Ukraine is a bilingual and bicultural nation. Politically, culturally, and historically it is two nations struggling to remain as one. Ukraine is attempting to preserve its rule over its eastern Donbas region, the Donetsk Oblast and Luhansk Oblast.
Donbas lies along the Ukrainian border with Russia. Donbas culturally and historically has been closely aligned with Russia. Donbas is also one of the most Soviet and alien regions of Ukraine. It is bicultural, the percentage of the population that considered itself Russian is 34.5 percent, but the percentage of Russian speakers is 82.1 percent.
Despite being independent and very Russian, in 1991, 83.9% of voters in Donetsk Oblast and 83.6% in Luhansk Oblast supported Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union. However, they would once again prove their strong desire for sovereignty two years later.
In 1993, Donbas coal miners went on strike. An action described by historian Lewis Siegelbaum as “a struggle between the Donbas region and the rest of the country”. One strike leader said that Donbas people had voted for independence because they wanted “power to be given to the localities, enterprises, cities.” In other words, they opposed just moving the heavily centralized power, under Soviet rule, moved from “Moscow to Kyiv”.
The Donbas region was a region where both Russian and Ukrainian interactions are interchangeable. Donbas region identifies with Russian cosmopolitanism. It has rejected the ethnic nationalism that is popular in Kyiv and western Ukraine. Its Ukrainian identity is Russian in culture and Russian politics.
The Ukrainian constitution does not reflect Russian ethnicity. It reflects more of a Ukrainian nationalistic position. In the constitution, only the Ukrainian language is considered official. However, in the constitution proposed for the rebellious Donetsk People’s Republic, both Russian and Ukrainian are declared official languages.
It is no surprise that Ukrainian political divisions have followed these historical patterns. Voting in Donbas and Crimea stands out as being nearly the converse of those in western Ukraine. In the 2004 National elections, the eastern region of Ukraine supported Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian and former governor of Donetsk Oblast. Yanukovych was initially declared the winner.
Immediately allegations of electoral fraud and voter intimidation and widespread citizen protests in Kyiv Independence Square, known as the Orange Revolution. In response, the Ukrainian Supreme Court nullified the election and ordered a second runoff. Yanukovych lost this second election to Yushchenko.
In 2010 Yanukovych was elected president of Ukraine. In late 2013, Yanukovych rejected a pending EU association agreement, choosing instead to pursue a Russian loan bail-out. This move would guarantee closer ties with Russia. Protests and the occupation of Kyiv Independence Square ensued. The violent events were labeled the Euromaidan Revolution or Maidan (Maydan).
The Western Press billed this as a protest by proponents of aligning Ukraine with the European Union. In reality, it was a coup inspired and supported by the Obama Regime. This U.S. initiative is made clear in the leaked Victoria Nuland, Asst. Sec. of State for Europe, phone conversation U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine telephone(see Video).
The U.S., unhappy with the Yanukovych relationship with Russia and his rejection of an EU bail-out plan, backed the protesters that included far right-wing nationalist groups. Some of these groups had ties to the Nazi collaborators during WW2 and its Barbarossa Campaign.
In February, Yanukovych fled the country, the next day Ukrainian Parliament voted to remove him from his post. This peremptory removal of president Yanukovych violated the delicate balance of interests forged between Kyiv/Western Ukraine and Donbas.
After Yanukovych was ousted, a shift from a passive rejection to secession occurred. The people of Crimea and Donbas believed that the Maidan Revolt was a direct threat to the interest of Russian Ukrainians.
By mid-April, two-thirds of Donbas residents said they regard the Maidan as an armed overthrow of the government, organized by the opposition assisted by the West. In the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution referendums, in Crimea and Donbas were sought to legitimize the establishment of independent republics.
The Donetsk and Lugansk regions held referendums on their status, despite Kyiv’s resistance. The Donetsk referendum outcomes demonstrate the choice made by people. The head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, election commission Roman Lyagin told journalists that 89% voted in favor of self-rule, with 10% against, on a turnout of nearly 75%. In the Luhansk Region, votes for independence were higher than in the Donetsk Region.
Many government buildings in towns and cities across Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts became occupied by separatists as the Republic expanded its territorial control. As a result, the Ukrainian government launched a counter-offensive against separatists in some parts of Donetsk Oblast. These sentiments are hardened by thousands of combat and civilian casualties of the Donbas people.
Ukrainian nationalists claim Donbas to be Soviet and alien. Bohdan Chervak, the chairman of Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists, calls Donbas “not Ukrainian territory by content.”
Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko recently referred to both Crimea and Donbas as regions “where our language practically does not exist(Ukrainian), where our memory is nonexistent, where our church is absent, where our culture is absent.” Yushchenko concluded it to be an utterly foreign land.
Crimean first deputy prime minister Rustam Temirgaliev best describes the Donbas sentiment; “people in the Donetsk and Lugansk have chosen independence although the self-proclaimed Kyiv authorities tried to thwart the referendum. The residents of Donetsk and Lugansk have confirmed their wish to live in an independent, free, and peaceful republic that is independent of the Kyiv junta.”
In summary, the Ukrainian military campaign has entrenched views on both sides. Western Ukrainians are convinced of a Russian invasion and believe Ukraine should remain a unitary state, with Ukrainian as the only official language.
Eastern Ukrainians, by contrast, are now more convinced that the fault for this crisis lies in Kyiv, that the Russian language ought to have equal status with Ukrainian (at least in their regions), and are more receptive to the idea of separating from Ukraine.
In his interview of 4 March 2014, Putin had two demands for Ukraine: (1) that the population in the East and the South be safe, and (2) that they are part of the political process. The U.S. has been supporting the Ukrainian War in the Donbas region. Putin has stood by his “aggressive” demands.
Statements like; ”the U.S. government is deeply concerned over the situation that is developing near the borders of Ukraine and in every possible way supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” recently made by U.S. Army Colonel collaborates the Putin/Russian aggressor narrative.
The “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine is a regional issue, not an international, U.S., or NATO one. Ukraine and Russia need to negotiate diplomatically to resolve this issue. The Oliver Stone 2016 film Ukraine on Fire provides a fascinating history of the Ukrainian Orange and Maidan revolution.