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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Independence

KIEV -- Ukraine celebrates five years of independence from Kremlin rule Saturday, hailing civil and inter-ethnic peace as its main post-Soviet achievement.

Ukraine's declaration of independence in 1991, backed 9-to-1 by a referendum in December of that year, effectively dealt a death blow to the Soviet empire and ended more than three centuries of rule from Moscow.

Ukraine, with a Russian community of 11 million people -- the world's largest outside Russia -- has avoided conflicts like those in Russia's Chechnya, neighboring Moldova, and the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.

"Ukraine's biggest achievements for five years are the preservation of civil peace and inter-ethnic harmony," President Leonid Kuchma said in televised statement this week.

"Unlike many other post-Soviet countries we were able to deal with conflict situations in a peaceful and civilized way."

But independence was initially accompanied by hyper-inflation and economic collapse, although there are signs of a turnaround.

Kuchma told a solemn ceremony at the Ukraina Palace on Friday that "there was a turning point" in reforms and that he expected a rise in the standard of living in the near future.