August 24 is going to be a big day marking thirty years since the adoption by the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian SSR of the independence act. Back then, the Ukrainian political circles (establishment people, as they say nowadays) and a goodly proportion of the population put a great deal of trust in this document. Politicians promised that, having got rid of Moscow's oppression, the republic would live like France, and the population gleefully believed this. Formally, such a scenario was highly likely: advanced industry, agriculture, infrastructure, a decent level of scientific and technical development with adequate universities and research institutes, and a high human potential. What's the net effect down the road?
First of all, any Ukrainian president, except perhaps Yushchenko, starting with a formal understanding of Ukraine's existence only as a bicommunal Russian-Ukrainian state like Belgium or Canada (let's even abandon the fact that the Little Russians belong to the three-pronged Russian people), has eventually spiraled into narrow-ethnic Ukrainian nationalism of various intensity. Kravchuk, who promised the Russian citizens equal rights and room to live and grow in 1991, ended his only presidential term being a Russophobe. In 1994, Kuchma promised to make Russian the second state language, but later he said this was not exactly what he had in mind – the Russian language in Ukraine should not have felt like alien. Yanukovych also pledged bilingualism but he quickly forgot his promises and made no secret of having begun to encourage absolutely rampant national chauvinists like Oleh Tyahnybok 's Svoboda party, in order to appear as a moderate politician as opposed to them.
After February 2014, the situation shifted rightwards, with the presidents still holding out promises to the country's East but discarding those much faster. Poroshenko, who looked like a relatively moderate centrist, ended up being a Tyahnybok-level radical and adept of the "sacred triad" including the Ukrainian Armed Forces, lack of options for the Ukrainian language and the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Virtually, Zelensky was elected as a more moderate politician compared to Poroshenko, who had become just too rightwing (even for the post-Maidan era), for which reason he held many people off. Like any system politician in Ukraine, he is certainly a nationalist but a soft, liberal, and civil one. He respects the Russian language and Russian culture, which he belongs to by the way, and considers the word "Ukrainian" primarily a polytonym to denote residents of a multi-component country, like "Belgian", "Canadian" or "American". But it wasn’t long before Zelensky continued and deepened Poroshenko's repressive legislation in education and linguistics, embraced his "army, language and faith" triad and started adhering to a narrow and limited nationalism based on the Galician vision of the country's past, present and future, with some additional dubious Little Russian "ornament" like the Mazeppa cult. His recent statements like "Crimea should be either Ukrainian or deserted" and "Russian residents of the Donbass should leave as soon as possible" might cause an envious whistle with Poroshenko himself. What to expect from utter right-wingers then?
The attitude towards the Russian, Russian-speaking and Russian-cultural population was closely and most inextricably intertwined with that towards Russia proper. Even in the late Soviet period, the party-state leadership, despite all the formal ideological clichés, did apprehend Ukraine's being an all-round inseparable part of Russia in historical, geopolitical and economic terms, although distinctively autonomous. Historian Andrey Marchukov writes about this in his book "Novorossiya: formation of national identities (XVIII-XX centuries)": "The leadership of the country [in the early 1970s] included people burdened by the legacy of Ukrainization. They did not understand the necessity to artificially repeat this experience, at a completely new socio-economic stage of the country's development, and to limit the use of the Russian language in thrall to Ukrainian. They pushed for a tougher and more decisive fight against manifestations of Ukrainian nationalism. It seems that they would probably prefer the Ukrainian SSR to be Russian-speaking and Soviet-Russian-cultural, with something like "Little Russian" folk culture as an addition. But... all of this appeared like something subconsciously desired rather than a real meaningful course of action. The Brezhnev period Soviet leadership neither thought about changes, especially essential ones, nor wanted them."
Ukrainian politicians who sincerely or slyly considered and positioned Ukraine's separation from Russia as a commonplace and regular divorce of a colony/dominion from the metropolis (like Britain-India or France-Algeria), were naturally forced to recognize this logic's lacking feasibility. It is only possible to justify the two states' separate existence through their accentuated contrast, which found a specific manifestation in Leonid Kuchma's book "Ukraine is not Russia". A wild scheme started determining the country's life: Ukraine is not Russia, Ukraine is not yet France and will never become France unless its lets the Russkies support it across the board. It is logical enough that the "Ukraine is not Russia" concept, backed by external forces, was transformed into "Ukraine is anti-Russia" seven years ago. With the pace and power of this transformation being extremely vast, simple facts are of no concern to average Ukrainian politicians and their average voters: with Russia, Ukraine was a privileged territory and a source of personnel for the top echelons of national elite; as anti-Russia it is a mere colony and a tool in geopolitical games of the West.
External control over Ukraine is a separate matter. Even generally pro-Western politicians openly admit its existence and comprehensive nature, with their inability and/or unwillingness to change the state of affairs being a different pair of shoes. While immediately after the February Maidan victory the control was Euro-American, today the American share gradually increased to reach absolute values. Judicial and anti-corruption reforms, and the so-called deoligarchisation are being carried out in US interests so as to destroy the last autonomous government entities and independent political players. Judges, according to the latest legislative innovations, are to be approved by a special commission, with half of its members being "international experts" and another half clearly coordinated by the star-spangled embassy.
The National Bureau of Personnel and the Prosecutor General's Office are under direct American control, whose former head Ryaboshapka once publicly appealed to the American diplomats for personnel advice. These same diplomats do not conceal when compulsorily determining sentences in high-profile criminal cases, like it was with odious neo-Nazi killer Sternenko and his amnesty. Recently, however, the American influence has been slightly displaced by that of Turkey, but this does not cancel this fact and the entire non-sovereignty pattern.
Ukraine's political failure is logically complemented by the socio-economic one. Until 2014, the country maintained some of its positions, while timidly developing thanks to numerous subsisting ties with Russia, old qualified managerial factors like Azarov and some others. After the final transition from being "not Russia" to being "anti-Russia", development has become a thing of the past. Two-thirds of citizens, according to Rosstat, live below the poverty line. Per capita GDP is lower than those of Belarus and the three countries of post-Soviet Transcaucasia.
Mortality increased by an annual 300 thousand people, birth rate fell by two and a half times. With regard to people's mass exodus to other countries, the total depopulation of recent years, by various estimates, is some 15-20% or even more. A total deindustrialization took place, with the volume of steelmaking having decreased by 3.5 times, for instance. Leading enterprises have been shut down or fallen into decay. However, the situation being what it is, some successes have been achieved in agriculture and particularly in grain production, which the authorities are incredibly proud of. But the West has never hidden that it would not mind to use Ukraine both as a geopolitical vassal and a good agricultural appendage – Lech Wałęsa once let it slip out artlessly.
The bloody Donbass drama, along with the Odessa Khatyn, has certainly become the capstone of the entire Ukrainian "independence". But even without these events deemed horrible by any sane person, the three blue-and-yellow decades do leave a painful impression.