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31 years since the Ukrainian independence referendum

31 years since the Ukrainian independence referendum

Exactly 31 years ago Ukrainians once and for all declared their will to live in an independent and sovereign Ukraine. On Dec. 1, 1991, the Ukrainian independence referendum was held. Its results were impressive: the absolute majority of Ukrainians — 90.3% —  voted for an independent Ukraine. 

Such overwhelming results could not be disputed by any state in the world. Immediately after Dec. 1, 1991, countries began to recognize Ukraine as an independent state, and days after, the Soviet Union collapsed. In 2022, Russia is once again trying to wrest Ukraine’s independence, but it won’t succeed, because the people of Ukraine are as united as they were 31 years ago. 

Read more about the events of Dec. 1, 1991, in our story. 

What events preceded the Ukrainian independence referendum?

In March 1991, when the Soviet Union was already on the brink of collapse, Moscow decided to hold a referendum on the preservation of the “reformed” USSR. About 70% of Ukrainians voted in favor of “a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics.” It was the lowest rate among the republics of the Soviet Union which participated in the referendum.

Along with the referendum, Ukrainian voters were also asked “Do you agree that Ukraine should be part of a Union of Soviet sovereign states on the basis of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine?” The proposal was approved by 81.7% of voters. 

In the next few months, the independence movement in Ukraine began to develop even more rapidly. After the unsuccessful сoup in Moscow in August 1991, the possibility of Ukraine becoming an independent state became real. That’s why on Aug. 24, 1991, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) adopted the Act of Independence of Ukraine.

To endorse the decision of the Ukrainian parliament by the will of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian authorities decided to hold a Ukrainian independence referendum. In addition to the referendum, the first presidential elections of Ukraine were held on the same day, Dec. 1, 1991, which brought a victory to Leonid Kravchuk, making him Ukraine’s first president.

“The Soviet Union referendum was held before the Ukrainian independence referendum…Then, the people said they wanted to be in the Soviet Union. And in August 1991, the Verkhovna Rada adopted the Act of Independence of Ukraine. Thus, a contradiction arose that was overcome precisely on Dec. 1, 1991, at the all-Ukrainian referendum. By the way, this is a telling fact: until we held a referendum, no country in the world recognized Ukraine as an independent state. Therefore, the Dec. 1 referendum was needed to overcome the consequences of the March 17 referendum. There was no other way,” the first President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk said in an interview once. 

The Referendum

The national referendum was held on Dec. 1, 1991. There was one question in the ballot: “Do you support the declaration of Ukrainian independence?” and only two answers: “Yes” or “No”.

An overwhelming number of Ukrainians — more than 84% (about 32 million of Ukrainians) — took part in the voting. International observers concluded that the voting processes measured up to democratic standards. The results spoke for themselves: the absolute majority of Ukrainians — 90.3% (almost 29 million of Ukrainians) —  voted for an independent Ukraine. The independence status was supported by citizens of all regions without exception, including Crimea, and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Ukrainian people demonstrated their unity to the world in their desire to be free.

The day after the referendum was held, Poland and Canada recognized Ukraine’s independence. By the end of December 1991, the number of such countries increased to 74. 25 days after the Ukrainian independence referendum was held, the Soviet Union collapsed. 


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