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Ukrainians Hail Independence, Gain Recognition

December 3, 1991

KIEV, U.S.S.R (AP) _ Ukrainians rejoiced in their independence vote today and world leaders, including Russia’s Boris Yeltsin, recognized the defiant act that could shatter hopes for preserving the Soviet Union.

″Boris Yeltsin on Tuesday declared recognition by Russia of the independence of Ukraine,″ the Soviet media reported. Yeltsin’s statement said the Ukraine must abide by arms and human rights agreements, as well as bilateral cooperation pacts with Russia.

Recognition by Yeltsin’s government, which has effectively dictated domestic Soviet policy since the failed August coup, could seal Ukrainian secession and remove a diplomatic hurdle for nations considering the step.

President Bush became the first Western leader to congratulate Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk personally on Sunday’s independence vote when he called the leader today, said Foreign Minister Anatoly Zlenko.

But Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev issued a dramatic appeal for preserving the nation, warning of possible warfare and ″dire consequences.″

Referring to the breakup of the Soviet Union since the August coup, Gorbachev said: ″This could be a catastrophe for all mankind.″ He was to read the appeal on national television tonight.

His spokesman, Andrei Grachev, said that the republics could have sovereignty and still participate in a future union.

Spurred by nationalism and economic discontent, Ukrainians voted 9-to-1 on Sunday to secede from the union.

Kravchuk indicated there would be no turning back. ″The Soviet Union has disintegrated,″ he told foreign election observers. The former Communist Party leader and Gorbachev ally won a solid victory Sunday in the Ukraine’s first popular presidential election.

Ukrainian television ended Monday’s broadcasts by playing ″The Ukraine Has Not Died Yet,″ a once-banned nationalist anthem.

The Ukrainian parliament was expected to accept the results of the referendum on Thursday. It voted Aug. 24 to declare independence in the power vacuum that followed the collapse of the hard-line coup against Gorbachev.

Poland, which borders the Ukraine, was the first nation to recognize the independent state and said it expected ″good neighborly relations.″

The United States has made it clear that it will recognize the Ukraine, and Canada and Sweden have said they are preparing to establish diplomatic ties. Hungary and Denmark announced similar plans today.

Zlenko, the Ukrainian foreign minister, said Kravchuk will meet with Yeltsin on Saturday. ″The problem of internal and external policy will be discussed ... and future relations will be defined, particularly with Russia,″ he told reporters at the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry.

The U.S. assistant secretary of state for European affairs, Thomas Niles, will travel to the Ukraine this week to meet with Ukrainian leaders and discuss new relations.

Niles said Monday on the PBS ″MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour″ that he would probably travel to Kiev on Wednesday or Thursday to express U.S. concerns, such as arms control and human rights policies. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said on Monday that Secretary of State James A. Baker III will visit Moscow and Kiev later this month to discuss the transition to independence.

Zlenko formally announced that the Ukraine will uphold all international treaties that were agreed to by the Soviet Union, including the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty covering long-range missiles. He also said the Ukraine would honor human rights, protect ethnic minorities, respect current borders and pay its share of the Soviet foreign debt.

Kravchuk has said the Ukraine would establish collective control of Soviet nuclear weapons with Russia, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan - the other republics where Soviet nuclear warheads are based.

The Ukraine has 1.3 million Soviet soldiers, 176 ballistic nuclear missiles and one-third of the Soviet Union’s tactical nuclear weapons based on its territory.

About 90 percent of the Ukraine’s 37.5 million eligible borders turned out Sunday and 90.5 percent of them voted ″yes″ on the independence referendum, the Central Election Commission reported.

Kravchuk, 57, was elected with about 60 percent of the vote, well ahead of former dissident Vyacheslav Chornovil, the closest challenger in a field of six candidates, all of whom endorsed the secession drive.

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