been incomplete without the union.
I was fortunate to find his historical document—a typewritten text on a piece of cardboard bearing a wax seal—in January 1990 in the special files of what was then the Central State Archive of the October Revolution in Kyiv.
Luckily, it was quickly declassified and for 50 Soviet rubles, a third of a researcher’s salary at the time, I obtained a copy that found its way to crowded St. Sophia Square and the Lviv-Kyiv living chain. Along with thousands of families from Lviv, our family joined the chain of hope for a better future. Many of us still have the mementos of this unforgettable event: the blue-and-yellow flags and samvydav (samizdat) publications of the People’s Movement (Rukh), Prosvita, Memorial, the Society of the Lion that were printed in Lithuania, Poland, and Lviv.
Landmark events and dates of this kind always lead one to again assess the historical path of our people in order to borrow all valuable and everlasting things from the instructive experiences of the past. It was indeed a social phenomenon and a miracle that our people have preserved the unity of language and, despite foreign influences, have remained one. We have avoided the Yugoslavian scenario in which people who speak practically the same language identify themselves as different nations — Serbs, Croatians, Bosnians, and Montenegrins — because they have different religions. Fortunately, regardless of their religious affiliation, Ukrainians identify themselves as the sons and daughters of one nation.
It will be recalled that in the 19th century the idea of statehood and unity was argued for by such national revival activists as Taras Shevchenko, Mykola Kostomarov, Panteleimon Kulish, the Rutheniad Triad led by Markiian Shashkevych, Mykhailo Drahomanov, and Ivan Franko. An outstanding achievement of the political thought of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the clear justification of the strategy to restore the unity of Ukrainian lands. Yulian Bachynsky, a Galician, in his Ukraine irredenta (1895) and Mykola Mikhnovsky, a Kharkiv-based lawyer, in his Samostiina Ukraina (Independent Ukraine, published in 1990 in Lviv) linked the idea of the unity of ethnic Ukrainian lands with the task of achieving Ukraine’s state and political independence.
Before the First World War the statehood traditions of the Dnieper Cossacks were promoted in Galicia by members of such organizations as Sokil, Sich, and Plast. It is a known fact that on Sept. 3, 1914, on the train station square in Stryi, riflemen and officers of the USS legion swore allegiance not only to the Austro-Hungarian emperor but also to future independent Ukraine. They proved this by their heroic battle action against the tsar’s troops and their patriotic poems and prose. Until now many Galician families keep postcards showing beautiful Olena Stepaniv, the first Ukrainian woman officer and a cornet of the USS legion, who later married Roman Dashkevych, one of the founders of the UNR’s army and its chief gunner.
As far as the union itself and its lessons are concerned, I sometimes feel ashamed to hear in respectable scholarly circles that the 1919 union failed. This is not true: it was completed from a legal point of view, established itself in the people’s mentality, and was approved by Ukrainians living on both sides of the Zbruch. In particular, military garrisons in Stanyslaviv, Zolochiv, Ternopil, Kyiv, and Naddniprianka gave Galicians money to purchase fuel and metal and develop various societies. Assistance was provided to the families of the deceased Galician Army’s riflemen, orphans, and refugees who returned to their native land. Furthermore, 1,500 carloads of sugar, flour, and grain were provided.
In the spring of 1919 Galicians welcomed the tour of the Sadovsky Theater that came from the Dnieper regions of Ukraine. Volodymyr Vynnychenko and Symon Petliura were in the ZUNR’s temporary capital in February, while Mykhailo Hrushevsky was there in April. General Mykhailo Omelianovych-Pavlenko from the Dnieper area headed the Galician Army, bringing along a number of experienced commanders. At the same time, the Galician Army received 20 airplanes for its aircraft unit in Krasny and Stryi, as well as 80 cannons, 20,000 rifles, and 80 million cartridges.
Together with Galicians, Ukrainians from the Dnieper area defended the UNR against Poland’s, Romania’s, and Bolshevik Russia’s troops. Unfortunately, the union process of 1919–1920 failed to reach its completion stage. Paris and the Entente preferred nationally consolidated Warsaw. The Dnieper-area politicians sought rescue in Warsaw, while Galicians wanted to secure the support of White Guards’ and even Bolsheviks’ Russia. However, the national liberation struggle failed at that time.
Ukrainian lands were finally united in the mid-20th century, with the involvement of Stalin. He was thinking about the greatness of the Soviet empire, rather than Ukraine’s interests, of course. In 1939 the Ukrainian SSR was expanded to include Western Ukraine, in 1940, Northern Bukovyna and the Danube lands, and in 1945 — the Transcarpathian region. In 1944–45 the Polish-Ukrainian border was redrawn several times. Finally, in 1954 Ukraine received the Crimea. However, some of the ethnic Ukrainian lands were left outside the Ukrainian SSR. That is why we, Ukrainians, need to offer our best spiritual and cultural support to ethnic Ukrainians who now live in Poland, Belarus, Russia, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.
To conclude, let me cite a maxim from the Gospel: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.” Therefore, the idea of unity must become the saving dominant idea for overcoming artificial rifts and faction. Our strength is in the union of Western, Eastern, Southern, and Northern Ukraine.
Mykola Lytvyn, Professor of History, heads the Center for Research on Ukraine-Poland Relations at the Krypiakevych Institute of Ukrainian Studies.