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State Honours to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group

On 9 November 2006 Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko awarded State Honours to mark the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Ukrainian Public Group to Promote the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords.  The Presidential Decree had been signed the previous day.

Before the presentation of the Awards, the President, speaking on behalf of the Ukrainian people and state, expressed deepest honour and gratitude. “It was you who laid the first foundation stones in creating civic society in Ukraine. You were the first to hold the freedom of the individual and citizen equal to the freedom of the people and to place their rights higher than those of the state”, Viktor Yushchenko stated.

The President pointed to three worldview activities of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group: awareness building activities and the renewal of Ukrainian statehood, a challenge to the communist totalitarian system and the preservation of the deep democratic tradition of the Ukrainian people. The “Ukrainian Helsinki Group” brought the struggle of the Ukrainian people against totalitarianism into the context of the world democratic process”, he stressed.

The President recalled the outstanding figures of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, among them Vasyl Stus, Ivan Kandyba, Oles Berdnyk, Mykola Rudenko, Viacheslav Chornovil, Yury Shukhevych and Levko Lukyanenko. Some of them were honoured with the title of “Hero of Ukraine”. Petro Grigorenko, co-founder of the UHG, was posthumously awarded the Honour “For courage” 1 class.

The Group was the impulse for the modern political movement in Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko stated. It was they who initiated new political movements – Narodny Rukh Ukrainy [The Popular Movement of Ukraine – RUKH], the Ukrainian Republican Party and the Democratic Party of Ukraine.

“Today’s state honours for a major personal contribution to the national and state regeneration of Ukraine indicate that the State remembers its heroes and seeks to pay due tribute to their deed undertaken in the name of the present and future generations”.

UHHRU

Acceptance speech on receiving the State Award “For Courage” 1 class

The President’s Secretariat in Kyiv, 9 November 2006

(recorded from memory)

Mr President,

I have the great honour of thanking you on behalf of my fellows here today and of the relatives of those unjustly killed. These people feel very strange here, in the Secretariat of the President – they were much more accustomed to police stations and cells. Of course, each believed that Ukraine would one day pay tribute to their cause, the cause to which they had dedicated their lives. However they were also able to wait. Governments, parliaments and presidents changed, however the state figures from whom they would have received state honours with tears in their eyes were each time somewhere beyond the horizon. We have today received them from you, Mr President. However, before I speak of this, let me mention our Parliament which passed a Resolution on marking the anniversary of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, which is in pronounced competition with your Decree.

We cannot accept this Resolution from those who with the one hand pay tribute to the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, while with the other reject a draft resolution on marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the prominent members of this group – General Petro Grigorenko. We cannot accept this Resolution from a Parliament a majority of whom still label members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the fighters of the Ukrainian Resistance Army (UPA) “bandits” and “the dregs”.

However in your case, Mr President, we accept this honour from the hands of a man who for the first time in Ukraine’s history has raised to state level the honouring of the victims of Holodomor [the Famine of 1932-1933] and who is seeking to pay tribute to the fighters of UPA. We accept this honour from the hands of a President who can be criticized, and it is in this that freedom lies. You can be reproached for mistakes however no one can accuse you of encroaching upon human liberty. This for us, former human rights defenders, is of fundamental importance.

How could we serve our people today? Most of those here now have grey hair, most have fulfilled their “Cossack duty”. However we are convinced that the moral principles which once compelled us to resist remain exceptionally important today also. This is first of all the intense love for Ukraine which guided our actions. We see the lack of this love today. It is secondly the love of truth which alone can set us free. This love of truth later brought us together on Maidan. And thirdly, it is the love of God who spoke to us in the prisons and labour camps in different ways – for some in religious language, for others secular – and people responded to that call.

We express our sincere thanks, Mr President, for this great honour, and may God bless your good plans and initiatives! As a token of our gratitude, we would ask you to accept two modest gifts – a memorial medal issued by Radio “Svoboda” for the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and a copy of the Biographical Dictionary of Dissidents published for this anniversary by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.

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