Regional Diversity in Ukraine: A Prologue

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Euromaidan circa 2014

Having analysed the nation building attempts of the first 22 years of Ukraine’s history in the last blog post, it is clear to see that it had been relatively difficult to portray and promote a cohesive identity resonating towards the state. However, the positives that could be drawn from the period until early 2014 were that Ukraine functioned as an independent state, had control of its borders and no separatist or ethnic conflict had broken out, despite the eclectic views to Ukrainian identity from different regions of the country. As defended by Kravets (2017), the notion that identity differentiations exist in Ukraine do not immediately lead to detrimental circumstances toward the nations existence; rather the de facto allowance of identity variations have created stability by allowing citizens to coexist in their own areas peacefully, whilst identifying with the state primarily through civic means. 

Before an evaluation in of any potential changes to regional dynamics since 2014 can take place, a brief background to the Euromaidan needs to be addressed. Euromaidan sprouted in Kyiv from outrage towards Yanukovych’s decision to shun the signing of an Association Agreement with the EU in favour of joining a customs union led by Russia. After the violent beating of students by government led police forces, Euromaidan switched its protesting scope toward the ousting of the corrupt government and the upholding of liberal democratic values. The pro- Russian administration overstepped its mark and resulted in killing over 100 protesters before many of its elites fled the country, including President Yanukovych. As Ukraine attempted to start afresh after such a watershed political moment, Russia quickly annexed Crimea and militarily intervened in the Donbas (MFAUKR, 2018).
Rather than the incumbent government initiating any immediate nation building procedures, it was through Russian aggression combined with Yanukovych’s harsh and corrupt actions, that ordinary Ukrainians had “gained a new sense of solidarity and identity as a broad movement toward civic and moral renewal” (Diuk, 2014, 88). The dictatorial nature of Yanukovych’s actions galvanized support for democratic values and norms. Subsequently, by trying to disrupt and undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, Putin had in fact increased cohesion between Ukrainians who had, for once, something to unite behind; a common enemy and common values. As Diuk (2014,89) quotes – the general consensus around Maidan was “We came to the Maidan looking for Europe, but instead we found Ukraine.” However, whilst national identity did solidify amongst those who participated and supported Maidan, it is important to see whether this was reciprocated across the country. 
Ukraine’s supposed problem with its regional divergences has been written about by numerous academics such as Sasse (2001) since Ukraine obtained its independence, namely referring to it as a ‘state of regions’. In such papers the analysis leans toward the oversimplified view of the Pro – European western part of Ukraine rivaling the pro Russian / Soviet East in an ideological tug of war, as the politicians had led many to believe. Whilst geographical patterns do garner some links between language spoken, domestic views and foreign policy outlooks, these are by no means definitive as to why Ukraine has been unable to create a unitive national identity and why its citizens associate with particular leanings towards their past and futures. Polegkyi (2016) views the primary divisive markers between Ukrainians today as being related to societal class, generational perspectives and their collective worldviews. 

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