In Commemoration of the 32nd Anniversary of Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence

August 30, 2023

August 30, 2023

In Commemoration of the 32nd Anniversary of Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence

The following remarks were delivered by US-Ukraine Foundation President Nadia McConnell on Saturday, August 26, 2023, at a rally in front of The White House organized to commemorate Ukraine’s August 24, 1991, declaration of independence.

As we gather here in front of the White House - the home of the leader of the world’s foremost democracy, I see the flags that we all are holding and I am reminded of similar gatherings more than 30 years ago, and the symbolic importance of flags. Ukrainians across the globe were advocating for support of Ukraine’s path to independence. In our communities, in America, in Canada, Australia, England, Argentina, we formed committees to advocate and support the movement for independence then being led in Ukraine by Narodniy Rukh Ukrainy – or simply Rukh.

Here in Washington, at one of our first committee meetings, we discussed our strategy and goals: one milestone would be full recognition by America of Ukraine’s independence – not just in words, but in deeds. Therefore, the first official visit by the President of an independent Ukraine to America was one such goal. The public symbol of such an official visit would be visible on the streets in front of the White House – three flags on the lampposts – the American flag, the flag of the District of Columbia, and the blue and yellow of a free and independent Ukraine. Optimistically we named our committee Ukraine 2000, assuming that at least 10 years would be necessary before Ukraine finally achieved independence. We were wrong. It was only 18 months.  

In 1990, the Soviet Union was coming apart. However, fueled by Kremlin propaganda, many leaders, even most, in the West, predicted and were terrified of worldwide chaos, nuclear Armageddon, economic disaster.

With gloom and doom accepted as fact, not simply as an unjustified fear, on August 1, 1991, U.S. President George Bush made his infamous Chicken Kiev speech inside the Verkhovna Rada building, with piercing intensity, President Bush cautioned against independence, calling it “suicidal nationalism”. His words were met with a stunned silence. His remarks were a dud. Bush’s speech was a mere three weeks before the Verkhovna Rada’s bold August 24 Declaration of the Independence of Ukraine and only months before the December referendum in which 92.26% of Ukraine’s courageous voters confirmed their desire for independence.

And then, on May 06, 1992, a mere 10 months after the dud of a Chicken Kyiv speech, President Bush had the historic opportunity to welcome President Leonid Kravchuk, the President of an internationally recognized independent Ukraine, with an official visit to Washington. Even the unbelieving were tempted to believe in miracles.

We saw the three flags on these lampposts.

President Bush spoke about celebrating the renaissance of freedom and independence for the great and ancient nation of Ukraine. He cited a verse inscribed on the Taras Shevchenko monument where we will be later today, a verse composed by Shevchenko more than a century ago:

“Our soul shall never perish. Freedom knows no dying. And the greedy cannot harvest fields where seas are lying; cannot bind the living spirit, nor the living word; cannot smirch the sacred glory of the Almighty Lord.”

Ambassador Markarova thanked America - the American people, the Presidential Administration, the US Congress - for all the assistance that has been given to Ukraine. We at the US Ukraine Foundation join her in these words of appreciation especially to Americans, a very generous people, giving their time, knowledge, financial support. As well as their hearts and souls. I offer one small example. This past Thursday, the 32nd anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence, I joined a group of parishioners from the Roman Catholic Church of the Ascension, a church located only a few blocks from the Russian Embassy on Wisconsin Avenue. Every Thursday since the beginning of the war, these parishioners, gather at the front entrance of the Russian embassy for 30 minutes at noon to pray for an end to this brutal war, pray for peace in Ukraine. For 18 months, for 70 weeks, regardless of sun, rain, sleet, snow, they gather. We are deeply grateful for their prayers.

We have gathered here in front of the home of the leader of the free world, to extend appreciation for what has been given to Ukraine – assistance that not only helps Ukraine, but bluntly, helps the entire free world. Ukraine’s profound sacrifice must be acknowledged fully. Ukraine is the frontline not only for its very existence, but for the existence of the values of this free world.

But while we thank, we also gather to remind and caution that assistance delayed is assistance denied. If your house is on fire, you call 911. However, if the most modern, well-equipped fire station responding to your does not get there in time, your house will have burned down. Maybe even the neighborhood.

Each delay means more lives are lost on the battlefield, more injured military, more civilians are killed and injured, children continue to suffer the trauma of war, even more children are kidnapped and held in Russian captivity, forcibly Russified, Ukraine suffers more ecological disasters, more historic cultural heritage sites are destroyed, continuing devastation.

We thank President Biden for declaring that America will be with “Ukraine for as long as it takes.” However, he needs to drop “as long as it takes”.  He needs to say we are with “Ukraine until it wins” and then deliver to Ukraine the weapons requested right now! Ukraine will win and many lives will be saved. Assistance – necessary and appropriate assistance - must not be simply declared or promised, but must be delivered when needed, which is now.

Thirty years ago, an important and powerful a country, the United States could not stop the course of history. And that is the case today. The Russian imperial dream is doomed to fail, destined to end. America’s ill-defined fears of chaos, the desire to stem the tide and even the hubris to believe that we can, cannot stop the inevitable. Thirty years ago, America’s fears placed her on the wrong side of history. This time, let us firmly choose the right side.

We pray that this war ends swiftly, that America’s President will have the historic opportunity to welcome Ukraine’s President Zelensky for a state visit. We look forward to that day - the day when three flags again will fly from these lampposts – flags of America, the District of Columbia and the blue and yellow of a sovereign and fully free Ukraine.

God bless America and Slava Ukraini!

Three flags - the American, Ukrainian and District of Columbia - on a lamppost in Washington DC is from the collection of the National Archives.