A combination of Memorial Day and Veterans Day in the United States, “Defender of Ukraine Day,” also known as Defenders Day, is a public holiday celebrated by Ukrainians on October 14. It was officially established by President Petro Poroshenko in 2014.

The holiday was created to pay tribute to everyone who has fought, and is currently fighting, to preserve state sovereignty.

According to the presidential decree, its purpose is “to honor the courage and heroism of the defenders of Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity, military traditions and victories of the Ukrainian people, foster the further strengthening of patriotic spirit in society, and support the initiative of the Ukrainian public.”

A second purpose of the holiday was to replace the Soviet Defender of the Fatherland Day, which originated in the Soviet Union and was celebrated on February 23. Ukraine wanted to replace the antiquated holiday because of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and because hostilities were beginning in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The reaction in Ukraine to Russia’s armed aggression in 2014 was significant, and also led to the rejection of Soviet symbols and holidays as a way to strengthen unity in Ukraine.

“So many of us are connected to the title of ‘Defender of Ukraine.’ We identify with this honorable designation, because our freedom today is not just in the hands of Ukrainian soldiers. We all are defenders of Ukraine, and Ukraine is defending the world of democracy from Putin’s authoritarian brutality,” said Halyna Zdyrko Salapata, a community leader within Milwaukee’s ethnic Ukrainian population. “This title has been applied to anyone of any age who protected our land from the enemy, and worked to ensure the state’s military power and defense capability. Those efforts are all about preserving our peace, and the tranquility of the Ukrainian people.”

Salapata said that she wanted everyone to feel like a defender of Ukraine this year, because by defending Ukraine they are defending the truth, the right to exist, and the freedom of humanity.

“Remember that your freedom is not free. If you don’t protect it, you or your children will pay for it with their life as our ancestors did,” added Salapata.

The date of October 14 was chosen because it coincided with one of the most significant feasts celebrated by the Orthodox Church, the Intercession of the Theotokos. Also known as the Feast of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is one of the most important church holidays for Orthodox and Greek Catholics. It celebrates the intercession of the Mother of God for people.

Legend has it that in the 10th century when Constantinople was besieged by enemies, the townspeople prayed to the Virgin for salvation. The Mother of God appeared before them, covering the city with her veil, and saving it as a result. The holiday has been celebrated by Ukrainians since the 12th century.

The Day of Ukrainian Cossacks also falls on the Feast of the Intercession, and not by chance. The Cossacks considered the Mother of God their patron and protector. October 14 was chosen to honor the Cossack’s importance for solidifying Ukrainian statehood in the 15th century.

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Alonafoto, Cristopher Rogel Blanquet, Bumble Dee, Olgaov Charenko, Dmyto, Drop Of Light, Home For Heroes, Krysja, Nazar Gonchar, Orest Lyzhechka, Yanosh Nemesh, Snig, and Tumofiy