Identity in Ukraine’s South and South East regions – Realities and Misconceptions

Map of contemporary Ukraine

Outside of the occupied territories, Ukrainian forces have established a united front against the Russian aggression. Local businesses, civil society and oligarchs have bounded together through a shared common interest focusing on the need to maintain order and stability in the regions closest to the conflict. The driving force for this unity is characteristically tied down to the maintenance of Ukrainian sovereignty against a common enemy; Russia (Trenin, 2018; Kulyk, 2016a, 589). It is the combination of pro Ukrainian elites and civil society that have catalyzed the rise in collective identity in the East. As Zhurzhenko (2014, 262) notes that Dnipro and Kharkiv have been the main support centres for the Ukrainian volunteers fighting in the Donbas; whilst across the Eastern and South Eastern cities there has been a rise in the public display of symbols and colours which are associated with the ethnocultural Ukrainian identity. Rather than the government in Kyiv implementing such schemes, who have little agency in the enforcement of certain nation building processes, it has been civil society that has taken the task upon itself to instigate the rise in cohesive behaviour in favour of an independent Ukraine (Pomerantsev, 2018)

Using survey data that Chaisty & Whitefield (2015) conducted, there is conclusive evidence that outside of the Russian separatist controlled territories there does not persist any further support for separatism, rather they collectively defend the notion of remaining as part of the Ukrainian state (Schneider-Deters, 2015). Russian aggression has alienated the majority of those in the East and South East, who in the late 1990s showed their highest proportion of popular support for unification with Russia, registering at one point at 70% in favour (Kravets, 2017). By July 2015, public opinion in government controlled areas of the Donbas showed 0% favoured secession, whilst support for unification with Russia tallied at 4.8%. The region is now indifferent to the rest of Ukraine in its outlook. There is now continued preference for remaining as part of Ukraine whilst being granted greater benefits through the decentralization process (Bekeshkina, 2017, 27).

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