The biggest grass-roots movement in the Ukraine decided Sunday to seek full independence for the rich Soviet republic, dimming Kremlin hopes that Ukrainians would ultimately choose to remain united with their brother Slavs, the Russians. The movement, known as Rukh, changed its program at a congress that capped a tumultuous month of strikes, political fasts and protests in the republic, which has long been known as the country's breadbasket.
"Let the atomic energy in our souls be devoted to creating a sovereign, independent Ukraine," Ivan Drach, a poet and the movement's leader, said, recalling the nuclear disaster in the Ukrainian town of Chernobyl that helped galvanize the nationalist movement here.
The congress, attended by 2,300 delegates, proclaimed the restoration of Ukrainian independence and the establishment of a democratic republic as Rukh's goals, but it committed itself to a non-violent transformation in the Soviet Union's second-largest republic.
"The only path out of the current crisis is the path of the disintegration of the Soviet Union," Volodymyr Chernyak, a Rukh leader, told a post-congress news conference.
Although Rukh _ Ukrainian for "movement" _ has expanded since last spring and now claims 630,000 members and 5-million supporters, the events of the month showed the heavy battle still under way between the movement's radicals and the conservative Communist Party members who dominate the Ukrainian government.
The stakes are high _ control of a republic with a population of 52-million in an area the size of France that produces one-third of the Soviet Union's vegetables, a fourth of its coal and a fifth of its industrial goods.