Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:
The tumultuous events of August 1991 afforded Yeltsin an opportunity to assert democratic Russia’s authority against the weakening Soviet state. When conservative party apparatchiks tried to organize a coup against Gorbachev, it was Yeltsin who led popular resistance in Moscow. In contrast, the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Leonid Kravchuk, took a cautious stand in Kyiv, not coming out openly on either side. The all-Union governing structures and institutions essentially disintegrated with the collapse of the coup, and the republics filled the power vacuum by formally declaring independence. Any remaining hopes to salvage the former Soviet polity in the form of a loose confederation were laid to rest on December 1, 1991, when Ukraine held a national referendum to confirm its declaration of independence. Their hopes buoyed by optimistic projections of economic prosperity that was to follow liberation from Soviet imperial fetters, the overwhelming majority of the republic’s citizens voted in favor of independence: 92.3 percent nationally, including a majority in each province, and 54.2 percent even in the Crimea with its ethnic Russian majority. On the same day, Ukrainian voters also elected Kravchuk as the country’s first president. At the time, this historic choice was not seen as a parting of ways with Russia, but as a farewell to the oppressive communist empire. Gorbachev, the discredited Soviet president, was the only prominent politician advocating the “no” vote in the Ukrainian referendum, while Yeltsin’s Russia appeared to be a valuable ally in constructing the new democratic future. Later in December the Soviet Union was officially dissolved.