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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jan. 22 - a day of celebration or sorrow for Ukrainians?

Will Zuzak of Edmonton wrote in the Edmonton Journal on Jan. 22:

Ever since I was a child, our family always celebrated Jan. 22, 1918, as Ukrainian Independence Day. That was the day the Ukrainian government, under Simon Petliura, declared independence from the collapsing Tsarist Russian Empire.

Unfortunately, Ukraine was soon conquered by the Bolshevik Red Army and incorporated into the Soviet Union, and Petliura was assassinated in 1926.

It was not until 1991 that Ukraine regained its independence - hopefully, for good.

However, from secret documents declassified in Ukraine recently, we learn that ... on Jan. 22, 1933, Josef Stalin issued his infamous decree to seal the borders of Ukraine to prevent starving peasants from entering Belarus or Russia in search of food - thus ensuring the deaths by starvation of some 10 million people. ...

One wonders if Stalin and his entourage took particular satisfaction in destroying the Ukrainian nation exactly 15 years after its initial declaration of independence? So in 2008, should Ukrainians celebrate or mourn today's anniversary?

A very good question. IMO, I would think Jan. 22 should be observed in the context of both, together.

Because, really, it's time to move on. As the author pointed out, in 1991 Ukraine achieved sovereignty and independence. Since then the country has, albeit in fits and starts (and certainly not without controversy), been taking its place on the world stage.

It makes a lot more sense to celebrate Ukrainian independence on August 24, the day in 1991 that the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian SSR approved “The Bill of Independence Announcement of Ukraine.” Or perhaps even December 1, when a referendum confirmed the bill and sealed the deal.

As for January 22, perhaps it would be wise to still observe it annually, but to shift the focus. Acknowledge both the historical political signifiance of this date and its sinister overtones ... with a firm resolve to never forget, nor allow future generations to forget or ignore, the historic implications of the world's complicity in the subsequent death of so many millions of Ukrainians.

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