Geschwister Scholl Institute of Political Science

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Kyrylo Tkachenko, M.A.

Doctoral Student, funded by ZEIT-Stiftung


Research Project

The Donbas 2014: Metastasis of Russian Nationalism or Birth of New Identity?

The present PhD project examines the transformation of those politically significant collective identities in the Donbas, which are related to the sense of national and cultural belonging. By combining analyses at macro and micro levels the project aims (a) to clarify how far the changes in the macro-social structure of Ukrainian society influenced identity transformations in the Donbas and (b) to reconstruct and interpret these changes with regard to the recent war in the area.

(1) Drawing on larger-scale historical contexts I intend to show that post-Soviet Ukrainian society was undergoing some major socio-economical changes which had a profound impact on questions of identity in the Donbas. Here my focus is on the widening of the gap between rural and urban population (predominantly Ukrainian-speaking vs. predominantly Russian-speaking) as well as the growing economic disparities between Western and Eastern Ukraine. A central concern of this project is to argue for an inherent connection, i.e. to highlight the degree to which changing language practices (and concomitant identity shifts in the Donbas) were influenced precisely by specific socio-economic trajectories.

(2) This macro-social line of analysis will be unpacked and substantiated in a field study with Donbas residents from rural Ukrainian-speaking families who ended up migrating to the city, changing their social status and switching into Russian (a minor part of the sample draws from their closest social environment without sharing these exact criteria). On the one hand, I am working with qualitative interviews in order to explore such transformations on the micro-level of individual sensibilities. On the other hand, the interviews aim to capture how the Donbas war has modified the perceived political implications. Based on the first round of interviews my current assumption is that, with the war having capitalized on issues of cultural heritage and nationality, Donbas residents face extreme political pressure with regard to their identities. The individual strategies employed to cope with this pressure are a particular focus of my work.