The Ukrainian people put an end to the USSR

Sixteen years ago, on Dec. 1, 1991, the citizens of Ukraine voted in favor of the Verkhovna Rada’s act “On the State Sovereignty of Ukraine” during a national referendum. The 1977 Constitution of the USSR envisaged the right of any of the 15 republics to secede freely. The proclamation of Ukraine’s independence is unique in that Ukraine is the only former Soviet republic that completed this procedure in an entirely legal fashion. In all the other republics independence was proclaimed by a decision of their Soviet quasi-parliaments which, in keeping with Soviet and republican legislation, did not have the authority to do so. Ukraine, however, applied the constitutional norm that stated that “the people are the only source of power.” Legally, our independence became a fait accompli after 76 percent of all eligible citizens, or 90.3 percent of all those who came to the polling stations, voted in favor of the act.

The idea to hold a referendum was the brainchild of Academician Ihor Yukhnovsky, who submitted his proposal at a session of the Verkhovna Rada on Aug. 24, 1991, when the Independence Act was put to the vote. The proposal met with criticism and fears that the forces opposing Ukraine’s independence would gain time to agitate for some form of a union, but time has shown that the academician was right.

For three months the Soviet Union waited for the Ukrainian people to make their choice. On Dec. 7, as soon as the decision was made, Leonid Kravchuk, who had just been elected Ukraine’s president, Russia’s president Boris Yeltsin, and the chairman of the Belarusian parliament Stanislav Shushkevich met in Bilovezhska Pushcha to decide on the procedure for liquidating the USSR.

Insinuations are still being made about this event that these “three got together in the woods and dissolved a superpower overnight.” However, it was in fact the Ukrainian people who put an end to the Soviet Union by means of the referendum. What happened in Belarus was, so to speak, the “international announcement” of this fact.

In subsequent years, attitudes to this event varied, but the Ukrainian referendum preempted an armed conflict or even wars, such as those that erupted in nearly all the former USSR republics. It also made it possible to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity and lay the foundations of civic social institutions.

According to the data of various sociological companies, today the question of Ukraine’s independence would garner 11 to 15 percent fewer votes than it did in 1991. The country has suffered many losses, mainly time, which the authorities and politicians wasted rather than using it to develop the country. But independent Ukraine has come into its own. After the historic events of the fall and winter of 2004 during the Orange Maidan, the ranks of those who oppose Ukraine’s independence are thinning with each passing year.