The Ukrainian divide

The power of historical narratives, imagined communities, and collective memories

in Regions and Cohesion
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  • 1 UNU-CRIS and Ghent University, Belgium apenkala@cris.unu.edu
  • 2 Ghent University, Belgium ilse.derluyn@ugent.be
  • 3 UNU-CRIS and Ghent University, Belgium ilietaert@cris.unu.edu
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Abstract

Ukraine is usually portrayed as a cleft country with a determining internal East–West divide. However, critical researchers in Ukrainian scholarship emphasize that the East–West paradigm fails to adequately reflect the complex reality of the Ukrainian society and its historical, linguistic, economic, and political mixture. This article deconstructs the origins and evolution of the eastern and western Ukrainian identities and argues that the current clash between the two regions should not be explained by linguistic and ethnic differences, geopolitical strategies, economic interests, or political gains but rather by symbolic geographies, historical myths, and political imaginations. As a consequence, Ukraine is unable to make clear choices about its geopolitical future and remains a liminal space of east and west, where the broader EU-centered and Russia-centered regions overlap.

Resumen

Ucrania suele ser retratada como un país caracterizado por una división interna determinante entre el este y el oeste. Sin embargo, algunos investigadores critican este paradigma Este-Oeste, que no refleja la compleja realidad de la sociedad ucraniana y su mezcla histórica, lingüística, económica y política. En este artículo se deconstruyen los orígenes y la evolución de las identidades ucranianas orientales y occidentales y se argumenta que el actual choque entre las dos regiones debería explicarse por el nuevo enfoque de geografías simbólicas, mitos históricos e imaginaciones políticas. En caso contrario, Ucrania no puede tomar decisiones claras sobre su futuro geopolítico y sigue siendo un espacio liminal de este y oeste, donde se superponen las regiones más amplias centradas en la UE y en Rusia, respectivamente.

Résumé

L'Ukraine est généralement présentée comme un pays avec une division interne Est-Ouest déterminante. Cependant, des chercheurs ukrainiens critiquent ce paradigme Est-Ouest, qui ne reflèterait pas la réalité complexe de la société ukrainienne ni son mélange historique, linguistique, économique et politique. Cet article déconstruit les origines et l'évolution des identités ukrainiennes orientales et occidentales et soutient que le conflit qui les oppose actuellement devrait être expliqué par la nouvelle approche des géographies symboliques, des mythes historiques et des imaginations politiques. A défaut, l'Ukraine est incapable de faire des choix clairs quant à son avenir géopolitique et reste un espace liminaire entre l'Est et l'Ouest, où les régions plus larges centrées sur l'UE et la Russie se chevauchent.

Contributor Notes

ALINA PENKALA is a PhD fellow at UNU-CRIS and Ghent University and holds a master's degree in political science from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. In her research she focuses on return migration and reintegration processes of migrants returning from Europe to Ukraine. She is interested in psychological, economic, political, and social aspects of the phenomenon. She has worked for the Ministry of Defense in Poland as a security policy expert and later in conflict-affected areas; in Georgia for the EU Monitoring Mission, and in Ukraine for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Email: apenkala@cris.unu.edu

ILSE DERLUYN is affiliated as a full professor with the Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy (Ghent University) where she teaches courses in migration and refugee studies. Derluyn's main research topics concern the psychosocial wellbeing of unaccompanied refugee minors, migrant and refugee children, war-affected children, victims of trafficking, and child soldiers. She is actively involved in supporting refugees and practitioners and in policy research. Prof. Derluyn is heading CESSMIR and is co-director of the Centre for Children in Vulnerable Situations (CCVS). She is the PI of the ERC-SG ChildMove and coordinates the H2020-project’ RegugeesWellSchool’. Email: Ilse.Derluyn@UGent.be

INE LIETAERT is affiliated as a professorial fellow with UNU–CRIS in Bruges where she coordinates the migration research program, and she is also an assistant professor at the Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy (Ghent University) where she teaches the course International Social Work, (co)-supervises various PhD research project and is a research member of the Centre for the Social Study of Migration and Refugees (CESSMIR). Her main research topics relate to migration governance, return migration, reintegration processes, assisted return, migration trajectories, unaccompanied refugees minors, wellbeing, internal displacement in urban settings, and social work practices. Email: ilietaert@cris.unu.edu

Regions and Cohesion

Regiones y Cohesión / Régions et Cohésion

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