Ukraine between West and East: The Ethnic Problems of Post-Soviet Space
Shlapentokh, Dmitry, The World and I
I recently visited Ukraine, the country in which I was born but which I had not visited for more than thirty years. I saw a lot of problems in post-Soviet Ukraine; one of the most important is the ethnic/regional split. This problem has two important manifestations: the clear split between East and West, and the issue of ethnic Russians.
The two Ukraines
In discussions, Ukraine (which is approaching elections) is often seen as a unified country that gravitates toward either Russia or the West. But there is another dimension to this problem: the regional differences between the West and the Russified East. The different parts of Ukraine actually imply not just mutually exclusive geopolitical orientations but a possible split of one part of Ukraine from the other. It was clear to me during my visit that the conflict between West and East is not fictitious.
Even if there is no open animosity, a degree of alienation clearly exists. For some residents of Western/Central Ukraine, the Russified Ukrainians of the industrial East are backward folk who still live in the Soviet era, and this backwardness makes them different from the more advanced residents of Central and Western Ukraine. This view of the East, as exemplified by the industrialized and Russified Donbas region, was conveyed to me by a relative who had visited Donbas. According to him, the views of the locals have hardly changed since the Orange Revolution. People still live as if they were under socialism. They do not even know how to engage in trade; the saleswomen at the market were rude and did their best not to attract customers but scare them off. The miners still believe the state should take care of them, so instead of adjusting themselves to the market, they sit down and bang their helmets on the ground. People of this sort, he implied, also believe they would be better off if this area were affiliated with Russia.
According to my relative, all mines and enterprises in this part of Ukraine are controlled by a few oligarchs, with Yanukovich chief. The plans of these oligarchs will not work. No one will put them in prison, but Iushchenko will just proclaim privatization illegal and take over their enterprises In fact, such tactics are quite similar to those of Putin. Deprived of their property, my relative implied, the East Ukrainian oligarchs and their vassals--the proletariat--would stop toying with the idea of separation from Ukraine and joining Russia.
While my relative believed that force could be used against both Ukrainians and ethnic Russians who engaged in troublemaking in the East, other interlocutors thought that force could and should be used selectively. I asked one of the Ukrainians in the archive what the Ukrainian government would do in case of an attempt by Eastern Ukraine to split. He responded that it would be the Russians who would instigate the troubles. Ukrainians should deal harshly with these Russians and deport them. Violence in such a case was quite acceptable. I responded by asking what the central authorities should do if ethnic Ukrainians were among the rebels. Should force be employed in such a case? He hesitated for a moment and then stated that the state should not use force against Ukrainians and should convince them to change their minds.
While the people from the West and Central Ukraine with whom I came in contact looked at people from the East with suspicion and regarded them as harboring separatist feelings, either because of their own propensity or because of Russian plotting, people from the East that I talked with often had the same feeling toward those from West Ukraine.
The women from Donetsk complained that while they themselves had been working, the participants in the Orange Revolution had spent their time in demonstrations. …