The Revolution on Granite in 1990: how Ukrainian youth defied the Soviet Ukraine
May 27, 2024

The Revolution on Granite in 1990: how Ukrainian youth defied the Soviet Ukraine


Photo credit: SOPA Images via Reuters Connect

The Revolution on Granite (named after the paving stones on which the protesters’ tents were pitched) was a student protest that broke out in Ukraine in 1990 and played a great role in spreading principles of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and human rights.  It is seen as one of the most successful youth protests in the history of Ukraine, and one of the founding events that sowed the seeds of an independent Ukraine.

The revolution was a campaign of large-scale, non-violent actions, organised by Ukrainian youth, mainly students, which lasted from 2-17 October, 1990. The core of the protest was the student hunger strike in the tent city on October Revolution Square in Kyiv. The protesters were constantly going to the Verhovkna Rada, the Parliament of Ukrainian SSR, and the leaders of the activists were invited to the session of the Parliament to present the demands of the Revolution. Afterwards, the Revolution gained the support of Kyiv National University, the Kyiv Polytechnic and universities in Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk. 

In total, the revolution lasted for 16 days during which 298 students and nine deputies joined the strike.

The demands of the protest included: 

  • the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and new elections on a multi-party basis;
  • the resignation of Prime Minister Vitaly Masola;
  • preventing the signing of a new Union agreement.

Politics: how did the Revolution promote principles of democracy?

After “16 days on granite” the Parliament of Ukraine introduced a decree which partly fulfilled the demands of students. The political landscape was transformed by the fulfilment of the protest’s demands, and the revolution exemplified an increased political awareness and readiness to protest among Ukrainians.

As a result of the revolution, the Ukrainian government refused to sign the New Union Treaty, which aimed at reforming the Soviet Union and maintaining it within a communist framework, blocking democratic development. In the wake of the Revolution on Granite, officials were reluctant to provoke people into another protest, preventing them from taking further steps to sustain the USSR.  

Prime Minister Vitaliy Masol was also dismissed, in line with the protest’s demands. As a Prime Minister, he represented communist interests and had a great influence on the state. Removing him from power made politicians act with greater caution, signalling that officials could be removed at the demand of the people.  

Furthermore, some members of the Communist Party of Ukraine decided to leave the party after the events of the revolution. Among them, famous Ukrainian politician and writer, a moral leader for Ukrainian society, Oles Gonchar, said in his resignation letter, “I consider the demands of the hunger striking students quite fair. However, these demands, this self-sacrifice of young sons and daughters of our people in the Parliament of the Republic were met with laughter! With the cruel, heartless laughter of the same party majority that claims to rule the lives of our people.” Fundamentally, the Revolution on Granite made politicians question the intentions of the Communist Party, reducing its popularity. It opened the way for more political figures to choose the pro-Ukrainian side, fighting for equality and human rights.

Society: the Revolution’s impact on the spread of human dignity and active citizenship 

The Revolution on Granite was the first significant change in the political system led by society itself, not the government. Unlike other changes brought about under the regime of the Ukrainian SSR, this uprising was led by society alone and spelled out their desire for a greater democracy.

In addition, the revolution raised awareness about the need to fight for equality and dignity and unite people for a common goal. It can be exemplified by the recollections of Vitaliy Roh, a participant in the event: “It was such an emotional uplift, such solidarity, such support from society. Kyivans brought mountains of flowers there. Therefore, I understand that it was not in vain.”  A vivid example of the unity fostered by the protest is that on 6 October, a meeting of Second World War veterans was held. After the meeting, the veterans marched to the square where the hunger-strikers were gathered, planning to pass through the tent city. The veterans’ march was planned by the government as an excuse to sweep away the tents,  but up to 50,000 Kyivans came to the defence of the students. “The demands of the students are the demands of the nation!” the newspaper Voice of Young Ukraine wrote. The population of Kyiv had shown its solidarity with the protesters, its belief in freedom and human rights. The veterans’ march did not take place. As a participant of the Revolution, Roman Ivanychuk, said: “It was then that the collapse of the Communist Party took place.” 

The protest empowered and united the active youth of Ukraine, since many participants of the Revolution on Granite continued their civic activity in various spheres of Ukrainian life in the following years. As Leonid Kravchuk, who would become the first President of an independent Ukraine in 1991, said: “Of course, I am pleased – I talk to them, they are adults – that they took a principled position. A principled position is a manifestation that Ukraine has become democratic and Independent.”  

To what extent was the Revolution successful in spreading European values?

The Revolution on Granite had a considerable impact on Ukraine’s path to sovereignty and democracy. Indeed, the crucial success of the hunger strike was its influence on society. After the revolution, people believed that Ukraine could be free.  Thanks to the revolution, political awareness was raised, and the idea of national unity and active citizenship was promoted, which influenced the intentions of the state policy accordingly. Acknowledged citizens were more inclined to call and take an active role in the formation of democratic Ukraine, which became independent one year later. It can be said that the greatest achievement of the hunger strike was a “soft” influence, pushing forward the ideas of inclusivity, justice, and freedom. I believe, most importantly, that the revolution created Ukrainians as a cohesive political nation that allowed for a stable democratic development. Thanks to the student protests, people understood the values of human rights and dignity and took advantage of those freedoms.

The revolution’s impact on spreading European values and the key features of this protest were repeated in subsequent national uprisings in 2004 and 2014. Namely, these events in Ukrainian history are called the First, Second, and Third Maidans (named after the square, where the protests took place). The Revolution on Granite formed a model for Ukrainians to respond cooperatively to threats to a democratic lawful state. 

Nonetheless, as Leonid Kravchuk said, “This is students’ strength, but, of course, it was not the students who won, but the Ukrainian people. They played their part, but a role, not a defining step.” I firmly believe that Ukraine deserves a democratic development respecting the people’s rights. Certainly, the revolution did spread these values and unified progressive citizens, but those were promoted by numerous civic actions, not only with “16 days on granite”. Therefore, joint efforts for democracy became key in Ukraine. 

Bibliography:

  1. Revolution on granite. Chronicle of the student protest on the Maidan’. Denis Prystay. Suspilne Media, 2/10/20 
  2.  ‘Shortages, mass student hunger strikes, and demands for power: the story of the 1990 Granite Revolution’, Veronika Havrylenko, 24 channel, 2/10/20 
  3. The elite, the pseudo-elite and the people in modern Ukraine’, Larisa Masenko, Radio Svoboda, 2/2/20  
  4. Vitaly Masol: the prime minister who was ousted by students’, BBC News Ukraine, 21/09/18 
  5. Oles Honchar in Spiritual and Cultural Times and Spaces. Collection of Scientific Works’, Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, 2023



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