Independence Day, celebrated on August 24, is Ukraine’s largest State holiday, in commemoration of the Declaration of Independence of 1991.
The holiday was first celebrated on 16 July 1991, as the first anniversary of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine passed by the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament) in 1990.
The Ukrainian sovereignty referendum was conducted on March 17, 1991, as part of the first and only Soviet Union referendum. Throughout the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, voters were asked two questions, with an additional question attached to the ballot in the historical region of Galicia which includes the Ukrainian provinces of Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, and Ternopil.
The referendum followed the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine by the republic’s parliament on July 16, 1990.
In August 1991, there was a failed coup to restore communist rule in the Soviet Union. As a result of this and increasing fears about a return to Soviet rule, the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine was adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament on 24 August 1991.
A condition of the Declaration was that a national referendum should take place on 1 December 1991. The turnout was over 80% and the result of the referendum was that over 92% voted in favour of Ukraine’s independence.
Since the Declaration of Independence was issued later than the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine, and confirmed by the referendum of 1 December 1991, the date of the holiday was changed for August 24.
The Declaration established the principles of Self-Determination of the Ukrainian Nation, Rule of the People, State Power, Citizenship of the Ukrainian SSR, Territorial Supremacy, Economic Independence, Environmental Safety, Cultural Development, External and Internal Security, and International Relations.
On the same day, a presidential election took place. All six candidates campaigned in favour of a “Yes” vote in the independence referendum. Leonid Kravchuk, the parliament chairman and de facto head of state, was elected to serve as the first President of Ukraine.
For some, the referendum of 1 December is seen as a more important date than the Declaration of Independence as it showed Ukraine’s unity in wanting independence.