A Young Person’s Guide to Ukrainian Independence Day — Special Report
26 August, 2017

The opportunity to travel across Europe, access to information, freedom of speech and open-mindedness — what does independence mean to you?

As Ukraine marks 26 years of independence from the Soviet Union, Hromadske asks young people from Ukraine how their lives are different from those of their parents under the Soviet regime.

Polina Nagirna, 25 years old

I wish my parents could have traveled across Europe [and] Northern Europe more. I wish they could have had the same access to information as I have now. I wish they could have developed intellectually. In a nutshell, I wish they could have had more time for themselves.

Photo credit: Anastasiya Vlasova/HROMADSKE

When my mother was 20, she already had my elder sister Olya. My parents were living with a small child and their parents in one flat. Those were the times of Perestroika and the [economic] crisis. They worked a lot and devoted much time to the family, but they had no time for themselves.

Nevertheless, my parents were party-goers. My father was a rock musician. They were rather tunnel-visioned, their access to information was limited. There was a lot of propaganda. We also have much of it, but we can distinguish it from the truth.

We are well-developed. However, we are more egotistical than they were. We are globalists, they are a “part of society.” They lived like they were in a cocoon. I’d like to take my parents to Unit City and the Podil Theater, where I feel like I’m in a parallel reality.

Photo credit: Anastasiya Vlasova/HROMADSKE

I’ve been living in Kyiv for 13 years already. It’s getting more and more difficult to love it. There should be something special here. And these two places make me feel that we are living in a nice country.

I dream of seeing the world. I wish my parents would live forever. At my age, my mother dreamed of her own flat, wealth for the family, some kind of certainty. She wished her parents would live forever.

Kate Gonchar, 22 years old

When my mom was 18, she was really rocking out. She left Armenia, and moved to a country she didn’t know. I wouldn’t have the guts for something like that.

I wish they could have traveled more, could have gone on a Eurotrip, for instance. My parents traveled a lot across the country, but those were mainly the places where my father served [in the military]. We have more opportunities, but that moral and spiritual temper that my parents gave me doesn’t change.

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My parents met in a tram in Kyiv’s Podil district. When they saw each other for the first time, dad asked for mom’s phone number, but he probably made a mistake when writing it down, because he failed to get through. He tried different numbers, but it didn’t work out. After some time, in spring, they met again in the same tram. They started dating.

Then, my father served in the Northern Azerbaijan, and my mother lived in Kyiv. So for a couple of years they had a long-distance relationship. For me, this is absolutely impossible. I wouldn’t even recognize the boy from the tram the next day. But my mother managed to do it.

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In fact, at the age of 20, my mom had the same dreams as I do, but she was more successful at making them come true. She dreamt about a family, and she found the man of her dreams. We have similar aims.

Serhiy Bogachenko, 23 years old

I wish my parents had more freedom. Some peculiarities of the country they were born in, which doesn’t exist now, still have an influence on them. What mattered to them? School, getting a degree, work. These things don’t matter to me. I wanted to leave university, but graduated because I made a promise to my father. I’ve just graduated from the university, but earn more than my father.

Photo credit: Anastasiya Vlasova/HROMADSKE

I wish they were more open-minded, ready to accept new things. The emergence of something new was a rare occurrence back then. It happened once every 5 years. Now it happens every single day. My father today says: “Son, I’ve received an update for my phone. What should I do?” I say, “Accept it!”

My mom was a hipster. She was one of the few who had a record player. She is from Ternopil. She always was more pro-Western, listened to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, AC/DC. She was even kicked out of the Komsomol Young Communist League.

They have always had some prejudices, while I'm more open to new things and more objective. I can get information from different sources. I am better socialized, have more friends from different countries, and have already seen more in my life. [Young people] take everything easier. We have a wider social circle. But they had more real friends, once and for a lifetime. For instance, my father’s friend Pasha.

Unlike my brother and me, my father knows how to build a house and repair a car…but that’s all. But we [young people] can write code in HTML. Because my parents lived in the USSR, my father knows how to do all those “men’s” things, and my mother knows all those “women’s” things. Nowadays, the gender roles have shifted.

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They traveled a lot and went camping, because there were no other options. They wanted something, but did not dream. They wanted to live and enjoy life. I dream of seeing the whole world, and I know I can do it. I want to go on a trip to Mars, of course, and take pictures there. But that's a bit harder to do.

They all feared shame. It was a shame to be excluded from Komsomol. Today, we don’t have that. Now, it's probably not so easy to make people feel ashamed. If someone goes to fight for Ukraine and then joins the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic,” that would be a shame.

They still do some things because “it’s customary.” I'm against it. If my parents were 20, I would take them to hang out with me at “Vikno” and “Druzi” cafes and to ride scooters.

My father is rather old school. Although my parents travel from time to time, when mother says, “Let’s go to Germany,” father usually says that it’s good enough at the country house. Why should he go to Germany when it’s good enough in the country house? As for me, I’m going to Berlin next week.

Lera Deynega, 17 years old

I now have everything my parents didn’t have, but the main thing in life is self-fulfillment. I am studying horse breeding in Poland. My dad is only just getting higher education now, because how was it back then? After school, he was taken into the army and, after the army, he didn’t really know what to do.

My parents have been together since school, since the 7th grade. They have a lot of pictures from parties and house concerts with friends. Later pictures are with me.

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I envy them. They managed to attend a concert by [Soviet rock musician] Viktor Tsoi six months before his death. I’ll never have such a chance. I would like to dress up as stylishly as my mother in the pictures, and to go to the house concert. I think it's cool. I’m wearing my mother’s old glasses now, by the way.

They still have conservative views on how I should behave. My mother says: “I did not go for sleepovers at your age.” We have different views and values. Family was a top-priority for them. For me it’s also important, but I mean parents, not relationships.

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Self-fulfillment and traveling are important to me. However, my parents were limited in this regard. I was in the 5th grade when they traveled by plane for the first time. We took a trip to Egypt.

Oles Shevchenko, 26 years old

I was born on the day of the Soviet coup, five days before Ukraine became independent. My father said he had a double holiday. He told me: “Mom was in the hospital, all that fuss. On the TV, we saw that everything was falling. That was a defining moment.”

Our life now differs significantly from theirs. They could not go anywhere. My mother managed to travel, because our grandfather had money, but not everyone was lucky enough.

Photo credit: Anastasiya Vlasova/HROMADSKE

My mother played football, volleyball, did biathlon when she was young. She took part in competitions. But they had little entertainment in comparison to us.

Of course, there were problems with freedom of speech and transparency. Patriotism and recognition of Ukraine as an independent country was suppressed. You had to think three times about the outcome before saying anything. Nobody knew the outcome, and whether you would be punished or not [for speaking your mind]. My father told me how difficult it was.

Poets and writers were meeting and discussing the situation very carefully. For my father it was very important he could say everything that he thought.

My dad in general has a complicated story. He is from a foster family. In his passport, it said that he’s Russian by nationality. He spoke Russian at home. But he found his real parents. They turned out to be Ukrainians from Zhytomyr region.

Since that time he principally has started to speak Ukrainian. Instead of Oleksandr, as in the passport, he began to call himself Oles, began to study the history of Ukraine, and loved all Ukrainian poets. In terms of self-consciousness and patriotism, he changed very much in adulthood. Now he is 70.

Photo credit: Anastasiya Vlasova/HROMADSKE

Our family was on the Independence Square. Even when we were small, our parents were taking us to the Orange Revolution demonstrations. I think they then dreamed less because their access to information was limited. Now I understand that I know very little about the times of their youth. Of course, they tell me about it, but I quickly forget.

I would like to take them to some kind of festival, to "Atlas Weekend" or "Zahid Fest." They have never visited such events. I dream of finding my calling, something that is  both pleasing to me and useful to society. I think that my parents back then also dreamed about this. My mother always thought and still thinks about people.

/Reporting by Anastasiya Vlasova

/Translated by Olga Kuchmagra