Is Ukraine as divided as most people think?

Does Ukraine's eastern region, the site of recent clashes, automatically favor Russia, since most people there speak Russian? A study carried out on behalf of the Bertelsmann Stiftung by the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw dispels the myth of a divided Ukraine.

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The unrest in Ukraine continues. First there was the Crimean referendum and the peninsula's declaration of independence, followed by its "accession" to the Russian Federation. More recently there have been violent clashes in the country's southeastern region and demonstrators have called for a referendum in Odessa as well. Now there are fears that Russia will invade the country.

Russian is spoken in Odessa, despite the fact that more than 60 percent of the people there are ethnic Ukrainians. But does language determine identity in Ukraine?

A study recently carried out on behalf of the Bertelsmann Stiftung by the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw dispels the myth that people in eastern Ukraine tend to speak Russian and are therefore pro-Russian and that, overall, the country is a Ukrainian-speaking, pro-Western nation.  Based on several surveys, the study's author, Joanna Fomina, ascertains that the country's division into two different spheres, an idea often advanced by Russian officials, does not reflect the actual situation in Ukraine. According to Fomina, the majority of Ukrainians believe that closer cooperation with both the European Union and Russia would benefit their country. Yet when respondents are pressed to choose one geopolitical option over another, most of those surveyed say they prefer closer ties to Europe, regardless of the language they speak.

Moreover, regardless of where they live or their preferred language, most people in Ukraine want to live in a democracy. At the same time, most respondents – regardless of residence or language – do not want the country to be divided into two states, or their region to leave Ukraine, regardless of whether it would then become independent or part of the Russian Federation. At the time the survey was carried out, only one-quarter of the respondents in Crimea wanted the peninsula to join Russia. The majority was in favor of Crimea remaining autonomous within Ukraine – as was the case until recently.

The vast majority of Ukrainians, whichever language they speak or wherever they live, consider Ukraine their homeland. This is especially true of those who live in the country’s reportedly pro-Russian east, where 93 percent say that is the case.