Sunday, August 24, marked the 23rd anniversary of the Ukrainian independence. Ukraine gained sovereignty after the fall of the Soviet Union and established the current boundaries for the nation in 1991.
The Maidan—Kiev's Independence Square—was cleared out of rubbish from conflict, a parade marched through the streets, President Petro Poroshenko waved to the crowd, and the western side of the country celebrated the momentous event.
Yet during the commemoration ceremony, CNN reports President Poroshenko cautioned on the current war between pro-Western Ukrainians and pro-Russian separatists. "Events of the last months have become—though undeclared—real war."
Noting the need for more defense, the 48-year-old promised to increase the military budget as the east continued conflict action with the backing of Russia, who sent an unsanctioned envoy of 227 vehicles into the region.
Kiev officials consider the Russian act to be invasive and unwarranted. The president stated, "It is clear that in the foreseeable future there will always, unfortunately, be the threat of war."
Meanwhile, Russia claims the supplies were purely humanitarian and did not provide rebels with any military-style weaponry.
Leaving pro-separatist stronghold Luhansk Saturday evening, the Russian aid was seen as a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty by international powers. German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the Ukrainian president and in a joint press conference committed to looking for peace in the nation, even if that meant implementing more sanctions against Russia.
Poroshenko's promise of $3 billion to supply the country's troops with military aircraft, helicopters, and warships, may prove difficult since the country's fragile economy has created a weak currency. Plans are to place the spread the military cost between 2015 and 2017. However, other countries are stepping in to help where possible, like the United States' offering nonlethal supplies (night vision goggles and protective vests).
In addition, CNN observes "seven of the country's richest people have publicly donated to the military" and the public itself has contributed millions for national defense. Money is tight as salaries fall, but the western region is moving forward to tie the country to the European Union, where the benefits include a deep network of support. In fact, 18,000 troops are currently defending the eastern side from pro-Russian separatists and Russian troops along the border.
Poroshenko's committed to constitutional reforms, one of the reasons for the downfall of his predecessor Viktor Yanukovych, and finding a solution to appease and include the Russian-speaking population. Decentralizing power against the Russian speakers is a way to build the Ukraine from a fractured base.
Wreaths were laid and prayers said, as the parade marched through the capital city.
Poroshenko’s allowance of the parade is not lost on residents: Yanukovych had forbidden the celebration in 2009 as he led the country closer to a Russian reunification or dependence. And pro-separatists planning to provide actions against the parade were promptly arrested. In an uneasy time, the celebration is meant to heal the Ukrainian people and to revel in taking back of power from plaguing corruption.
While the Kiev parade marched on, pro-Russian rebels paraded around captured Ukrainian soldiers in their own display of independence. During the night before, shells pelted the strongholds: the city of Luhansk has been without power for 22 days and Donetsk faced 13 fires on Saturday and Sunday.
But the rebels are refusing to back down, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Donetsk’s Lenin Square was cleared of rubble as “trailers transporting burned-out armored personnel carriers, crushed tanks and other bits and pieces of destroyed military equipment arrived” to assert dominance.
Cranes and construction equipment moved the various hollowed out vehicles into a pattern meant to demonstrate military power and might against the pro-Westerners.
Captured military officers signified a taking of what’s considered Russian history.
Roman, a construction worker speaking to the L.A. Times declared, “If Poroshenko wanted a parade, he’ll get his parade here.” He also insisted that the conflict must find a resolution soon.
“I don’t see any chance for turning back now, we have to win this war. There’s no other way.”
Independence does not just celebrate the separation from the former Soviet Union, but from being forced to fit into a mold that one may not identify with.
The beginning of the conflict started when pro-Western Ukrainian citizens deposed former pro-Russian president Yanukovych. Yanukovych fled to Russia, where Putin openly welcomed the politician. The Russian president’s used Soviet propaganda to earn high approval ratings and help garner support for Yanukovych.
Creating support offers an invisible iron curtain, where Putin may use resources (land, monetary, civil nationalism) to gain back some of the disbanded and lost Soviet power.
Forbes’s Katya Soldak points out it's not American influence that's opened up the floodgate of Western ideology. The Ukraine was forced to create their own financial system, government, and national identity outside Soviet influence or interference. 1991 offered a chance for freedom, to claim sovereignty without fear of repercussion.
And Crimea's annexation in March started a bloody battle as Russia sidestepped most legal methods to reestablish old boundary lines and erasing a country’s self-determination. Western Ukrainians do not want to revert to Soviet propaganda, to lose a history that’s been fought for so diligently and with high costs. Now, Ukrainian history’s meant to be shared, not forgotten.
The current war for independence has left a deep toll on all Ukrainian people. U.N. estimations show over 2,000 people have been killed and 5,000 wounded since mid-April. Mortar fire’s said to be the main cause of death and injury, but it has also displaced over 300,000 people.
Once thriving Donetsk businesses are boarded up, prepared for the incoming battle, as formerly busy streets remain empty and barren of citizens. Now the people left are older, without options, or supportive of the pro-separatists. Museums, stadiums, and factories have all been hit and destroyed.
War is not kind, gentle, or discriminate to those who face the effects personally.
Roman’s wife, Olga, asks an important question for the embroiled politicians. “How can we ever be joined again with them, if they are now calling us terrorists and separatists?"
Poroshenko, Putin, and several EU representatives—including Merkel—will meet Tuesday, August 27, in Minsk, Belarus, in order to try and find a peaceful resolution to the fallout of the Soviet Union’s demise and reconstruction of a nation…twenty-three years later.