Ukraine celebrated its 25th independence anniversary yesterday with a display of pomp and circumstance heavily laced with military might. Hundreds of troops, tanks and other pieces of military hardware paraded through the streets of Kiev in an undeniable show of force and statement of national pride.
But all the combined firepower of the forces on show could not dispel the clouds of uncertainty that hung over the anniversary celebrations.
As the tanks rolled through the city, in the east Ukrainian soldiers were dying in fighting with Moscow-backed forces which still control chunks of eastern Ukraine. Relations with Russia, never that good at the best of times, have sunk to a low that has prompted Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, to warn of a full-scale Russian invasion. Russia still possess Ukrainian Crimea –a blow to national pride that Ukraine has vowed to reverse.
Away from the battlefields Ukrainians also vex over the poor state of the economy, the curse of corruption that still grips the country and the feeling that perhaps the best has not been made of the past 25 years.
Comparisons are often made with neighbouring Poland. Twenty-five years ago the countries were on a similar economic footing and contesting many of the same challenges former communist states faced. Since then Poland’s economy has thrived.
Ukraine, on the other hand, has seen economic success undermined and stymied by corruption, fuelling political instability and helping prompt two revolutions.
So Ukraine’s record over the past 25 years is pock-marked with failure, but at the same time there has been much success that should not be overlooked.
Few would deny Ukrainian democracy is perfect but a democracy it is. Unlike in neighbouring Belarus or Russia, Ukraine possesses a free media that is ready and willing to criticise political leaders. The Maidan Revolution of 2013-14 would not have happened if Ukraine had not had a population well versed in the politics of democracy and a willingness to fight for Western values.
The past 25 years have not been easy ones for Ukraine. Mistakes have been made along the way and its prospects of a happy future are still challenged by Russia, the power of the criminal oligarchs and an economy still weighed down by its Soviet legacy. But the country has resisted falling into the political and social darkness that so much of the former Soviet empire now wallows in.
Ukraine has moved forward and should continue to do so.