Rule #1: YOU MUST clip all extraneous text when replying to a message.
Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2014 7:30 p.m. ET
Ukraine's Divisions Extend to East Itself
History Helps Explain Country's Dichotomy, but Doesn't Necessarily Mean
People Living Near Russia Want to Secede
By James Marson And Paul Sonne
DONETSK, Ukraine—With young men standing guard over barricades of tires,
and speeches and music blaring over loudspeakers, the pro-Russia camp
that has taken over the regional assembly here could be an answer to the
pro-Europe movement that emerged late last year in Kiev.
But Donetsk, one of the largest cities in eastern Ukraine, is missing
one element that proved vital to the success of the Kiev protests in
toppling Ukraine's pro-Russian president: people.
Thousands of activists lived on Kiev's central square for three months,
rising to tens of thousands at weekend rallies in the capital. By
contrast, the movement here has never attracted more than a few
thousand. Nowadays, the square in front of the assembly building often
has only a few dozen stragglers.
The disparity reflects the differences between Ukraine's west and east
that are at the center of the current crisis, as well as the mixed
feelings in Donetsk itself.
Western Ukraine was only absorbed by the Soviet Union in 1939 after
centuries under Polish or Austrian rule. It was long a bastion of
Ukrainian nationalism that has translated into strident political
activism, particularly against Russian influence. Many people there
work, study or travel in Western and Central Europe.
Hotspots Along the Border
The eastern heartland of Donbas was long part of the Russian empire and
adapted quickly to Soviet centralized rule, where big steel mills,
factories and coal mines took care of most every element of life. Few
have traveled West, relying as before on Russia for trade and jobs.
The west is predominantly Ukrainian-speaking and idolizes nationalists
who fought against the Soviets, at one point alongside the Nazis. In the
east, where Russian is the main language, statues of Lenin still stand
in town squares and the western heroes are seen as traitors.
The west was the driving force behind Kiev protests that led to the
ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, a Donetsk native, in February.
The majority in Donetsk reject the new government and want closer
economic and cultural ties with Russia.
But that doesn't mean they want to become Russian.
A recent poll showed that only about 28% of people in the Donetsk region
want to become part of Russia. Just 18% supported the seizure of the
regional assembly, according to the survey, which the Kiev International
Institute of Sociology, one of the country's most respected, independent
pollsters, conducted from April 8-16.
Asked about the low headcount outside the building, Kirill Rudenko, a
spokesman for the protesters, said it was overflowing with people this
month but that after Kiev began what it calls an antiterrorist operation
last week, many went home to the outskirts.
"The time for protests is already over," he said.
Still, Russian television has given them blanket coverage, depicting the
occupation as backed by the majority and claiming equivalence with the
Kiev demonstrations, which it portrays as engineered by the West.
A member of the Ukrainian special forces takes position at an abandoned
roadblock in the eastern city of Slovyansk. AFP/Getty Images
That has prompted Moscow to suggest Ukraine's regions are too diverse to
be governed from Kiev, and to push for a federal structure.
Ukrainian officials view that as an attempt to increase Moscow's sway
and hobble the government's attempt to reorient the former Soviet
republic westward. Kiev has instead offered more power to the regions
over economic and cultural matters.
The Donetsk protesters themselves are at odds over what they want. They
demand a referendum, but when they are pressed on what question will be
posed, few can answer.
Compared with Kiev, it is more difficult to mobilize protesters of any
political stripe in Donetsk, a less-youthful and more working-class city
buttressed by surrounding steel mills, coal mines and factories, said
Serhiy Harmash, a journalist and activist who organized a pro-Ukraine
rally in the city last week.
"Here, people are more apolitical," Mr. Harmash said. "There is a lot
If Moscow were to send troops, more than 10% of people in the region
would welcome them, but more than half would stay home and do nothing,
according to the KIIS poll.
Many simply feel they have no influence on events controlled by elites
and vested interests.
"When they decide something somewhere up above, that's when something
will happen," said Irina Kiriyenko, a 17-year-old Donetsk student. "We
have nothing to do with it."
Ms. Kiriyenko said, above all, people just want stability, even those
who might sympathize with the goals of the activists.
In the KIIS poll, 42% of people in the Donetsk region cited Russia's
economic stability and 38% political stability as what they find
attractive about the country—even higher percentages than in eastern
Ukraine as a whole.
After opposing demonstrations in Donetsk in March resulted in violence,
many people became scared and lost the desire to protest. One
demonstrator was stabbed on March 13 when a pro-Russia mob attacked a
crowd waving Ukrainian flags.
Also, some say their ideas can't be boiled down to a clear, shared goals
in the way the Kiev protesters—despite vastly differing backgrounds—came
together in demanding Mr. Yanukovych's resignation and closer ties with
the European Union.
For example, some in Donetsk favor a united Ukraine but hate the new
authorities in Kiev, making them wary of unfurling Ukrainian flags. Some
older people in particular want closer relations with Russia and dream
of the old Soviet days, but nonetheless see Donetsk as part of Ukraine.
The toppling of Mr. Yanukovych shocked people in the region amid fears
the new government wouldn't listen to their interests. Last year, when
he seemed set to sign a free-trade deal with the European Union, Russia
slowed its imports from Ukraine and halted some industrial cooperation
in what was interpreted as a warning shot.
If it did so again, production in the industrial region would fall,
sending unemployment soaring to more than 15%, estimates Dmitry Petrov,
an analyst at Nomura.
Even so, weekly anti-Kiev protests appeared to be fading before an
unexpected thrust in early April, which Kiev officials say was provided
by Russian agents and money, leading to building takeovers in several
cities. Moscow has denied involvement.
Now, apart from hotbeds like Slovyansk, the occupied buildings in places
like Donetsk have turned into strange spectacles.
Tuesday in Donetsk, about 20 middle-aged men and women sat on makeshift
benches behind the barricades, watching a flat-screen television taped
to a wooden bookshelf that was beaming out a live feed of Russian state
news. Curious passersby stopped to listen to Soviet-era poems or karaoke
It is a different vibe from Kiev, where students were the lifeblood of
the protests. Here they are rarely spotted. Neither have many
blue-collar workers joined. The trade union at one of the largest metal
plants in the region said its members supported Ukrainian unity and
would stay at work.
At the root, however, the concerns of many in Donetsk resemble those of
people in Kiev.
"Forget about the Donetsk Republic," said Vladimir Kovalchuk, a
pensioner who supports the protests against Kiev but says he doesn't
want to join Russia. "People want decent wages and pensions. They want
the smell of meat and wine."
Send list submissions to: Marxism@greenhouse.economics.utah.edu
Set your options at: