Leonid Makarovich Kravchuk (Ukrainian: Leonid Makarovich Krakchuk, January 10, 1934 - May 10, 2022) was a Ukrainian politician. He was the first president of Ukraine from December 1991 to July 1994.
From youth to politics
Kravchuk was born in Velykyi Zhytyn (now in the Rivne region), which was then part of Poland. Kravchuk graduated from the Kiev National University in 1958 and joined the Communist Party of Ukraine (UKP) in the same year. He taught political economy from 1958 to 1960 at a vocational school in Chernivtsi. He started as a training officer but in 1988 rose to lead the agitprop department. He became a member of the UKP Politburo in June 1990 and a member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party (NKP) the following month. Kravchuk supported a moderate line and adapted to Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika reforms. However, he was not really a liberal and opposed the activities of the Ukrainian People's Movement.
Ukraine's leadership for independence
In March 1990, elections were held to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, which was won by the UKP. Kravchuk led the party's pro-reform communists and was elected chairman of the Supreme Soviet in July 1990 as successor to Vladimir Ivashko, who moved to Moscow as deputy secretary general of the NKP. In practice, he soon became the leader of Ukraine when the central power of the Soviet Union began to weaken. Already in July, the Supreme Council adopted a declaration on the sovereignty of Ukraine, which, in practice, still meant more autonomy. There was not yet widespread support for full independence. In March 1991, a referendum was held in the Soviet Union to preserve the Soviet Union, in which 70.5 percent of those who voted in Ukraine were in favor of maintaining the Soviet Union. Kravchuk's initiative had also added to the question of Ukraine's membership in a community of sovereign states, which was supported by 80.5 percent of those who voted. Kravchuk and other reformist communists did not choose sides during the August 1991 coup attempt. After that, however, Kravchuk gave his support to Ukraine's full independence, and in the same month he resigned from the Communist Party. On August 26, he brought Ukraine's declaration of independence to the Supreme Council. Only one of the representatives opposed its passage, but according to the proposal, the declaration did not enter into force until after the referendum in December. On December 1, 90 percent of those who voted were in favor of Ukraine's independence. Presidential elections were also held at the same time. Kravchuk received 61.6 percent of the vote and Vyachelav Tornovil came in second with 23 percent.
After starting his presidency, Kravchuk met with Russian head Boris Yeltsin and Belarusian head Stanislav Shushkevich. On December 8, the troika signed the Treaty of Belovezh, which permanently abolished the Soviet Union and forced Gorbachev to resign. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was established in the ruins of the Soviet Union. Later, Kravchuk began to demand greater presidential powers. In principle, the President already had a considerable amount of power at that time, but he had to enjoy the confidence of the Supreme Council, for example, and he could not dissolve it in order to hold new elections. The power struggle with the Supreme Council ended in 1993 with an agreement to hold presidential and parliamentary elections the following year. Kravchuk and the Ukrainian governments made some conservative reforms in economic policy. However, reforms were slower than in Russia, for example. State-owned companies and other loss-making companies were supported by the state