Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned rally participants for the October 14 Defenders Day holiday not to provide Russian television channels any material they could use to portray the country in a negative light.
In an October 13 Facebook post, Zelenskiy urged rally goers not to be provoked “by those who want to create an eloquent picture for Russian television.”
He was alluding to common themes that Russian TV programs often pursue that portray Ukraine as a country run by rabid nationalists with fascist leanings.
Nationalist groups, war veterans, and volunteers of the Donbas conflict usually assemble in large numbers to observe one of the nation’s newest national holidays that was established after Russia took over Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and fomented a separatist war in the easternmost regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
“There will be many veterans and volunteers in the capital on October 14. I understand your fear of further resolving the situation in the Donbas. You justly do not want what you fought for to be in vain,” Zelenskiy said. “I promise you as the president of Ukraine and the commander in chief of the Armed Forces that I will never allow this.”
Police have said that about 300 different rallies are scheduled throughout the country.
Meanwhile, in the same Facebook post, Zelenskiy urged law enforcement bodies to maintain order during the holiday.
October 14 is also an important religious holiday for millions of Ukrainians, the majority of whom are Orthodox Christian, and it’s a date with two historically symbolic meanings.
Called Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the religious holiday has historic undertones since many Ukrainian Cossacks dedicated churches to her, and they considered her a protector and intercessor of their main fort, the Sich.
The date is also when the Cossacks’ Great Council assembled after the year’s harvest ended and when they usually chose an ataman, a high-ranking position within the Cossack state.
Coinciding with the date is the symbolic founding day of the controversial World War II-era Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
Former President Petro Poroshenko created the holiday in October 2014 while cancelling the previous Soviet-era Defender of the Fatherland Day that was commemorated on February 23.
Defenders Day has been a national holiday since 2015.