An independence day with a difference for Ukrainian people was marked with a large rally outside the country’s embassy in Dublin on Wednesday.
A crowd of about 3,000, most wearing Ukraine’s flag colours of blue and yellow, gathered in Ballsbridge for an emotionally charged event which took place 31 years on from independence and six months after Russia invaded the country.
It was a long walk in the cause of freedom for those who marched the 5km from the GPO on O’Connell Street to the embassy, which took the crowd almost 90 minutes. Along the way the marchers sang the Ukrainian national anthem repeatedly and then again outside the embassy.
The rendition of the song brought tears to many present including the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland Gerasko Larysa, who told those present they were not celebrating the independence of their country but the “renewal of our independence”.
She reminded the crowd that Ukraine had been an independent country before it finally broke away from the Soviet Union on August 24th, 1991. Now, 31 years later, it was fighting for its freedom from Russia which had occupied much of the country.
“We fought for our independence for many centuries. We are fighting for our independence again. We are fighting for democratic values, for our statehood and for our homes and families and children and for our destiny,” she said.
It was not just the freedom of Ukraine that is at stake in the war, the international order, self-determination and freedom are also at stake, she added to loud applause.
The toll on Ukraine included 10,000 killed Ukrainian soldiers and countless civilians. At her request the crowd observed a minute’s silence and went down on their knees for those who had died in the defence of the country.
“Many Ukrainians lost their homes and their relatives. Despite all of that we are fighting and we must win, because if win Europe and the democratic world will win. The courage of our Ukrainian soldiers are inspiring the whole world,” she concluded.
The crowds chanted “thank you, Ireland” at several stages and Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley said the people of Ireland were glad to accept Ukrainian refugees and will continue to do so.
“While we Irish politicians often debate and disagree amongst other, we were united on this front that we would not set a limit on the number of Ukrainians who came here,” he said.
Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik said her father’s country, the Czechia, had experienced “the brutal act of Russian aggression. We know what it is like in Ireland to experience that kind of brutal aggression. We want to stand with you on our independence day as we mark six months into this brutal war.”
Several ambassadors from neighbouring countries to Ukraine also addressed the crowd. Polish ambassador Anna Sochańska said her country had been the first to recognise Ukraine’s independence.
“It was absolutely significant for my country because an independent Ukraine represents an independent Poland. Ukraine is fighting for the whole civilised world.”
The Georgian ambassador to Ireland, George Zurabashvili, said Ukraine was not the first victim of Russian aggression. He reminded the crowd that Russia occupied 20 per cent of Georgian territory. A half a million refugees had been expelled from their homeland by Russia.
“Russian military have tortured, murdered and raped Georgian civilians. The truth is that west was too naive, too slow to grasp what was really happening in Georgia and unfortunately preferred to continue business as usual.”