Ukraine remains divided

‘This war has consolidated our nation, united the people of Ukraine.’ So said the Ukrainian president, President Petro Poroshenko, expressing a view which has become widespread in recent months. Many commentators now claim that outside of the war zone in the east of the country, the war has brought Ukrainians of all stripes together in a common sentiment that their country is under attack from Russia and that their future belongs with the West. The overwhelming victory by ‘pro-Western’ political forces in this week’s parliamentary elections is supposed to be proof of this fact.

Electoral maps show a somewhat different story.

This map shows turnout in the recent election. The picture is clear: the further south-east one goes, the lower the turnout, with over 80% of eligible people voting in the area around Lvov in the far west of the country, but only about 30% voting in the parts of the far east which remain under government control.


This next map shows the results in the various electoral districts: The yellow and red markings indicate victories by the ‘pro-Western’ parties; the blue indicates victories by the opposition, which might be said to represent the ‘not pro-Western’ point of view.


Comparing the two maps, what is immediately clear is that the more pro-Western an area was, the higher the turnout was. The low turnout in the south-east of the country, coupled with the fact that those who did vote there tended to vote for the opposition, certainly suggests that that part of the country remains hostile to the Westernizing project.

Now compare all this with a third map, which shows the linguistic divisions in Ukraine. This reveals another correlation: voting for the opposition or not voting at all is closely related to being a Russian speaker.


In an interview this week Gennady Moskal, the governor of that part of Lugansk province which remains under Ukrainian control, remarked that ‘pro-Russian sentiments are very high, in some towns 95%, in some 80% … people have an extremely negative attitude towards the authorities in Kiev.’  All in all, this information suggests that the war in Ukraine has not in fact forged a new unified national identity. On the contrary, Ukraine remains a divided country.


One thought on “Ukraine remains divided”

  1. It is interesting how linguistic maps are adapted in order to explain political choices. The BBC map from the beginning of the crisis uses a quite simplistic map to argue that the country is split in two: a pro-Western, Ukrainian-speaking West and Centre vs. a pro-Russian, Russian-speaking South and East:

    Your linguistic map is more nuanced and it is true that “Ukraine remains a divided country”. However, it seems that the areas your maps are trying to present as “pro-Western, Ukrainian-speaking” have shifted South and East in comparison to the past. This may in part be due to lower voter turnout, but something does seem to have changed.

    The other question regards self-definition, language use and political choice. Maps such as yours and the BBC’s suggest that language use is the substructure determining the superstructure of political preference. However, does stated language preference actually reflect usage? When an individual claims to speak Ukrainian do they actually speak Ukrainian in their daily lives? Or are they making a political statement by describing themselves as Ukrainian speakers? Far from determining political preference, is claimed language use a product of it?

    As Rory Finin argues (, the division of Ukraine into “pro-Western” and “pro-Russian” halves is lazy. There’s something comfortingly neat about maps where linguistic and political divisions match. However, I suspect that they are hiding part of the story.


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