Ukrainian Catholic University (Ukraine/HURI, US)
Viktoria Sereda is a Professor (Dotsent) in the Department of Sociology at the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) in L’viv and a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. In 2011-2015, she headed the project “Region, Nation, and Beyond: An Interdisciplinary and Transcultural Reconceptualization of Ukraine,” co-funded by the Danyliw Foundation.
Transformation of Identities and Historical Memories in Ukraine
After the Euromaidan: National, Regional, and Local Dimensions
Some media and academic publications claim that following the 2013-14 protests against former Ukrainian President Yanukovych, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and violence in the Donbas, Ukrainian attitudes have significantly changed. The project “Region, Nation, and Beyond” attempted to verify those assumptions and analyze changes that happened to identities and historical memories both at the national and regional levels in Ukrainian society in the wake of the Euromaidan.
The original survey, conducted in March 2013, gave a very detailed picture of Ukrainian society just before the upheavals began in November of that year. It focused on identities and attitudes towards the past. In March 2015 the survey was repeated in order to analyze Ukrainian society before and after the revolution. Both surveys involved 6,000 respondents. The follow-up activities included in-depth interviews looking at interactions of different models of the past that comprise everyday life in post-Soviet Ukraine, as well as interviews with Crimean and Donbas refugees.
Despite the ongoing war and anti-Russian propaganda, we observed no tendency toward radicalization at the grassroots level in Ukraine. Nor did we see any dramatic shifts in importance attributed by Ukrainian citizens to their local, regional, professional, class, age, gender or national identities. Even though the Euromaidan’s main objective was for Ukraine to join the EU, pro-European sentiment did not strengthen dramatically, though there has been a shift in respondents’ political orientations from supporting a union with Russia towards backing one with the EU.
Ukraine’s East-West dichotomy is often presented as a stereotypical split between ethnic and political nationalism. Yet our cross-regional comparison demonstrated that divisions between political and ethnic nationalism run more within regions than between them. Even more importantly, no clear-cut borders exist among ethnic groups in Ukraine, especially between Ukrainians and Russians. Their national identifications are multi-layered and often strongly intertwined, although some regional variations persist.
Our research showed that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military operations in the Donbas have rekindled Ukrainian nationalism. The Euromaidan effect on Ukrainians’ attitudes towards history is that for the first time, Ukraine has heroes and historical events commonly accepted in all regions, creating key markers for historical identity that are shared by all inhabitants.
The results of the study demonstrate that a “macro-regional approach,” dividing Ukraine into 2 or 4 macro-regions, can not be used as a valid explanation scheme. The cross-regional comparison at the oblast level reveals that the only outliers in their attitudes towards Ukraine’s past are the three Galician oblasts. Inhabitants of the rest of Ukraine do not demonstrate a clear cut support for one particular model of Ukraine’s past. Their attitudes are more multi-layered, as Soviet Ukrainian, Russian Imperial, Ukrainian nationalist and other representations of the past coexist in different proportions. In some cases, they might produce sharp conflicts (often instrumentalized by local elites) and, in other cases, peaceful coexistence or even hybridization.