27 January 2014

The conflict in Ukraine explained by a map

In other words, in the European-facing half of Ukraine, the orange half, the protests are even more widespread and severe than you might have gathered from watching the media coverage. But it's important to keep in mind that the other half of the country, the blue half, is much quieter.

You may be wondering, then, why there is such a consistent and deep divide between these two halves of Ukraine. Here's the really crucial thing to understand about Ukraine: A whole lot of the country speaks Russian, rather than Ukrainian. This map shows the country's linguistic divide, which you may notice lines up just about perfectly with its political divide.

Ukrainian is the majority and official language of Ukraine. But, as a legacy of of the country's subjugation by Russia, many Ukrainians speak Russian, which is the native language for about one-third of the population. The Russian speakers are clustered in the south and east. A significant chunk of them are ethnic Russian, as well. In some regions, more than three-quarters of the population speaks Russian as their primary language.

Heavily Russian-speaking regions can tend to be more sympathetic (or at least less hostile) to policies that bring their country closer to Russia, as Yanukovych has been doing. But the Ukrainian-speaking regions have historically sought a Ukrainian national identity that is less Russia-facing and more European. So this is about politics, yes, but it's also about identity, about the question of what it means to be Ukrainian.
More at The Washington Post (and there are some perceptive observations by readers in the Comments below).


  1. The south used to be part of the Ottoman Empire, and was later (after ethnic cleansing) colonized by Russians.

    Until WWI the black shaded area used to be part of Austro-Hungary, so that explains why they are the most Euro-minded.

  2. A comment to your very nice blogg!

    There is an other aspect of division to consider in Ukraina and it's that of religion. When you come to think of it's clear! The Russians are orthodox but in Ukraina they are mostly Roman catholic and as such have for centuries belonged to West! And that, I have heard, is the really great divide. The Russians on the other hand are something else, something of their own, mystic in spite of their western school system etc.
    Ok. These are just layman's thoughts from Finland but I do have an relative with an Ukrainean girlfriend.


    1. Christianity in Ukraine is very convoluted topic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Christianity_in_Ukraine Roman catholic church does not have one of major congregations.

    2. Yes Alekseja, yes! I slept a sleepless night because of the simplification, sorry! All history, statistics, everything in those regions seems to be very uncertain, the facts disputable. The number I gave for Roman catholics was meant to be of those speaking Ukrainean but even so too high perhaps?

  3. This article, by a reporter who was stationed in that part of the world for a good length of time, describes the Ukrainian divide quite well:


  4. The problem with the divide in Ukraine (as well as problems in almost all exUSSR countries) is russification politics of USSR and Russian Empire (before that):

    1. + a couple more interesting maps:

  5. This http://libcom.org/news/neo-nazis-far-right-protesters-ukraine-23012014 and the comments are also of interest and concern.


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