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Defender's Day

Defender's Day 2017 and 2018

Defender’s Day is a very new and very controversial Ukrainian holiday established by decree of Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and soon afterwards ratified by parliament.

201714 OctSatDefender's Day
16 OctMonDefender's Day Holiday
201814 OctSunDefender's Day
15 OctMonDefender's Day Holiday

It occurs every October 14th and is a day designed to honour Ukraine’s past and present military heroes in their struggle for Ukrainian freedom.

The new holiday is tied up in the current struggle in Ukraine between pro-government elements and pro-Russian separatist forces. It replaces the February 23rd “Defender of the Fatherland” holiday that has roots in the Soviet Era, but pro-Russian areas of Ukraine still celebrate the old holiday and reject the new one. Defender of the Fatherland Day is also kept by Russia and some other former-Soviet Republics and was originally instituted as “Red Army Day” to commemorate the first big drafts of soldiers into the Communist Army in 1918, which helped the Red Russians defeat the White Russians in the Russian Civil War.

When former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych broke his promise to strengthen ties with the West and signed a trade deal with Russia instead, that along with other accusations of corruption, led to an uprising in 2014 that ultimately impeached and ousted him. Russia did not recognise his removal, however, and had long wished to reclaim Crimea, a part of Ukraine that had formerly been a part of the Russian Federation. A referendum had already been held in which Crimeans chose to continue as part of Ukraine, but Russia secretly moved in paratroopers, seized Crimea, and held a new referendum in which union with Russia won. Also, in the “Donbass” region of eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian rebel groups formed, leading to pitched battles. A ceasefire has now been agreed to, but tensions nevertheless continue.

The reason given for choosing October 14th is that this is also the date of the Feast of the Intercession, which is a traditional day on which Ukrainian soldiers have been honoured. It is also the day on which the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UIA) rose up against the Soviets during World War II, but since the UIA also “teamed up with” the Nazis in fighting the Communists, the date being associated with them has been criticised by some.

Though declared in 2014, the first official celebration of Defender of Ukraine Day came in 2015, and it is unclear what traditions will develop. Nonetheless, we can give three ideas on what tourists can find to do in Ukraine on October 14th:

  • Attend a parade. There was a large parade down Artyoma Street in downtown Kiev in 2015. A
    giant Ukrainian flag was carried by a long line of marchers, and “more ordinary sized” flags were also seen. Both civilians and military personnel marched together, and there were drummers and “patriotic chanting.”
  • Listen to speeches and patriotic music. In 2015, the new holiday’s slogan, “Power of the Unbroken,” was the theme of speeches by political leaders at special meetings, and these were sometimes broadcast on TV. Patriotic concerts, such as the “Glory to Heroes!” concert were also held.
  • Visit the Church of the Assumption or other famous Kiev churches dedicated to the “Theotokos” (God-bearer), such as the centuries-old Pokrovska Church, to attend all-night vigils. The architecture is very impressive on many antique Russian churches, and you can learn much about this feast’s historical importance to Ukrainians.