Today, May 23, Ukrainians honor their armed forces by celebrating Marine Corps Day and Heroes’ Day. The commemorations are especially poignant as the armed forces continue to resist in the Donbas and prepare for the expected counteroffensive on all fronts.
The Ukrainian Naval Infantry Corps, as the Marines are properly called, is an independent branch of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). Trained as advanced landing units, Marines are also tasked with defending naval bases, islands, coasts, ports, airfields, and other strategic sites.
During the Siege of Mariupol, the 36th Separate Marine Brigade played a major role in defending the Azovstal steel plant, which became a fortress. Along with the Azov Regiment, Border Guards and other defenders, the 36th Marine Brigade pinned down upwards of 10,000 Russian troops, preventing them from encircling the majority of the AFU in the Donbas.
The courage they and others have shown is now celebrated annually on May 23, whereas before 2018, it took place on November 16. The new date was chosen to memorialize the anniversary the formation of the Corps by Hetman Skoropadsky, in 1918 who declared: “On the beginning of the formation for service of a Naval Infantry Corps Brigade consisting of three regiments.”
Heroes’ Day is also an annual holiday, held in honor of those who have fought for Ukraine’s freedom throughout history – those heroes who defended their native land since the days of Kyivan Rus, in the 9th century, to those present-day soldiers and volunteers who are resisting Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine.
Last year on this day, the General Staff reminded Ukrainians how, during the German and later Soviet occupation of Ukraine, this day was celebrated underground and among the Ukrainian diaspora: “At the present time, this holiday is not only a tribute to the heroes of the past, but also a day of honoring the newest ones, who today give their lives for the unity and independence of our Ukraine.”
Heroes’ Day was inaugurated in 1941 by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), an ultranationalist political organization that fought for the creation, preservation and development of an independent, unified Ukrainian state.
Although Heroes’ Days is still associated with the OUN and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), it is, today, dedicated to all Ukrainians who fought for the independence and freedom of their country. This includes the followers of Grand Prince Sviatoslav and King Daniel of Galicia in the Middle Ages; the Cossack regiments of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Ivan Mazepa and Ivan Vyhovsky; through Symon Petliura’s Army of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in the early 20th century; the Euromaidan activists (including the Heavenly Hundred Heroes) in 2014, and especially today’s fighters.
“The heroes of the latest unprovoked, unjust, insidious, aggressive war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine are inspired by the examples of millions of our predecessors who have been building Ukraine for more than a thousand years,” the General Staff emphasized.
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