Wellor the past seven years, no matter where she was in the world, Maria Romanenko always came home to Kyiv for Ukraine’s Independence Day on August 24.
Last year, as it marked three decades since the nation broke away from the Soviet Union, Romanenko and her friends were able to secure a prime seat next to the city’s Independence Square to watch a spectacular military parade that included a flyover of an Antonov AN-225 – world the largest aircraft—whose cult status earned the Ukrainian nickname I dreammeaning “sleep”.
“Even if I couldn’t participate in the parade itself, I always looked to follow it on TV or on the Internet,” said Romanenko, 30, a freelance journalist. “When someone is trying to eradicate your identity and your nation, it is important to show that whatever means and methods they try to use, they will not succeed.”
Unfortunately, this year will be different. Wednesday’s anniversary also marks six months since then A full-scale invasion of Russia on February 24 – meaning subdued celebrations tinged with horror, as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky warned in a televised address that “Russia may try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel” to mark the event.
His warning came after Moscow said Ukrainian intelligence carried out Saturday’s strike car bomb who killed Darya Dugina, the daughter of an ultranationalist Kremlin ideologue, in the Russian capital. Kyiv has denied killing the 29-year-old political commentator, who died when a remote-controlled explosive device planted in the SUV Dugina was driving detonated near the village of Bolshie Vyazemi outside Moscow. Her father, Alexander Dugin, is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who call it death “a vile, cruel crime.”
Russian officials investigate the scene after the car of Daria Dugina, daughter of Alexander Dugin, a Russian political scientist and ally of President Vladimir Putin, exploded on Mozhaiskoe Highway in Moscow on August 21, 2022.
Russian Investigative Committee/Anatolia Agency via Getty Images
The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv echoed Zelensky’s concerns, saying it had “information that Russia is stepping up its efforts to strike Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities.” The ban on public events related to the anniversary is from Monday to Thursday, according to Reutersciting an official document.
Romanenko will not be in Kyiv but will be watching from Manchester in the UK, where she arrived in March with her British fiance. That Antonov AN-225 she looked at with pride a year ago was also destroyed in the early days of the war. And yet Romanenko is determined not to let her I dream of an independent homeland also perished under Russian fire.
“It is very important to remind other people that we exist, we thrive, we have our own culture, we love our country, we are a proud people and we will continue to fight for our freedom,” she says.
Quiet celebrations at home and louder from afar
Ahead of Ukraine’s Independence Day, a demonstration of captured Russian tanks, gutted military trucks and dismantled artillery units was organized as a mock parade in the center of Kyiv on Saturday.
“In February, the Russians planned a parade in the center of Kyiv,” the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense tweeted with a video showing results of wrecked military equipment. “The shameful display of rusty Russian metal is a reminder to all dictators how their plans can be ruined by a free and brave nation.”
In this photo taken on Aug. 21, 2022, people climb on top of a destroyed Russian vehicle at Maidan Independence Square in Kyiv, which has been turned into an open-air military museum ahead of Ukraine’s Independence Day on Aug. 24.
Dimitar Dilkov—AFP via Getty Images
Despite the bravado, there are safety concerns about holding celebrations in Kyiv and elsewhere. The capital is far from the front line and has rarely been hit by Russian missiles since a Russian ground offensive to capture the capital was repulsed in March. But the danger that Ukrainian civilians continue to face was highlighted on Monday by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights news release, which said 5,587 civilian deaths and 7,890 injuries had been recorded since the start of the war – mainly from rockets, artillery and rockets.
For these reasons, there is a ban on the usual raucous celebrations along with a regular curfew that is strictly enforced. Larger family gatherings are expected to take the place of the larger demonstrations of recent years, with blue and yellow flags flying across the proud nation of 44 million.
Instead, the mass events will be handed over to the diaspora, which can celebrate Independence Day with added vibrancy and vigor. In the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, the event will be marked with a rave organized in a meadow next to the city’s White Bridge – a pedestrian walkway built in 1996 – featuring famous Ukrainian DJs, followed by a free concert in the town hall square.
“Ukrainian courage and determination inspire us, and the least we can do is to continue to provide them with all possible support,” Vilnius Mayor Remigius Šimašius said in a statement.
For her part, Romanenko will celebrate with a fundraising party at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in north Manchester, with revelers dressed in traditional white embroidered Vyshyvanka dresses sharing music, food and dancing well into the evening. It is a community that first emerged from refugees after the Second World War, but which has become larger and more vibrant due to the current conflict.
“The funny thing is, if you go to Ukraine, you’ll have a hard time finding a concert with traditional music and dance,” says Romanenko. “But the diaspora in the UK continues to cultivate this history and culture from generation to generation.”
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