KYIV – Kozak regiments of old aren’t triumphantly riding on horseback into a fortress at the former Hetman state capital of Baturyn in Chernihiv Oblast, 140 miles east of Kyiv, for the nation’s Flag Day celebration on August 23.
In their place, where such nation-building leaders of the Hetmanate as Demian Mnohohrishny, Ivan Mazepa and the last hetman, Kyrylo Rozumovsky, made their base of operations, another assembly is gathering.
Multiple award-winning singer Ruslana Lyzhychko is leading an array of artists to mark National Flag Day for the second consecutive year on the eve of Ukraine’s Independence Day. Titled, “Renaissance of Independence,” the free concert’s purpose is to popularize a site that is lesser known in the context of the country’s rich Kozak heritage. It’s a legacy rooted in a constitution (1710) that preceded America’s and a loosely twined democratic Ukrainian state in the 17th-18th centuries when the free-roaming Kozak riders of the steppe managed to preserve a precarious territory on both sides of the Dnipro River.
“We’ll have pop, rock, symphony and other types of music,” Ruslana said on August 21 after a rehearsal in Kyiv. “To feel a unique part of our history, so that the feeling of independence and freedom spreads in Ukraine.”
Like many artists, Ruslana wants to “capture the drive of what Ukraine is going through today,” and the concert in Baturyn was to include newly written songs along with performances by Tartak, Tonya Matvienko, multi-faceted flutist Oles Zhuravchak and Ukrainian Canadian violinist Vasyl Popadiuk.
Since 2014 – after Russia covertly invaded the country, eventually taking over more than 7 percent of its territory – Ukraine has witnessed a renewed sense of identity and interest in its historical and cultural heritage.
Yearly surveys conducted by Kyiv-based think tank Democratic Initiatives find that, over all, 63 percent of respondents now are proud to be Ukrainian.
A majority in the southeast, where a Russian-leaning sentiment was more predominant, since 2013 now identify more with their country and are for integration with the European Union, sociologist Iryna Bekeshkina, who heads Democratic Initiatives, said in Dnipro on August 21.
“Much has changed in Ukraine during 27 years of independence,” she explained. “However, the Orange [in 2004] and Dignity [in 2014] revolutions caused the biggest changes in public opinion. Today, the majority of southeastern Ukrainian residents are for European integration. Earlier, a majority were for having a neutral status. At present, more and more of the population is inclined towards NATO accession.”
Aside from national pride, renowned writer Oksana Zabuzhko told The Ukrainian Weekly that interest in home-grown literature has led to a “publishing boom” since 2014. She said that readers from Kharkiv in the east to Odesa in the southwest are “re-discovering their Ukrainian heritage.” Thus, “demand is felt for a bigger audience.”
Presidential Administration of Ukraine
President Petro Poroshenko stands in front of three columns of Ukraine’s armed forces on the Khreshchatyk in Kyiv on August 22 during a military parade rehearsal two days before the country’s Independence Day.
Unfortunately, she said, it was “Russia’s war that caused this important process,” adding that “more than 20 years of failed state policy” did not place Ukrainian literature at the forefront.
Ukrainian cinema is taking off, with more than 50 full-length movies in the pipeline that are either wholly or partially produced by the state-run film agency Derzhkino.
The animated film “The Stolen Princess: Ruslan and Lyudmila” has already garnered international acclaim. A biopic about Ukrainian dissident and human rights activist Vasyl Stus is in the works and is scheduled for release in February 2019.
“In the overwhelming majority of the films, the main roles are played by Ukrainian actors,” said Ukrainian State Film Agency head Philip Illyenko.
Enough has been produced that Toronto will host a Ukrainian film festival on August 29-September 2.
Children are being sent to Kozak summer camps that dot Kharkiv, Cherkasy, Rivne and Chernivtsi oblasts. Expanding wider is the network of Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization, with chapters opening up beyond its traditional western Ukrainian base further into the country’s east and south, including, for example, Avdiyivka in Donetsk Oblast.
A Ukrainian soldier salutes atop an armored vehicle along Kyiv’s Khreshchatyk on August 20 during rehearsal for a military parade to mark the 27th anniversary of the re-establishment of Ukraine’s independence.
The roles of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) are being re-examined, Ukrainian Catholic University history professor Yaroslav Hrytsak told The Ukrainian Weekly.
Consensus has molded in that the Stalin-era Holodomor in the early 1930s was man-made and was genocide targeting the Ukrainian population. “What we’re seeing is that, while Stalin is still revered in Russia as a nation builder and industrializer, in Ukraine he is known for repression and forced famine,” the Lviv-based historian observed.
Another common view taking shape is that the medieval Kyivan Rus’ kingdom is looked upon “more as Ukraine’s historical legacy and less of Russia’s,” he noted.
That is also what drives the country’s current efforts to form a single autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
However, Prof. Hrytsak noted that Ukrainians still tend to unite around victimhood “and less on heroes like the Kozaks, athletes, writers like Taras Shevchenko or Lesia Ukrainka – I can’t say whether this good or bad.”
More important, Ms. Zabuzhko observed, is that interest in heritage is “precisely about our Ukrainian narrative, our own history – it’s not a patchwork of Russian or Polish or other countries’ points of views on the events that took place on Ukrainian territory.”
Award-winning singer Ruslana Lyzhychko (center) poses with the Ukrainian flag in Kyiv on August 21 with other artists and performers with whom she would present a charity concert two days later in the historic Kozak capital of Baturyn to mark Ukraine’s Flag Day.
She acknowledged that many Ukrainians still have a “victim complex” that could have a “destructive role in our national identity.” However, she added, now Ukrainians can take pride “in their military” and trends in culture that are molding how people view themselves.
The dividing line here is that “society is split between those who live with the awareness that this is a country at war and those who try to conceal this fact from themselves. And this is what shapes mentality, consciousness, and it has nothing to do with language, regions or backgrounds,” Ms. Zabuzhko commented.
Meanwhile, in the Kozak capital of Baturyn, Ruslana will be drawing upon Hetman Ivan Mazepa whose words she cited on her concert’s banner: “Baturyn, give me strength for triumph for the fatherland.”
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