Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 23.01.2019
Ukrainians are fighting a war for survival against foreign invaders from the Russian Federation. They have come together, united in a common cause to defend the homeland. They did this before, one hundred years ago.
A century ago, on 22 January 1919, the Act of Unification was proclaimed, bringing together the Ukrainian National Republic and the West Ukrainian National Republic. Although this early 20th century Ukrainian state was not to last, it laid the foundation for the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine in 1991. More importantly, the precedence of a Ukrainian state in 1919 uniting in the face of Russian invasion and occupation inspires greater unity of the Ukrainian state in 2019 to face Russian invasion and occupation.
On 14 December 1918 the reestablishment of the Ukrainian National Republic was announced in Kyiv by the Directory, a government led by Volodomyr Vynnychenko and Symon Petliura. But the reborn Ukrainian nation-state was never to know a moment of peace. While the Bolsheviks were conducting peace negotiations to resolve the first Russian invasion of Ukraine, they attacked and occupied Kharkiv on 26 December 1918. The second Bolshevik invasion of Ukraine had begun.
In his masterwork “Ukraine: A History”, the late historian Orest Subtelny relates what happened as the Russian invasion reached Kyiv: “On 22 January 1919 [the Directory] celebrated the union of the Ukrainian National Republic with the newly formed West Ukrainian National Republic in Galicia, a union that the Ukrainian intelligentsia, in both the east and west, had dreamed of for generations. However, with both governments fighting desperately for survival, their future prospects looked bleak. … It was a union in name only.”
The effect of Акт Злуки, the Act of Unification, was galvanizing for the Ukrainian nation. From this moment in 1919 onwards, there was no longer any doubt that the idea of Ukraine was both natural and substantive. A modern nation-state called Ukraine had emerged, uniting the Ukrainian ethnic lands and people. Whether suppressed or realized as a state, there will always be Ukraine.
The Act of Unification inspired the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the 1940s and 1950s. It was a Ukrainian state that belonged on Ukrainian land, not Nazi German or Soviet Russian invaders and occupiers. Uniting east and west for Ukraine was the driving idea on 22 January 1919, and it was the driving idea on 21 January 1990 when four to five million Ukrainians formed a human chain from Lviv to Kyiv. The Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine followed on 24 August 1991, confirmed in a referendum held on 1 December 1991 by majority votes in every region of Ukraine – including Crimea and Donbas.
Muscovy invaded Ukraine – for the umpteenth time – on 20 February 2014. Calling itself the Russian Federation this time, the foreign invaders once again seek to establish that Ukraine is “not a real country.” As in 1919, Ukraine has no fighting allies. Western powers are stunned into confused impotence by Chekist nihilism in our time as they were a century ago. But Ukrainians know better. The unity of the Ukrainian nation in the face of Russian aggression is fierce and indomitable.
Ukraine uniting in 1919, even if it was in name only, has a special resonance a century later. Ukrainians are fighting a war of national salvation against foreign invaders from Muscovy. This time they are doing much, much better. Seven percent of Ukraine’s territory has been seized by the Russian army: Crimea and part of Donbas. After five years of trench warfare, Putin’s War to annihilate Ukraine as a state has failed. The dream that Ukrainians had when they celebrated the Act of Unification a hundred years ago is real, is practical, is living in the strong, united Ukrainian state today.