Ukraine Marks Independence

Ukraine marked its 14th anniversary of independence on Aug. 24, foregoing the traditional military parade for the first time for what the new leadership wants to celebrate as a peaceful holiday.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians gathered in Kyiv's main Independence Square, decorated with orange flags, as folk groups performed. The crowd chanted "Yushchenko!" as the Ukrainian leader approached the podium, shaking hands on his way.

He called Ukraine's independence the nation's "greatest creation," stressing that freedom is "the Alpha and Omega of democracy."

"A journalist that criticizes the authorities doesn't risk his freedom or life any more," he said, referring obliquely to Heorhiy Gongadze, a journalist whose September 2000 abduction and killing fueled popular anger against the regime of former President Leonid Kuchma.

Yushchenko reiterated his intention to continue a "tough attack" against corruption, which "is slowly receding."

Kuchma was severely criticized for corruption and muzzling the press.

Later, Yushchenko awarded Gongadze posthumously with the state award of the Hero of Ukraine.

Yushchenko said that the journalist had died "for our freedom and our independence," Interfax news agency reported.

Yushchenko has made upholding media rights a major tenet of his presidency. The Western-leaning reformer came to power last year amid mass street protests dubbed the Orange Revolution.

"I'm proud that I live in an independent state," said Ruslan Prylipko, a 38-year-old businessman. "With Yushchenko in power, I feel closer to Europe, to the civilized world."

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said earlier this month that there would be no military parade this year. "There is so much aggression in our life that we should mark the Independence Day with concerts and happiness" instead of a show of force, she said.

The celebrations were to be crowned with fireworks the night of Aug. 24.

Ukrainian lawmakers declared the Soviet republic independent on Aug. 24, 1991, days after the failed hard-line Communist coup against then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Ukraine's voters overwhelmingly approved the decision in a referendum a few months later.


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