30 years of Ukraine’s independence: highlights from President Zelenskyi’s address to the nation

August 24 marks the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence. Large-scale celebrations emphasized the significance of the round date. During the military parade, four thousand troops marched on the central street of Kyiv followed by military vehicles. Aviation took off into the sky over Kyiv including the world’s largest aircraft, Ukrainian-built An-225 Mriya. Independence Day was celebrated all across Ukraine.  

As part of the celebration of Independence Day in Kyiv, President Zelenskyi awarded prominent Ukrainians with statedecorations. The President also introduced a new holiday – the Day of Ukrainian Nationhood on July 28.    

President Zelenskyi’s address to the nation exceeded the expectations and sat well with the event’s significance. We’ve picked key quotes and central messages in his speech. 

“Young state with a thousand-year history”

President Zelenskyi started his address by emphasizing the historic part. The 30th anniversary of independence is actually an anniversary of restoration of independence, restoration of justice, he underscored. 

“Our history and our state are unique.

Our Constitution turned 25 years old, and our Constitution turned 311 years old. Written by Pylyp Orlyk, it is finally back home, on display at the Saint Sophia Cathedral that was built over a thousand years ago.

Our hryvnia is quarter of a century old, and Prince Volodymyr is featured on it. Our hryvnia is actually more than a millennium old, it existed under Prince Volodymyr. Our trident was cemented by the Constitution 25 years ago. And our trident was embossed on the bricks of the Desyatynna Church 1,025 years ago.

This year, the Armed Forces of Ukraine marked 30 years since they were established. And in 1616, the Armed Forces of Ukraine captured the Kafa fortress.

It all proves one thing: we are a young state with a thousand-year history. We are building our house on the land where our ancestors lived and built their houses. We are neither guests nor strangers here. We are a young family from the glorious dynasty of Kyivan Rus-Ukraine.

We belong to a family lineage of founders and baptizers, to a brave and wise Cossack lineage. We are neither orphans nor foundlings. We are descendants of a powerful state that used to be at the center of Europe.

We should not only be conscious of that, but also act accordingly,” President Zelenskyi said. 

“Not allowing to occupy the history”, “bringing back what’s ours”

In his speech, Zelenskyi also highlighted Ukraine’s identity against a backdrop of Russia’s hybrid warfare. Throughout the centuries, the country has been fighting to preserve its identity, history, and language.    

“We also begin to bring prominent Ukrainians back in their native land, those who lived for Ukraine, fought for Ukraine, but are not buried in Ukraine. Those are Cossack hetmans of the Zaporizka Sich, politicians of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR), fighters for independence, prominent figures in culture and science, and many more.”

“We will bring back not only our people, but also what belongs to us. These are historical and cultural values of Ukraine abroad.”

“We will never again give up a single stone of our history. We will not allow to occupy a single page of our history, or annex our writers, scientists, athletes, and heroes who defeated Nazism,” Zelenskyi said.

“A strong country”

Zelenskyi envisioned a strong Ukraine. The idea of a strong country goes beyond the military might of a country at war emphasized through the spectacular military parade.  

“What is a strong country? A country that dreams big and acts firmly. A country that is not intimidated by doing anything for the first time. For the first time in 30 years, Antonov is building three aircrafts for the state. Helicopters with Ukraine-produced blade rotors and tanks are being built for the army this year.”

“A strong country revives its fleet and naval bases, and builds corvettes. A strong country is a country that adopts a 10-year missile program, builds thousands kilometers of roads, constructs hundreds of schools, kindergartens, and hospitals. That’s also the country that is the first in the world to introduce the digital passport. (…)

“The country is a NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities partner. The country will get support as soon as it applies for the EU membership. If it becomes that country, it will not have to ask for an invitation, it will be invited.”  

“We are doing many things for the first time, so that Ukraine can become a powerful country again and the times when Crimea and Donbas were not occupied will return.”

“A strong country does not wait for anyone to solve its problems,” Zelenskyi said.

Ukraine’s national team: an ethnically diverse country 

While Ukraine is home to diverse ethnicities, Russia has been accusing Ukraine of “fascism” since 2014. The President highlighted diversity in his speech.

“Today, for the first time in history, I want to name those who live in Ukraine, so that we finally understand that the Ukrainian nation embraces Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, Karaites, Krymchaks, Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Romanians, Poles, Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Roma, Georgians, Gagauz, Azerbaijanis, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Turkmens and Tajiks, Lithuanians, Estonians and Latvians, Turks, Koreans, Bashkirs, Lezgins, Avars, Mari, Germans, Slovaks, Czechs and Finns, Komi, Albanians, Karelians, Chechens, Ossetians, Abkhazians, Kabardians, Tabasarans, Dargins, Arabs, and Laks. We are all citizens of Ukraine.”

“Ukraine’s national team. One team.”

“Twenty-five regions – 25 irreplaceable players make it strong. It is invincible, and every player is indispensable.”

“If it hadn’t had the Zaporizhzhia helicopters and Antonov aircrafts, Ukraine would not have conquered the sky. If Mykolayiv had not provided Ukraine with the vessels, Ukraine wouldn’t have conquered the sea.”

“Without Dnipro’s Pivdenmash, Korolev from Zhytomyr and Kadeniuk from Bukovyna, Ukraine would have never conquered the space. Had it not had the Kharkiv-based T34 tank, Ukraine would not have won in the battlefields of World War II,” the President said.

Who are Ukraine’s prominent actors from Donetsk region?

There was a joke that made Ukraine’s second, third, and fifth president – Leonid Kuchma, Viktor Yushchenko, and Petro Poroshenko laugh at the ceremony. 

Each region gave to the country significant state actors. The President thanked Rivne region for the first president Kravchuk, Chernihiv region for president Kuchma, and Sumy region for president Yushchenko.

Instead of mentioning Yanukovych next, Zelenskyi paused and thanked Donetsk region for artist Leonid Bykov and internationally renowned athlete Serhiy Bubka (who was born in Luhansk though).

The public laughed as Zelenskyi did not mention Yanukovych. He did not mention Poroshenko either.

He continued the speech: “Kirovohrad region gave to the country Karpenko-Kary and Kropyvnytskyi, and theater. Zhytomyr region gave us Lesya Ukrainka and poetry.”

“Poltava region is the land of Mykola Lysenko and opera. Ternopil region – the land of Solomiya Krushelnytska and her extraordinary voice. Vinnytsia region – the land of Vasyl Stus and unbreakable spirit. Ukraine is not so strong without the Kamianets-Podilskyi Fortress, Volyn’s Lubart’s Castle and the Akkerman fortress in Odesa region. Without Lavra and Saint Sophia, Saint Nicholas Castle and Saint George Cathedral, the Khan Mosque in Bakhchysarai and a synagogue in Dnipro, Ukraine would not be so diverse.”

“Strong together: diverse, equal, and close”

Concluding the speech, Zelenskyi underscored the unity of Ukraine, regardless of regional differences.

“Look at our national flag or imagine it. Imagine that it does not have the yellow color, and now the blue color.Separately, these are just colors. They are neither bright nor exciting. 

When put together, they become our best and strongest combination. Similarly, we are strong together.

We are so different – natives of the east and the west, Ukrainian and Russian speakers. Why do we have to unite into one family? We are united by Ukraine. ‘There is none like you!’ we say to Ukraine. We defend it. Diverse, equal, close, strong, free, and independent!”

“Glory to Ukraine!” Zelenskyi said.