For the last seven years, no matter where in the world she found herself, Maria Romanenko always came home to Kyiv for Ukraine’s Independence Day on Aug. 24.
Last year, which marked three decades since the nation broke away from the Soviet Union, Romanenko and her friends managed to secure a prime spot by the city’s Independence Square to watch a grand military parade including a flypast by the Antonov AN-225—the world’s largest aircraft—whose cult status earned the Ukrainian nickname Mriya, meaning “dream.”
“Even if I couldn’t make the parade itself, I always made sure to follow on television or the internet,” says Romanenko, 30, a freelance journalist. “When somebody tries to eradicate your identity and your nation, it’s important to show that whatever means and methods they try to use won’t be successful.”
Unfortunately, the year ahead will be different. Wednesday’s anniversary also marks six months since Russia’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24—meaning muted celebrations tinged with dread as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky cautioned in a televised address that “Russia may try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel” to mark the occasion.
His warning came after Moscow claimed that Ukrainian intelligence carried out Saturday’s car bombing that killed Darya Dugina, the daughter of an ultra-nationalist Kremlin ideologue, in the Russian capital. Kyiv denies that the Russian political commentator was murdered. The vehicle in which Dugina was riding exploded close to Bolshiye Vyazemy. Her father, Alexander Dugin, is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called her death a “vile, cruel crime.”
Russian officials are investigating the accident scene in which the car of Darya Dugina exploded at Moscow’s Mozhayskoye highway on August 21, 2022.
Russian Investigative Committee/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
The U.S. embassy in Kyiv echoed Zelensky’s concerns, saying it had “information that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities.” A ban on public events related to the anniversary lasts from Monday to Thursday, according to Reuters, citing an official document.
Romanenko won’t be in Kyiv but will be watching from Manchester in the U.K., where she arrived in March with her British fiancé. Romanenko was proud to gaze at the Antonov-AN-225 that she had seen one year earlier. It was destroyed by the Germans in the opening days of World War II. Romanenko will not let Romanenko go. MriyaRussian fire can also cause the destruction of an independent country.
“It’s very important to remind other people that we exist, we thrive, we have our own culture, we love our country, are proud people, and we will continue fighting for our freedom,” she says.
Silent celebrations at home and louder ones afar
Ahead of Ukraine’s Independence Day, a blocks-long display of captured Russian tanks, gutted military trucks, and disassembled artillery pieces was arranged as a mock parade in downtown Kyiv on Saturday.
“In February, Russians were planning a parade in downtown Kyiv,” Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense tweeted with a videoDisplaying scores upon scores of the damaged military hardware. “The shameful display of rusty Russian metal is a reminder to all dictators how their plans may be ruined by a free and courageous nation.”
This photograph was taken Aug. 21st, 2022. It shows people climbing atop the wrecked Russian car at Kyiv’s Independence Square. The square has now been transformed into an open-air museum for military history ahead of Ukraine’s Independence Day, Aug. 24, 2022.
Dimitar Dilkoff—AFP via Getty Images
There are security concerns when celebrating in Kyiv, and other places. Since the Russian offensive in march to seize Kiev, the capital has been far away from the frontlines and only occasionally was it hit by Russian missiles. But the danger Ukrainian civilians continue to face was underscored on Monday by a U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights news release, which said that 5,587 civilian deaths and 7,890 injuries have been recorded since the war began—chiefly from rockets, artillery, and missiles.
For these reasons, there’s the ban on normally-raucous celebrations alongside regular curfews that are strictly enforced. The expectation is that smaller-scale gatherings of family members will replace the large ones of past years. Yellow and blue flags fly across this proud nation of 44 millions.
Instead, mass events are being relegated for the diaspora who can celebrate Independence Day with more energy and enthusiasm. In Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, the occasion will be marked by a rave held on a meadow by the city’s White Bridge—a pedestrian crossing built in 1996—featuring famed Ukrainian DJs, followed by a free concert in the Town Hall Square.
“The Ukrainian courage and resolution inspire us all, and the least we can do is to keep providing any possible support to them,” said Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius in a statement.
Romanenko herself will host a fundraiser at the Ukrainian Cultural Center (north Manchester) to celebrate. There, revelers in traditional white-embroidered vyshyvanka gowns, they’ll be dancing, eating, and sharing their celebration music. It’s a community that first sprang up from refugees following World War II but which has grown larger and more vibrant due to the current conflict.
“What’s funny is that if you went to Ukraine, you would struggle to find a concert with traditional music and dancing,” Romanenko says. “But the diaspora in the U.K. continues to cultivate this history and culture from generation to generation.”
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