The difference in vision of the prospects between Western and Eastern Ukrainians is still preserved in this country. And as the Donbas conflict sinks into a low intensity stalemate, there is now a grim fatalism in the towns and villages close to the contact line, informs The Guardian.
Since the “Euromaidan” revolution in 2013-14, during which the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych attempted to violently crush pro-European protests before fleeing to exile in Russia, Kyiv’s gaze has turned decisively westwards.
From Kyiv to Lviv, western Ukrainians are desperate to integrate further, believing that EU disciplines will normalise one of the most corrupt societies in the world and boost one of the least successful economies of all the former Soviet states. With ruthless efficiency, Soviet-era statues and monuments have been toppled across the country since the revolution. But as Georgiy Tuka, the deputy minister for temporarily occupied territories and internally displaced people concedes, the perspective is very different in the east, where a large proportion of the population are native Russian-speakers and portraits of communist war heroes still are in classrooms.
“I would say 85% of people in the Donbass dream about the Soviet Union,” says Tuka, who has also served as a volunteer soldier and as the governor of Kiev-controlled territory in the region. “An entire generation has been raised with this kind of perspective.”
Nearly four years into the conflict, that kind of dangerous zeal is not so much in evidence. Russian convoys and the International Red Cross provide a minimum of humanitarian aid to rebel-held areas, where the conventional economy has more or less broken down. NGOs, co-ordinated and financed by the EU’s humanitarian aid agency, fill in on the other side. But as the conflict sinks into a low intensity stalemate, there is now a grim fatalism in the towns and villages close to the contact line. It is born from the sense that the wider world has become indifferent to their fate, while the rest of Ukraine has written the region off as a home to separatists, fifth columnists or worse.
Back in Kyiv, deputy minister Tuka describes those living in the “People’s” Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk as “hostages to terrorists”. But he accepts that if Ukraine is ever to be successfully put back together, a battle for hearts and minds must be waged in the Donbass and the ghost of the USSR finally laid to rest.