Day 22: Lutsk – Independance

by Zack on August 26, 2010

Tuesday, July 24th is the 19th anniversary of the day The Ukraine became an independent nation. The country, a long the knot in the international tug-of-war between Russia/Soviet Union and Poland/Austro-Hungary/Germany had only been a free state one other time in history, in 1918, and only briefly at that.

So an American would naturally assume that the day is one of celebration of national unity and progress. And it is, to a degree. But nowhere near what I expected.

This is only another reflection of the complicated history and present in Ukraine. If you think about it, it’s not outlandish that a region dominated so long by foreign powers would have a tough time coming to grips with its own Independence and exactly what that means.

As one of the many people we met in the Volyn region put it, “we’ll never really be independent of Russia. We are still very, very dependent.”

And some of the people here like it that way, particularly in the East. Because another factor in Ukraine’s strange national composition is that what makes up present-day Ukraine was very rarely ruled by one power at one time. It was more often than not governed by two to four others in different regions.

Galicia and Volhynia in the west were either Poland or the Austrians or maybe both. The east to the Russians, other regions in what is now Romania and Czech/Slovak republics.

All of this confuses the issue of what it means to actually be “Ukrainian.” And this is reflected in large part in the attitudes of Ukrainians. They may view it as a holiday. As a chance to dress up in traditional garb and take a day off.  But the fanfare is nowhere near the magnitude of countries with longer traditions of independence.

Perhaps it’s because they fear that it’s unsustainable. That at any minute, this freedom may vanish. Or perhaps its because they don’t consider it freedom at all.

One person I spoke with refused to take a side; refused to report which he preferred more, rule under Russia or Ukraine. He would say, however, that his family didn’t worry about food before, and now they do. They took vacations before, now they don’t.

Maybe that’s an biased perspective. Maybe its a reflection of the current economic crisis – which is hitting Ukraine very hard.

Either way, it is a reflection of the conflict that still resides in this nation still struggling to find its place in Europe and in the world.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: