The origins of Ukrainian constitutionalism have a long historical tradition. The first
attempt to codify ancient Ukrainian laws took place in Kyivan Rus’ times and was
embodiedin “Ruska Pravda” (legal code of XI – XII centuries). Subsequent historical
epochs demonstrated a continuous process of finding ways, methods and tools for
devising and enshrining fundamental principles of interaction between state and society.
21 years ago, a truly historic event that gave to Ukrainian people a “road map” towards
a civilized future, took place. On June 28, 1996, the Basic Law of our country – the
Constitution of Ukraine – was approved by the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine.
The process of drafting and adoption of the new Constitution was long and painful. For
national-democratic community, independence fighters and dissidents it was an attempt to
implement their dreams and aspirations of Ukrainian state and European democracy.
However, the vast majority of the population of Ukraine and its political elite continued
to live in the Soviet paradigm of communist ideology myths and strongly resisted the
However, with the adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine on July
16, 1990, by the Verkhovna Rada of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) the
need for a Constitution of the independent Ukraine became apparent. After a
referendum on independence, during 1991-1996 two separately created commissions (presidential and parliamentarian) developed
several drafts of the Constitution. Those drafts were discussed, expanded and revised
for quite a long time.
The sharpest contradictions were caused by the issues of separation of powers,
national symbols, the status of Russian language and the status of Crimea. Meanwhile,
the USSR’s Constitution of 1978 with some amendments remained in force.
The historical retrospective of Ukrainian constitutionalism
The Constitution of Ukraine, adopted in 1996, did not appear out of nowhere. The
Ukrainian constitutionalism tradition has deep historical roots and continuity. Among
its peculiarities the most notable are the democracy, respect for social and individual
rights. These principles had been forming over centuries, according to the Ukrainian
national character, lifestyle, values and social relations.
Sometimes, Ukrainian constitutionalism went ahead of similar processes in Europe. This
applies to Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk – Pacts and Constitutions of Rights and Freedoms
of the Zaporizhian Host (Latin: Pacta et Constitutiones Legum Libertatumque Exercitus
Zaporoviensis) – which was written in 1710 and is often called the first democratic
constitution in Europe.
The basis of this document was an agreement between the Hetman (head of Cossack
State) and Cossack Army, which enshrined the separation of powers into legislative,
executive and judicial, guaranteed rights and freedoms in the Cossack State. In this
Constitution, the liberation of Ukraine from Moscow’s autocracy was declared as the aim of Cossacks. Though the progressive ideas of the
Orlyk Constitution had not been implemented in practice, according to both Ukrainian
and foreign experts, it was the first European constitution in its modern sense.
The first Constitution of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR) under the name Charter on the Constitution, the Rights and Liberties
of the UNR was approved by the Central Rada (Council) on April 29, 1918. This
document did not come into force because of a coup d’etat by Hetman Skoropadskyi. On November 13, the same year, the interim Supreme
Law of State Independence of Ukrainian Lands of the former Austro-Hungarian monarchy was adopted, which served as the constitution of the West
Ukrainian People’s Republic.
The drafts of Ukrainian constitutions had been developed even when chances to
defend the independence of the state looked bleak. In 1920s, there were some
fundamental drafts, including the one developed by the UNR’s Governmental Commission on drafting Ukrainian State Constitution.
The constitutional drafts of the Ukrainian Revolution (1917 – 1921) laid the foundations
of statehood traditions that were continued in modern Ukraine after the last UNR’s president in exile Mykola Plaviuk handed the mandate over to President of
independent Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk in 1992.
In Soviet Ukraine, four constitutions were adopted. Though they declared Ukraine a
sovereign state, in reality they were only an ideological cover for its subordinate status
and totalitarian regime ruling there. Communist Party’s power monopoly was stipulated in the Article 6 of the USSR Constitution of 1978.
That made the Basic Law of the country a complete formality.
Adoption of a new Constitution
In early and mid-90s of the last century a struggle for the Constitution was led by three main social
forces. The first one was the former communists, socialists and other leftist populists
who tried to keep the rhetorical slogans of Soviet Constitution in the new Basic Law.
They were opposed by a powerful group of so-called “red directors” (the nouveaux riches, which later became oligarchs) and outright
criminals, who saw the guarantees of stability in the concentration of power in the
hands of one person, and therefore the strengthening of the presidential vertical.
There were also a few national democrats, who insisted that the Constitution has to
contain provisions on state attributes of new Ukraine – the flag, the coat of arms, the
anthem, as well as on securing official status of the Ukrainian language. However, there
were no unity among them. Part of them favored a parliamentary republic another
one (so-called “statesmen”) was willing to sacrifice democratic principles to strengthen the state
power and chose the path proposed by the team of the President.
Finally, on June 28, 1996 at 9:18 am after nearly 24 hours of continuous work the
Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted and put into force the Constitution of Ukraine.
The adopted Basic Law stipulated strong presidential power, guaranteed private
property rights, approved the new national symbols, the status of Ukrainian language
as a state language and recognized Crimea as an autonomous republic within Ukraine.
At that time, the Constitution of the independent Ukraine was regarded a remarkable
victory for the center-right pro-presidential forces and the national camp that supported them. The Constitution of
Ukraine was also appreciated by the international community as it declared universal,
pan-European principles. Some of the “fathers” of the Basic Law even called it “the best in
Europe”. However, today we can say that many articles of the Ukrainian Constitution of
1996 were the result of a compromise with leftist populists, and actually did not reflect
the real situation in economy and social sphere. The need for changes was evident.
Constitutional process: 1996-2017
In following years, the Ukrainian Constitution of 1996 has been amended five times: in
2004, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
The 2004 amendments weakened the power of the President of Ukraine, who lost the
right to nominate the Prime Minister of Ukraine and this became the task of the
parliament solely. The President also lost the right to dismiss members of the Cabinet
of Ministers but gained the right to dissolve parliament. If no coalition in parliament
could be formed to appoint a Prime Minister, the President would have no choice but
to call new parliamentary elections.
The 2004 constitutional amendments were passed in the Parliament only with limited
consultation and discussion between political forces, in the context of the Orange
Revolution. They therefore attracted criticism from several internal and external bodies.
The amendments took force unconditionally on January 1, 2006. The remaining
amendments took force on May 25, 2006, when the new parliament assembled after
the 2006 elections.
In 2011, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine passed constitutional amendments, related to
regular elections of members of the Parliament of Ukraine, the President of Ukraine,
members of the Parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, local councils as
well as village, town and city mayors.
In 2013, amendments, related to activities of the Accounting Chamber of Ukraine were
On February 21, 2014, having the Revolution of Dignity as a background the Parliament
passed a law that reinstated the 2004 amendments of the Constitution, overturned by
the Constitutional Court of Ukraine in 2010 as unconstitutional.
In March 2015, the Constitutional Commission of Ukraine, a special subsidiary body of
the President of Ukraine, was launched. It is tasked with elaborating proposals on the
improvement of the Constitution taking into account modern challenges and needs of
the Ukrainian society. Within the Commission, there were created three working groups,
which deal with the decentralization, human rights and judiciary.
On June 2, 2016, the Parliament adopted pivotal amendments to the Constitution in the
sphere of justice and jurisprudence that came into force on September 30, 2016. They
aim at implementing a major judicial reform in the country, which shall contribute to
the independence of the judiciary, in particular through its de-politicization, and enhance its accountability to the public.
Others important parts of the constitutional reform in Ukraine are ongoing
decentralization and improvement of the human rights sphere, aiming at establishing
solid grounds for better local self-governance, accountability of local authorities and more financial independence of
communities as well as bringing human rights in line with European legal standards.
Irrespective of current challenges caused by Russia’s occupation of Crimea and its aggression in Donbas, reforms in Ukraine are being
successfully drafted, publicly discussed and widely implemented. We are confident that
the constitutional reform implementation will guarantee further comprehensive
development of Ukraine and its full integration into the European community.
Ukraine and Korea: 25 years together
Nowadays development of comprehensive relations with the Republic of Korea is one
of the top priorities of the Ukrainian foreign policy in the North East Asia. We consider
Korea an important partner in this region and beyond. Ukraine pays special attention
to the boosting of mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation.
The «Miracle on the Han River» together with a democratization and globalization in a
short period of time transformed your country into a highly developed state. The ROK’s economic success story has served as role model for many developing countries and
has been an example to be admired and followed.
This year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations
between our countries. 25 years is a considerable amount of time for a human being,
but rather small interval in historical perspective. From this standpoint, we’ve managed to lay solid foundation of our bilateral cooperation enabling us to move
forward in more consistent and steadfast manner.
Our countries have established and enjoyed productive political dialogue on all levels.
Bilateral legal framework covers all fields of our cooperation. We have a significant
potential of investment cooperation, particularly in infrastructure, agriculture,
construction, metallurgy, energy, science and technology, tourism. There are good
prospects for further broadening cultural and humanitarian ties, scientific and
educational exchanges. Moreover, both countries share similar or close stances on
major global issues including non-proliferation, climate change, energy issues, combating terrorism etc. Sharing values of
fundamental freedoms and democracy, we are united in the desire to contribute to
international peace and security.
Looking back at this quarter-century, we can say with confidence that Ukraine and Korea are not strangers to each
other anymore. Ukrainian citizens travel between major Ukrainian cities in Hyundai
Rotem high-speed trains while browsing Internet onboard with Samsung smartphones. Korean
students are keen to study Ukrainian language and culture in Hankuk University of
Foreign Studies and more Ukrainian agricultural products are finding their way to
Here’s a bit of statistics. Both Ukrainian Presidents and Heads of Parliament as well as
Foreign Ministers paid visits to Korea 3 times, Prime Minister – once. Korean Prime
Ministers and Speakers of National Assembly visited Ukraine twice, Foreign Minister –
The legal framework of our cooperation consists of two interstate, 25 intergovernmental
and 21 interagency agreements.
Our bilateral trade peaked with remarkable $2.67 billion in 2008 and extended 8-fold
in 1994-2014 showing promising potential for future growth.
Ukrainian-made carrier rocket «Dnipro» successfully put into orbit three South Korean satellites –
KOMPSAT-5, STSAT-3, KOMPSAT-3A.
In terms of further deepening political dialogue and forging strategic partnership
between our countries, we will be working on arranging the visit of the President of
the Republic of Korea to Ukraine, which will be the first one in bilateral history.
Burgeoning economic synergy should be cherished and projected into currently
untapped fields. As Ukraine strives for massive reconstruction and modernization of
its infrastructure, energy sector, in a foreseeable future it would remain a promising
recipient of Korean investment, equipment and technologies. Meanwhile, Ukrainian
agricultural production would gradually extend its presence at Korean market. At the
same time, we should prioritize more sophisticated joint projects in aviation and space
areas, electronics, new materials, ICT, nano- and biotechnologies, green-energy domain. With more high value added products, trajectory of our economic
interaction would become more stable while bringing mutual benefits to both countries.
In terms of further promoting tourism, business and people-to-people contacts, we should complete the process of liberalizing visa regime between
the two countries (providing visa-free entry to the Republic of Korea for Ukrainian nationals as Ukraine did for Koreans
back in 2006).
Among promising areas for further strengthening of bilateral cooperation also are:
ICT in education, e-government, media sphere.