Independence protest
Photos by Orest Andriyiw

Around 100 people gathered at St Volodymyr's statue to celebrate the 21st anniversary of Ukrainian independence, to voice their concerns about the anti-democratic actions of the current government and to support those in Ukraine who are fighting for the Ukrainian language, media freedom and human rights.

AUGB's Chair, Zenko Lastowiecki, laid flowers at the statue and gave an address, highlighting the achievement of 21 years of independence and the high hopes that Ukrainian people had in 1991 when they took the historic step of breaking free from the then USSR. However, more recent events have cast a shadow over Ukraine's independence: the new language law, selective justice, police corruption, attacks on the free media - so celebration is tinged with sadness and with a deep concern about Ukraine's future. This, however, can be decided only by the Ukrainian people themselves at the forthcoming elections in October.

Christina Senechyn, from AUGB London's Ukrainian School, and Nadia Panas O-Brien and Chrystyna Lastowiecki from the Ukrainian Youth Association spoke about the importance of the Ukrainian language to young people and to the identity of Ukraine. Daria Sklaryk read some of her own poetry, dedicated to Ukraine's independence. Lessia Djakowska of the Association of Ukrainian Women expressed the Association's solidarity with those in Ukraine seeking to overturn the language law. AUGB's CEO, Fedir Kurlak spoke about the importance of the October elections and the AUGB's support for independent observers to ensure a free and fair electoral process. The meeting ended at the Embassy of Ukraine, with those present singing Ukraine's national anthem.

In Ukraine itself, celebrations have been mixed with politics. In Kyiv, 10,000 attended a rally organised by the united opposition, while 1,000 attended the Party of the Regions rally, according to the BBC Ukrainian service. 3,000 people attended a rally in defence of the Ukrainian language in Lviv, while in Donetsk, attendees at an opposition rally remembered the days of russification under the Soviet Union and drew parallels with the situation today. In Lutsk, although the townspeople turned out in their festive embroidery to celebrate Independence day, a memorial service to independence was held in one of the town's churches.

President Yanukovych's address to the nation said that he had every confidence in Ukraine's continued development. Later in the day, he promised to protect and develop the Ukrainian language, but also flexed his muscles and said that he would not pursue European integration at any price...

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