#UkraineCrisis: From Identity Conflict to Civil War

The Identity Warfare in Ukraine.

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This post was randomly produced by the Russian totalitarian propaganda machine. It uses secret discourse techniques of tactical NLP developed by KGB in the Gulag labor camps of Siberia. Side effects after reading this post can result in anxiety, aggression, anti-social behaviour, alcohol & drug addiction (esp. vodka & krokodil addiction), homophobia, sexism, racism, communism, Putinism, atheism or religious fanaticism, identity crisis, paranoia, affection for conspiracy theories, heavy case of Ushanka syndrome, Tourette syndrome (esp. the use of Russian ‘mat’), Olney’s lesions, pro-Russian attitude & infertility. This post was sponsored by FSB, Al-Qaeda & the Tijuana Cartel.

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And ruined is the Cossack! He is lost for all the chivalry of the Cossacks! He will see Zaporozhye no more; nor his father’s farms, nor the church of God. Ukraine will see no more the bravest of the sons who undertook to defend her. Old Taras will tear the gray hair from his head and curse the day and hour when he begot such a son to shame him.

Nikolai GogolTaras Bulba (1835).


Euromaidan vs Russian SpringForeword. This is a short post (‘short’ in relation to the problem discussed) covering some points which reveal the background of the current conflict in Ukraine. Actually, this question requires a series of books and theses. If something in this post contradicts your worldview blame it on ‘Russian propaganda’.


What is a Civil War? For example, my good old 1989 edition of Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language defines it as follows:

A war between political factions or regions between the same country.

According to Wikipedia:

A civil war is a war between organized groups within the same state or republic, or, less commonly, between two countries created from a formerly united state. The aim of one side may be to take control of the country or a region, to achieve independence for a region, or to change government policies.

Before speaking about the Ukraine crisis in terms of Civil War let me start with an identity classification of Ukraine. After CNN placed Ukraine in Pakistan I shouldn’t be afraid of stating ‘obvious’ things.

СNN places Ukraine in Pakistan
СNN places Ukraine in Pakistan


a) ‘Ukrainians’ & ‘Russians’ in Ukraine: Relation Between Ethnic & Cultural Identity.

Who lives in Ukraine? Ukrainians, right? And who ARE these ‘Ukrainians’? This term can mean ‘citizens of Ukraine‘, ‘ethnic Ukrainians‘ and those who identify as ‘Ukrainian’.

Statement №1: apparently not every citizen of Ukraine is an ethnic Ukrainian and vice versa – not every ethnic Ukrainian is a citizen of Ukraine.

Ethnic Russian and ethnic Ukrainian citizens of Ukraine can be put in five major generalized groups in relation to their language, ethnic and cultural identity:
  1. ‘Triple Ukrainians’: ethnic Ukrainians who speak Ukrainian on everyday basis and identify as Ukrainian;
  2. ‘Double Ukrainians’: ethnic Ukrainians who speak mostly Russian but identify as Ukrainian;
  3. ‘Rukrainians’ (Russian Ukrainians): ethnic Ukrainians who speak Russian and identify culturally as Russian;
  4. ‘Triple Russians’: ethnic Russians who speak Russian and identify as Russian (Russians constitute the largest ethnic minority in Ukraine);
  5. ‘Ukrussians’ (Ukrainian Russians): ethnic Russians who speak Russian but identify culturally as Ukrainian.

Of course, these groups and their names are nominal (people can change their identity/identity group) but the former show main social groups in Ukraine in relation to their ethnic and cultural identification.

[Note: I didn’t put religious identification in the ‘equation’ not to ‘overload’ the latter although it’s a very important factor in identity building in Ukraine. Anyway, the general picture is drawn pretty vivid by ethnic and cultural identification plus language (and region – see the corresponding map below).].

Religion in Ukraine
Religion in Ukraine

Statement №2: ethnic and cultural Ukrainian identities can ‘mix’ or ‘overlap’ with ethnic and cultural Russian identities both among themselves and with each other:

E.g., ‘Rukrainians’ can turn into ‘double Ukrainians’ (and vice versa) and ‘Ukrussians’ – into ‘triple Russians’ (and vice versa). Those who belong to the last 4 groups are the ones that are more likely to change their identity than the 1st one. Moreover ‘dual identity’ (‘hybrid identity’) is widespread: there are people in Ukraine who can’t unequivocally say whether they are ‘(more) Russian’ or ‘(more) Ukrainian’.

I’m not  even talking about ‘mixed’ families (as well as other ethnicities in Ukraine): many Russians have Ukrainian relatives and vice versa. Being an ethnic Russian myself, two of my great grandmothers on father’s side were Ukrainian. It should also be noted that during the Soviet times a substantial amount of ethnic Russians in Ukraine ‘claimed to be’ Ukrainian in their passports due to korenization policy and benefits of being ‘Ukrainian’ in Ukraine.

b) Identity Conflict: Euromaidan vs Russian Identity.

Statement №3: the version of Ukrainian identity which was constructed in the territories of contemporary Western Ukraine has been taken as the ‘official’ or ‘mainstream’ all-Ukrainian identity at least since the collapse of the USSR.

What’s the big deal? Why Western Ukrainian identity (after Euromaidan where the majority embraced this identity it can also be called Euromaidan identity) can’t become a blueprint for an all-Ukrainian identity? Yes, it can! But the majority of ethnic Russians as well as ‘double Ukrainians’, ‘Rukrainians’ and even some ‘triple Ukrainians’ oppose this version of identity as an official identity for all people of Ukraine. Why so?

Territorial evolution of Ukraine

To make a long story short, historically the territories which now are a part of Western Ukraine belonged to other states: the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the Second Polish Republic, the Kingdom of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Kingdom of Romania. For a number of reasons Ukrainian nationalism was encouraged in the Austro-Hungarian Empire with Galicia being a center of it. Ukrainian nationalism was a radical one (ethnic nationalism) and it contained anti-Polish, anti-Jewish and anti-Russian sentiments as a part of negative identity building.

[Right Sector rally in Zaporozhye with following chants: “Glory to the nation! Death to enemies!”, “Moskalyaku na gilyaku” (i.e. ‘(hang) Moskals on a tree branch’) andPutin kh*ilo“.]

Territories annexed to UkraineNowadays when people who manifest Western Ukrainian identity (and their sympathizers in Russia and in the West) try to justify it, they usually say that Ukrainians with this identity are not anti-Russian but only anti-Soviet and anti-communist. [Note: this ‘only anti-Soviet’ attitude has an interesting detail given that huge parts of contemporary Ukraine were ‘gifts’ from the Soviet leaders – e.g. ‘Eastern Ukraine’ was included into Ukraine by Vladimir Lenin]. Some of these people add that they speak Russian and have Russian friends (a close analogue of ‘I have black friends’ argument from a racist).

Timoshenko's new image Evil-Lyn

When speaking about people of South and Eastern Ukraine with a majority of ethnic Russian population, those who manifest Euromaidan identity frequently use following catchwords (e.g., on social media: Twitter, Facebook, etc.):

[Ukrainian school kids chant: “One langauge! One nation! One country! This is Ukraine!“, “Moskalyaku na gilyaku” and “if you’re not jumping, you’re a Moskal]

  • moskals (slur for Russians);
  • mongolokatsaps (ethnic slur for Russians, derived from ‘katsap’ which itself is derived from Ukranian ‘kak tsap’ (literally: ‘like a goat’ – that’s how Ukrainians called Russians for their beards while Russians called the former ‘khokhlys‘ – ‘forelocks’ because Ukrainians shaved their heads leaving only a forelock) and ‘mongol’ – implying that Russians are Asian, non-Slavic, not White/European, thus denying the kinship between Russians and Ukrainians);
  • omoskalennye (derived from ‘moskal” and meaning ‘Russianized’, so it can be translated as ‘Ruskified’);
  • vatniks (warm cotton wool-padded jacket) or vata (cotton wool or wadding);
  • titushkas (Russian analogue – gopniks);
  • kolorads (i.e. Colorado beetles).
Euromaidan - the best thing that could happen with Ukraine
Caption says: Euromaidan – the best thing that could happen with Ukraine

The other side answers with above mentioned ‘khokhlys‘ (forelocks), ‘ukrys‘ (short from ‘Ukrainians’ which sounds derogatory) and ‘ukrops‘ (from ‘ukrop’ – dill – which actually has no plural form in Russian, so it sounds a bit comic for a Russian speaker).

Statement №4: dehumanization of an ‘opponent’ is present in military conflicts, especially in civil wars.

Luganda Donburas
Ukrainian caricature showing self-defense fighter as a monkey. Caption says: ‘Luganda’, ‘Donburas’ (derived from ‘Lugansk’ + ‘Uganda’ & ‘Donbas’ + ‘Honduras’).

Statement №5: Russian cultural identity is a rival identity for those who are now in power in Ukraine and needs to be eliminated as such because the project of post-Euromaidan Ukraine can be characterised as “one (unitary) country, one nation, one (official) language, one (cultural) identity”.

When Ukrainian PM Arseny Yatsenyuk referred to people of Eastern Ukraine as ‘subhumans‘ (which was later changed to ‘inhumans‘) that doesn’t necessarily mean he hated them: ‘nothing personal, just politics’. I’m not trying to excuse or demonize Yatsenyuk. In fact, it’s not him. It’s the IDENTITY talking – to be more precise, the Western Ukrainian identity with anti-Russian sentiment being  embedded in the code of this identity. The sentiment is in the ‘identity program’. In other words, Euromaidan identity (as a modern form of Western Ukrainian identity) manifests itself through its anti-Russianness.

Yatsenyuk calling people of Eastern Ukraine subhumansThe Western Ukrainian identity has its own pantheon of heroes including Nazi collaborators Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevich, etc. In 2010 then-current Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko awarded Bandera the title of “Hero of Ukraine” (later it was revoked). It’s no surprise that there’s a large amount of monuments in Ukraine to Stepan Bandera. A popular saying in Ukraine goes, “Bandera will come and restore order”. A Ukrainian nationalist slogan “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!” became “a Ukrainian greeting slogan and popular unofficial motto”.

Blessed Mother of God the Cossack Protectress Icon
Blessed Mother of God the Cossack Protectress Icon. Among the ‘holy protectors’ of Ukraine: Shukhevich and Bandera (in the right sector corner – from right to left correspondingly)

c) Civil War in Ukraine & Identity Politics.

The Wikipedia definition of Civil War helps to show the dynamics behind the Civil War in Eastern Ukraine: ethnic Russians and Russian speaking Ukrainians who joined the self-defense forces of Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics modified their demands from ‘changing government policies‘ (from ‘official status of Russian language’ and ‘federalization’) to ‘taking control of the country or a region‘ (i.e. ‘secession’ and ‘independence’).

Lugansk Referendum Poster
Caption says: independence [cat]; wide autonomy, autonomy, unitary Ukraine [booth]; Lugansk [dog]; admeasure yourself a chain!

Statement №6: the Russian Spring movement can be viewed as identity politics of the Russian minority in Ukraine as well as those ethnic Ukrainians who culturally identify as Russian. Identity conflict is the engine behind the Civil War in Ukraine. It’s not (purely) an ethnic conflict and cannot be limited to it because it’s all about identity and loyalty to the chosen identity.

Maidan killed Ukrainian in me, now I'm Russian
Caption says: Maidan killed a Ukrainian in me, now I’m a Russian

Moreover, this war also is going on in hearts and minds of people in Russia.

Ukraine's gone crazy caricature
Russian caricature. Caption says: – Doctor, what’s wrong with me? – You’re f*cked in the head!

Ultimately, it is a war of rival identities which can be simply expressed in terms of following binary oppositions:

  • Euromaidan vs Russian Spring;
  • Ukrainian Identity and nation building vs (Novo)Russian Identity and nation building;
  • West Ukrainian (Euromaidan) identity vs Russian (Novorussian) identity.
Family embrace before a self-defense fighter departs to the frontline
Family embrace before a self-defense fighter departs to the frontline

The emerging Novorussian identity is born now in Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. This identity is getting stronger with every shot and shelling by Ukrainian army.

Female self-defense fighter
Female self-defense fighter

Thus, it is an identity war. Many ethnic Ukrainians (‘Rukrainians’ and ‘double Ukrainians’ in particular) fight for Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics‘ independence. Similarly, there are ethnic Russians in Ukraine (‘Ukrussians’) who fight on Kiev’s side. Moreover, some of them even joined radical nationalist organization Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) which later became a legal political party.

Graffiti The Guardian Angel of Novorussia
Graffiti: The Guardian Angel of Novorussia

People are ready to kill and die for their identity, for what they see as protection of it against the ‘Russian agression’ or ‘Nazi threat’. The tragedy of the Civil War is basically that in REALITY people are killing not  ‘Nazis‘ or ‘terrorists‘, ‘fascists‘ or ‘vatniks‘ but their OWN sons, brothers, sisters, fathers, etc.

If Russia invaded Ukraine why don't refugees run towards Kiev? Why do they run towards aggressor - Russia?
Caption says: if Russia invaded Ukraine why don’t refugees run towards Kiev? Why do they run towards aggressor – Russia?

[Rhetoric question (which I stumbled upon on Twitter): isn’t it ironic that those who opposed the war in Chechnya, now support the so-called ‘anti-terrorist operation’ in Eastern Ukraine?!]

Despite all claims by Ukrainian radical nationalists which became an ideological mainstream and common place in Ukrainian political discourse and public discussion in after-Euromaidan Ukraine (in fact, much earlier), genetically Russians and Ukrainians are almost undistinguishable. So this policy of forced Ukrainization is in substance a repression of Russian cultural identity and substitution of it by a Ukrainian one, a state policy of making people choose a Ukranian identity. To put it simple it’s about making ‘Ukrainians’ out of ‘Russians’ or, in other words, turning ‘Russians’ into ‘Ukrainians’: all ‘Rukrainians’ and ‘triple Russians’ should become ‘double Ukrainians’ (at least) and ‘Ukrussians’ correspondingly. It’s nothing less but a cultural genocide.

Genetics of Eastern Slavs
Genetics of Eastern Slavs

Statement №7: forced Ukrainization is a bloodless genocide of ethnic Russian community in Ukraine.

The binary opposition (‘Euromaidan vs Russian Spring’ as manifestations of modern Ukrainian and Russian cultural identities correspondingly) with all its apparent (strategic) essentialism shows that the locomotive behind the Civil War in Ukraine is a conflict between rival identities and corresponding political projects: (unitarian anti-Russian) Ukraine vs (forming concept of pro-Russian) Novorussia (aka Novorossiya) by now represented by Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics fighting for their independence.


There’s an anecdote which is rather funny and sad at the same time in the given context:

A Ukrainian is standing in front of the looking glass. Suddenly he says: “What an ugly mug you have! You, freaking Moskal!”

To be continued.

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