Сheckmate for Putin: Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech on the occasion of Independence Day is being discussed with the director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory

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On August 24, the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence, president Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a solemn speech. He proclaimed it, opening a parade in Kyiv. The president made many references to historical facts, and experts saw this as a response to an article by the president of the Russian Federation “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, in which Putin effectively denied Ukrainian history, saying that modern Ukraine was “entirely the product of the Soviet era”, and before that it was allegedly a “historical Russia”.

During his speech, Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that “we are a young country with a thousand-year history”.

“We are building our house on the land where our ancestors lived and built. We are not guests or visitors. We are a young family from the glorious dynasty of Kyivan Rus-Ukraine. From the family of founders, from the family of baptists, from the brave family, from the wise Cossack family. We are not orphans or those who were found somewhere – we are the descendants of a powerful country that was the center of Europe. But we must not only feel accordingly, but also behave this way” – the head of state said.

We are discussing the historical moments of the solemn speech of the President of Ukraine with the director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory Anton Drobovych.

– During the military parade on August 24, President of Ukraine also announced that he intends to return the remains of prominent Ukrainians to Ukraine. Your forecast – what personalities are we talking about?

– It seems to me that now it is premature to talk about specific personalities. But it will definitely be outstanding artists, military leaders, people who fought for the independence of Ukraine and its glory with weapons in hand or with their talent.

Now we need to focus on creating conditions for exhumation and transportation. Create either a memorial of Ukrainian heroes or a military memorial cemetery with a museum. That is in the first place.

– Why is it important?

– If we appeal to the European experience, for example, the experience of Poland or France, there are spaces that experts call “pantheons”, where prominent figures of their country are buried. That is, they are not mentioned, you know, just in the textbook, but there is a place with their tombs. And such a place inspires people, promotes patriotism. The physical presence in such places makes history more real and, accordingly, more real is the realization of one’s roots. Because we are used to the fact that when you see a real object or building, or a museum exhibit, or a tomb, it has a greater impact on you and has a stronger effect on the imagination. This is the nature of people.

– Our society is probably too politicized. They look for “betrayal” or interpret it in their own way, even in some historical processes. We see how the parliaments of other countries work: there is also opposition, conflicts can also arise. But for European politicians, this does not mean provocation, a game to divide the nation. They understand that everyone is sailing in one ship, in one state. How should we do it?

– First of all, we must take the history studies seriously. Because in our highest offices they like to tell: here, history, some historical moments split the country…

Stupidity splits the country, not history. When we, without knowledge of certain historical events, start retransmitting some ideological stereotypes, this is what divides the country.

Therefore, our strongest defense against this separation is an in-depth study of historical truth. We should acknowledge: yes, there were moments well done and we were heroes, while something was done wrong and we weren’t heroes.

And when we fully understand the context, rather than some individual pieces, then we become less dependent on manipulation. This is the first thing.

Secondly, we need to clearly mark the “red lines” – and me and you, as a society, as citizens, and the security services as well. One thing is to collect complex cases, argue about certain historical events, and quite another is to question the territorial integrity, equality of citizens, and so on. Such things should be punished mercilessly in accordance with the law. And society must also send a clear signal that people who cross those lines put in question human freedoms, dignity, human rights, question territorial integrity – they must feel full condemnation from all. And this also applies to MPs and politicians.

– But we understand that the truth is very limited. Like, here I have a glass of water and that’s it. I can think anything about this water. Just like Putin in his article “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians”. In his speech, Volodymyr Zelenskyy emphasizes: “We are a young country with a thousand-year history”. He also answered about the language, about people of different nationalities who live in Ukraine and who love it, regardless of what language they speak, in which region they live and so on. He emphasized: “We are all one family”. How did you rate this question-answer connection for yourself?

– I highly appreciated it. Because not only President Zelenskyy did this, but also the Ukrainian media and society after the publication of this tendentious dubious article by Putin – all of them emphasized the same opinion: Russians are not a single people with themselves now. They restrict national minorities, tried to dismantle the independence of their national republics. And there are more than 20 of them. People self-immolate because they are not given the right to speak their national languages in their national republics. This is a profound tragedy in Russia.

Russia’s military-political leadership cannot even answer this. Because they can’t acknowledge the problem. Therefore, in fact, Zelenskyy’s quotes are a concrete argument, a blow to the very heart of this lie that Russia is producing.

Let’s be honest: they assimilate everyone to become a “single people”, a mononation. And for this they will do anything. Look at what they are doing in Crimea. They erode the Crimean Tatars, reduce the right to use the language, and Ukrainian, by the way, too. And the same thing is happening to them in Tatarstan, in other national republics.

That’s why Zelenskyy’s speech became a kind of a checkmate. And in Russia they can’t answer anything, because this is their real problem. They can’t even talk about it, because they have to admit the fact.

To remind, Ukraine will celebrate the Day of the Ukrainian Statehood. The relevant decree was signed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a speech at the parade in Kyiv.

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