He had been in a coma since 2021 and died on May 10, 2022, the third month of the savage Russian aggression against Ukraine. However, he managed to declare beforehand: “Ukraine must be in NATO. There is no other option for Ukraine because today it is defending its land from the Russian aggressor.”
These are the words of the first President of Ukraine (1991-94), Leonid Kravchuk.
He was born in 1934 in the village of Velykyi Zhytyn, Rivne Region. After school, he graduated from a cooperative technical college, and in 1958 – the Faculty of Economics at the University of Kyiv. At the same time, he joined the Communist Party and began his political career: he worked in the Chernivtsi regional party committee, then in the apparatus of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU).
In 1970 Kravchuk graduated from the Academy of Social Sciences under the Central Committee of the CPU, completed a dissertation, and continued his career within the apparatus. In 1980 he became the head of the propaganda and agitation department of the CPU Central Committee. Everyone who worked with him at the time remembers that he was an exemplary official and spoke only Russian.
As the republic’s main propagandist, Kravchuk, among other things, organized counter-rallies against the Ukrainian diaspora and dissidents who marked the 50th anniversary of the Holodomor famine of the early 1930s. Thus, Kravchuk’s subsequent claims that he had known nothing about the famine until he read a collection of documents about it in the late 1980s are untrue. However, demanding truth from politicians of this level is futile.
In October 1988, we saw Leonid Kravchuk as head of the ideological department of the CPU Central Committee, then secretary of the CPU Central Committee on ideology, a candidate for membership of the party’s leadership – its politburo. In 1989 he called for a ban on the burgeoning democratic People’s Movement of Ukraine – Rukh, but the Communist Party’s leaders did not dare risk this. In June-September 1990 he worked as the Second Secretary of the CPU Central Committee.
Eventually, after CPU hardline boss Volodymyr Shcherbytsky was replaced in late 1989 by Soviet party leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Kravchuk quickly sensed the direction in which political winds were blowing. He, and fellow communists who resisted Moscow’s attempts to preserve the Soviet empire, opted for accommodation with Rukh and the national democratic movement and the affirmation of Soviet Ukraine’s “sovereignty.”
In July 1990, Kravchuk was elected Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of the Ukrainian SSR. And here came his heyday. He opposed Gorbachev’s attempts to preserve the Soviet Union under the guise of “renewing” it through a new Union treaty. At the same time, he drew closer to Rukh and the national democratic movement.
In August 1991, a putsch took place in Moscow aimed at preserving the Soviet Union in its traditional form and removing Gorbachev (then the Soviet Communist Party leader) from power. Caught by surprise, Kravchuk appeared to vacillate, but after the danger had passed, he was quick to reaffirm his break with his past. Under his stewardship in the Ukrainian Parliament, Ukraine declared its independence on August 24, 1991.
Kravchuk played a courageous leading role in implementing this historic decision, by supporting the banning of the Communist Party in Ukraine, the building of a national army, and the holding of a national referendum on December 1, 1991, to endorse the declaration of independence.
On the same day that Ukrainians overwhelmingly supported independence, Kravchuk was elected president of Ukraine. Armed with this unchallengeable mandate, on December 7-8, 1991, he met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus Stanislav Shushkevich in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Belarus. With Kravchuk asserting Ukraine’s self-determination, they jointly made the decision to liquidate the USSR and set up the nebulous non-state association which they named the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). As Ukraine’s head of state, Kravchuk signed the document on the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Against the background of the economic, social, and political difficulties which the transition to independent statehood entailed, Kravchuk lost the presidential election to Leonid Kuchma in July 1994, who was nominated as being in opposition to the allegedly “nationalist” Kravchuk. He behaved with dignity and peacefully handed over power to his successor, establishing a very good tradition.
For me, that’s when Leonid Kravchuk reached his pinnacle and secured his place in history as a worthy first president of independent Ukraine.
Afterward, his record was not always that bright. Kravchuk acted differently at different times. In 1994, he became a member of the Verkhovna Rada and seemed to lose his political bearings. In January 1998 he became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (United), which included dubious politicians and businessmen, and even a member of its politburo.
Kravchuk spoke out against the third president, Viktor Yushchenko, calling for his resignation, and condemning the 2004 Orange Revolution. Kravchuk was deprived of the title of Honorary Doctor of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy National University for this in November 2004.
The fourth president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, gave Kravchuk the role of Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly. Kravchuk seemed to be back in the past again, the executor of another “general line.”
During the presidency of Petro Poroshenko, Kravchuk adopted a critical position, believing that for the fifth President of Ukraine, private business was more important than the state.
In the summer of 2020, Poroshenko’s successor, Volodymyr Zelensky, appointed Kravchuk head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group on Donbas. Kravchuk distinguished himself as a principled and firm defender of Ukraine’s interests in the negotiating platform addressing Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine. He also supported President Zelensky against his political detractors.
As a very experienced politician, Leonid Kravchuk understood that it is impossible to reach an agreement with Russia:
“They act on the world arena like a bull in a china shop … No one will want to sign international agreements with such leaders anymore. And I would recommend to all other states not to conclude any international documents with such a Russia. This state is unpredictable!”
Well, this assessment by Kravchuk is irrefutable. As is also indisputable the fact that he, despite all the meanders of his political career has been and will remain, a symbol of independent Ukraine.
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter