A still living history

30.06.2011, 16:28
A still living history - фото 1
The architects of Ukrainian independence shared their memories of 20-year-old events at the roundtable “Disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Birth of Independent Ukraine, 1988-1991”

On June 21 the younger generation had a unique opportunity to gain first-hand information on how Ukrainian independence came to be. During the roundtable debate “Disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Birth of Independent Ukraine, 1988-1991” organized by the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), the couple Ivan and Margarita Hevko launched the web archives, “Oral History of Independent Ukraine, 1988-1991.” It is a sort of chronicle of the events that took place 20 years ago in 72 interviews with diplomats, political leaders, dissidents, journalists, religious, academic and military figures, i.e., with all those who witnessed or took part in those developments. It is an extremely hot topic. As historian Yaroslav Hrytsak, a roundtable participant, noted, those events have not even become – owing to their relative closeness – an object of research for historians. Yet they have already found a place in the living memory of their witnesses.

The idea of launching this project emerged, so to speak, in a friendly circle. Its initiators were Sara Severs, who worked at the first US embassy in Kyiv, and the Argentine-born Margarita Hevko, the wife of Ivan Hevko, a world-level lawyer, who comes from the Ukrainian diaspora and was member of the Ukrainian SSR Supreme Soviet’s International Advisory Board in the early 1990s. At first, the idea of filming the reminiscences of those who participated in the making of Ukrainian independence was aimed at maintaining the memory of those events. But the roundtable showed that the project had gone beyond that.

Incidentally, some of the interviewees, including General of the Army Yevhen Marchuk, a Ukrainian politician and statesman, the prime minister of Ukraine in 1995-96; Yurii Shcherbak, a diplomat and a political figure, ex-ambassador of Ukraine to the US and Canada; and member of parliament Ivan Pliushch, also spoke at the roundtable and answered the questions of journalists.

The displayed web archives is not only an excellent instrument for historians. The living memories of the true creators of Ukraine’s modern history, freshly recorded, provide a good impetus to analyzing the pre-sent day and our future prospects. Incidentally, this topic is quite near to the heart of the newspaper Den which has published the four volumes of Extract, an inside look at modern Ukrainian history, as part of its library series.

Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day



“This is a multifaceted project. A historical document above all, it is also of great moral importance. We often take Ukraine’s independence for granted today. On the one hand, it is good. But this great gift must be cherished, developed, and closely guarded,” said Borys Hudziak, UCU Rector and one of the roundtable moderators.

The roundtable “Disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Birth of Independent Ukraine, 1988-1991” was a debate on the past (“A Retrospective View of Ukrainian Independence: the Way It Was in 1991” was the theme of the forum’s first part) as well as on the future prospects, looking forward to 2012 and beyond. One little-known yet inspiring story is about how the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to which the dissident and writer Yevhen Sverstiuk adhered, was emerging from the underground. The same applies to the story of the evolution of Marchuk’s views as a young KGB officer provoked by the rehabilitation of political repression victims and declassification of archives.

The second half of the debate was no less interesting than exchanging reminiscences. For history continues to march forward after the Rubicon that is the 20th anniversary of Independence.

“We must go out of the present-day stupor because this is absolutely counter-productive and unable to give proper answers to our questions,” Myroslav Marynovych, UCU Vice-Rector in Lviv, a Ukrainian human rights champion, said, answering The Day reporter’s question. “We need to reject simple stereotypic answers. We have lulled ourselves with them instead of doing our job and building upon our gains. In other words, we must very cautiously reconsider our views and approaches and cross the limits of the current standards. I see this as the only wy forward. But this will only be possible when the nation tires of hopelessness and begins to work on itself.”

As far as reconsideration is concerned, Marchuk suggested that the project “Oral History of Independent Ukraine, 1988-1991” be continued from the viewpoint of today, while Ivan Hevko noted that this modest beginning was now a challenge for Ukrainian historians and journalists who can and must expand it. The project’s video materials can be viewed on the website http://oralhistory.org.ua.

Viktoria SKUBA

30 June 2010 The Day