The Ukrainian Helsinki Union (UHU) was a social, political and human rights organization, whose creation was announced at a 50-thousand strong rally in Lviv on 7 July 1988.  The significance of this event for the future course of history was epoch-making. The UHU emerged as a federal association of self-governing human rights groups and organizations in the regions, districts and cities of Ukraine and beyond. Unlike the Ukrainian Helsinki Group which was made up of a core of human rights defenders prepared to sacrifice themselves, the UHU which arose on the basis of the UHG became the first mass opposition organization in the Soviet Union which served to activate the public and had its own political program, entitled the “UHU  Declaration of Principles”.

The basic principles included:

The restoration of Ukrainian statehood as safeguard for all the rights of the Ukrainian people;

The recognition of the right of citizens and their associations to seek statehood both as a federation or confederation with other nations of the USSR or Europe, or full state independence;

Full abolition of the Stalin – Brezhnev constitutions, the safeguarding of rights and freedoms according to international conventions, the retention at the union level of only consultative – coordination bodies and the transfer to sovereign republics of all control over economic, political and cultural life.  There could be a federal legislative body only on conditions of equal representation from the republics, regardless of the size of the population, and the centre of such a union could not be the capital of one of the union’s republics. The sessions of a federal parliament were to be held in different capitals in turn. (The idea of a federation was suggested for tactical reasons. By September 1989 the UHU openly began espousing Ukraine’s independence);

The rejection of the imperialist term “Soviet people”;

The new Ukrainian Constitution needed to contain an article about Ukrainian citizenship which would give the right to elect and be elected to councils and work in Ukrainian state institutions;

The introduction of a  temporary preventive measure against the policy of Russification practised over many years in the form of a controlling right over entry for permanent residence and for receiving citizenship;

Constitutional recognition of Ukrainian as state language;

The provision of guarantees to national minorities of cultural and national autonomy. The restoration within Ukraine of a Crimean autonomous republic with the organized return of the deported Crimean Tatar people;

The establishment of diplomatic relations with other countries on the level of embassies and consulates, mutual representation of agencies of mass information and the independent representation of Ukraine at international conferences, sporting events and competitions and at artistic festivals;

The transfer of real power in the republic from the Communist Party to councils of deputies elected on an alternative basis, for not more than two terms, the right to put forward candidates should be held by all parties, unions, informal associations and initiative groups;

A market economy and free price-fixing. Encouragement of private initiative, the reformation of a part of state industrial enterprises into share-holding or cooperative ventures;

The voluntary departure of people from collective farms with mandatory provision of land for them;

The establishment of a minimum subsistence level, state assistance for the unemployed and incentives for charitable activities;

Reduction of government structures, the abolition of all without exception privileges for those belonging to the Party and Soviet bureaucratic apparatus;

The termination of construction of new atomic power stations, the phasing out of those already functioning and their replacement with alternative sources, the suspension of export of electricity. Nationwide debate on major projects of industrial construction;

The safeguarding of freedom of speech, the right to form independent civic organizations and media outlets, the right to hold rallies, gatherings and demonstrations, free access to information, including to archives, to all normative acts, diplomatic documents, and books kept in the special archives;

The removal from the Criminal Code of antidemocratic articles which impose punishment for political and religious views, for “parasitism”, or infringements of the “passport regime”;

The liquidation of special psychiatric hospitals, the release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners, the abolition of the death penalty;

A reduction in the army, military service only on Ukrainian territory, a move in the future to a professional army;

The creation of independent trade unions;

The legalization of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the revival of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the liquidation of the state department on religious affairs;

Freedom of choice of place of residence.

It was stated that the Ukrainian Helsinki Group was relinquishing its duties and fully merging into the Ukrainian Helsinki Union. The Head of the Executive Committee of the UHU was Viacheslav CHORNOVIL, of the Kyiv branch – Oles SHEVCHENKO, the Lviv branch – Bohdan HORYN, Ternopil – Levko HOROKHIVSKY.  The Head of the UHU was declared Levko LUKYANENKO who was at that time still serving his term of exile. The central press body of the UHU was the samvydav [samizdat] journal “Ukrainsky visnyk” [“Ukrainian Herald”] under the editorship of V. CHORNOVIL.

The principles of the UHU declaration were reflected in the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine, adopted by the Verkhovna Rada two years later on 16 August 1990.

The authorities treated the creation of the UHU as a challenge to the Soviet state. The governing Party bodies, KGB and police directed their efforts on countering the newly-emerged and daring opposition, using official and unofficial warnings, intimidation, detentions, administrative arrest, campaigns to discredit and of disinformation in the Party press.

However the UHU’s authority only increased as a result. It began to make international contacts and under its influence the Popular Movement of Ukraine [RUKH] became more radical, this making it possible for national democratic forces at the elections to the Verkhovna Rada in March of 1990 to gain a full victory in Kyiv and western regions of Ukraine. 12 members of the UHU became State Deputies, and hundreds – deputies of local councils.

The founding congress of the UHU where 500 delegates represented 2,300 UHU members from all regions, took place in Kyiv from 29-30 April 1990. It decided to transform the UHU which was effectively a pre-party into a political organization – the Ukrainian Republican Party, with Levko LUKYANENKO elected leader.

Oles Shevchenko



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