Staunton, August 21 – Today, on the 24th anniversary of Ukrainian independence, Ivan Drach, the poet who headed the Rukh organization from 1989 to 1992, says that what is happening in Ukraine now, including the intensification of patriotic feelings, is not something unexpected but rather a logical playing out of what happened in 1991.
In an interview with Elena Rostikova of Novy Region-2, Drach says one of the most serious problems of the Ukrainian national movement was that it was dominated by intellectuals rather than practical people (nr2.com.ua/interview/Ivan-Drach-Kommunisty-progolosovali-za-nezavisimost-Ukrainy-iz-za-Elcina-104354.html).
Ukraine’s intellectuals at the end of the 1980s “were infected by events which began in Europe,” Drach says. “At that time, the Berlin Wall fell and Solidarity was born in Poland, and there appeared the bright popular movements in Estonia [and] Latvia …. We were in contact with all these movements, and the idea arose that we should establish something similar.”
Initially, he says, people thought about holding a plenum of the various create unions like the cinematographers, writers, and artists and then proclaim the founding of a Popular Rukh. “But the bosses, the KGB and the Central Committee of the Communist Party were keeping track of all this and didn’t give us the chance.”
Drach says that he met frequently with Leonid Kravchuk, the head of the Central Committee’s agitation and propaganda department, and eventually Kravchuk agreed to have a meeting so that the party could control it. But his attacks on the idea of the Rukh at that session, precisely because they were televised, had exactly the opposite effect he intended.
Indeed, the Ukrainian poet-politician says, “it would have been difficult for [those who wanted a popular front in Ukraine] to think up a better advertisement” for what they sought than his words. After that, Ukrainians came together and “we already were able to intimidate the authorities into giving us space for holding a large forum.”
The authorities did not leave the field, however. They put out fake stories that the Rukh people were about to go to Lithuania to hold their meeting and that Vilnius had already sent three trains. Then they said that the Rukh leadership was planning to spend money on holding its sessions on the beach somewhere.
But those efforts backfired as well, and “the first congress of the Peoples Rukh for Perestroika took place in September 1989.” The only reason the Rukh leadership added “’for perestroika’” to the title, Drach says, was to justify their actions to Moscow by suggesting that Rukh wanted to help Gorbachev and that Kyiv was moving too slowly.
The Kyiv communists continued their provocations, but Rukh continued to grow, Drach says. And “already when Yeltsin defeated Grobachev” at the time of the August 1991 coup, even the communists in the Ukrainian SSR Supreme Soviet voted for Ukraine’s declaration of independence, “thanks to Yeltsin.”
At that time, Kravchuk made a trip around Ukraine in order to see what the lay of the land was. Drach says that he “told colleagues [at that time] that Kravchuk left Kyiv as the head of the department of agitation and propaganda and returned already with the thought … about becoming president of Ukraine.”
Rukh had relatively few organizations in the Donbas, Drach says; but the miners there supported it and helped free Stepan Khmara when the activist was put in prison in Lukyanovka. More than 80 percent of the population in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts voted for independence because they hoped that an independent Ukraine would give them a better life.
But because all of us, both Rukh activists and ethnic Russians in the east, were caught up in the euphoria of the times, “not one of us considered that for this to occur, Ukraine would have to become a complete organism, separated from the Union,” with its own “strong institutions” and without everything controlled from Moscow.
To a large extent, Drach continues, this shortcoming was the result of the fact that all the leaders of the Rukh were intellectuals. There weren’t enough “economists and financial specialists” who could adopt a practical approach. Even Kravchuk was “an ideologue and a humanitarian intellectual.”
In many ways, he says, this was a repetition of the mistakes and shortcomings of the Ukrainian revolution in 1918-1920.
Now, Drach argues, Ukraine is overcoming this problem, but it faces another: widespread corruption that is so open that it undermines public confidence in the government. Kyiv needs to do more to fight it and fight the oligarchic control of the economy if the country is to be a success.
Asked about Ukraine’s role in the collapse of the USSR, Drach is blunt: “If it had remained in the Union, the latter would not have fallen apart. All the same, 90 percent were for a free Ukraine; this was the expression of the will of our people. But in Ukraine all would have evolved differently if Yeltsin had not come to power” in Moscow.
Yeltsin “dreamed” of a union he could dominate, but “all these republics, including Ukraine interfered.” And he could never escape from that dream, just as his successor has not been able to do.
“When we had proclaimed independence” on August 21, 1991,” Drach recounts, he “arrived in Moscow when around the White House where the Russian government was, instead of the shield of the USSR, they had put up an enormous shield of Russia in the form of a two-headed eagle.”
For Russians, this symbolized their independence, but for Ukrainians, “it was an executioner, a predator that will continue to prey on us! Already then, looking at this shield, I told friends that our liberation from Russia would take a very long time. So it has,” but the last two years, with the Russian invasion and the growth of Ukrainian patriotism, give hope.