What Will the Future Bring? – An analysis of Youth Perceptions regarding Identity and Government in Ukraine

President Poroshenko greets Ukrainian Youths

Having analyzed one generational and societal class’ reasoning toward a lack of identification with the state in the previous post  it also would be appropriate to see whether Polegkyi’s claims can be supported by some empirical data relating to a different cohort of society. By using data from the Generation Z survey conducted by the New Europe Center in Kyiv, analysis can be drawn from how the future generation of Ukraine views its collective identity in light of the aftermath of Euromaidan and Russian aggression. By focusing on the age group of 14-29 year olds that has only ever known an independent Ukraine, it will be easier to grasp a more objective viewpoint, independent of past personal historical experiences that may influence older relatives and generations in their collective national identifications. The age range in question accounts for around 8 million people which is the equivalent to a fifth of Ukraine’s population and thus can give an accurate precursor for what the future of Ukrainian national identity potentially beholds (New Europe Center, 2017, 5). 

When participants were asked about identifying as ‘citizens of my home town’ this obtained the highest share of identification across the country with that also being uniform in individual regions. However, when asked whether they view themselves as Ukrainians by nationality a resounding 95% agreed – this majority is even prevalent in Eastern Ukraine where 88% of participants regarded themselves as Ukrainian. From such results it can be gathered that the younger generation of Ukrainians embraces a dual-identity, holding a sense of belonging with their hometowns, whilst on the larger scale identifying as Ukrainians by nationality. However, they view those in control of the state apparatus as corrupt. Political leaders were viewed with severe distrust, with 74% showing such a lack of confidence in politicians (New Europe Center, 2017, 7). Therefore, it can be inferred further that the youth interpret a differentiation between identifying with the Ukrainian state due to its distrusted officials, and view their own civic Ukrainian national identity being detached from this. Alongside this data, a poll conducted by the Gorshenin Institute, concluded that this younger generation views itself as Ukrainians far greater than older ones (New Europe Center, 2017, 28-29). 
These findings highlight that regionalism is in part an inaccurate phrase used to justify the ineffectiveness of state induced nation building, as this age group, whilst identifying closely with their own towns, showed great commonality in their association with the Ukrainian nation. This seems to insinuate that bottom-up civic nationalism has become the most popular identification marker across the country, with it being more accepted that traditional ethnic markers such as language and ethnicity are no longer the constrictors of defining what it is to be a Ukrainian. This civic cross-regional approach demonstrated its growth during the Euromaidan when protests occurred in all administrative regions of Ukraine. In comparison, whilst similar civic action during the Orange Revolution was almost entirely focused within the West and Centre. This also seems to explain why Ukrainians have unilaterally rejected separatism and increasingly favour a Ukraine independent from its historical imperial neighbour.  

This analysis propagates that the Ukrainian nation building project has been undertaken more effectively from a bottom – up approach across the regions and less so from the direct instruction of Kyiv. The more educated citizens have reached decisions themselves about their identity, due to the repercussions of nationwide events and the actions of an external actor attempting to infringe their independence. This has led to a greater embrace of European democratic values supplemented by Ukrainian ethnocultural markers. The ethnocultural factors are less of an ideological daily influence, rather they signify a greater acceptance of Ukraine’s unique history and traditions as being separate from that of the Russian state (Kulyk, 2016a, 607). Whilst this identity still remains stronger in the western and central regions, the dividing line that used to differentiate those with exclusive Russian and Soviet sympathies and those with Ukrainian ones, has moved further East towards the Donbas and its local urbanized regions where regional association, Soviet nostalgia and calls for some economic alignment with Russia still persists to some degree (Kulyk, 2016a, 607). New dividing lines have opened up for exploitation by political elites to take advantage of. By having less ability to focus on ethnic and identity cleavages as they did so in the past, the new electoral battlefield seems to be gravitating around divisions relating to economic grievances, NATO membership and the prospects for the war torn East and the ways in which to resolve and reintegrate the territories (Minich, 2018).  

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