Eastern Ukraine Under Assault
As Russia makes a strategic pivot toward Eastern Ukraine, the challenge goes beyond the battlefield. A divide has long existed between Eastern and Western Ukraine. The most notable difference between the regions is linguistic. Russian is more widely spoken in Eastern Ukraine as opposed to Ukrainian. However, Eastern Ukraine has also had closer links to Russia economically as well. Russian television regularly broadcasts into the region so the cultural ties also remain intact. Moreover, separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk have fought a Civil War in the Donbas for nearly ten years already. So, Russia has always had more support there.
Nonetheless, the resistance in Mariupol demonstrated its residents do not welcome Russia as a liberator. Multiple reports demonstrate how the Russian siege of the city has hardened most of its residents against Russia. Repeated attacks on civilian targets like Friday’s attack on the Kramatorsk train station make it difficult for anyone to support Russian occupation. Moreover, reports of atrocities in Bucha have instilled fear as those who remain contemplate the consequences of a Russian occupation.
Indeed, the views in the Donbas will likely evolve as the conflict escalates. In the book Between Two Fires, Joshua Yaffa gave an account of a Crimean zookeeper named Oleg Zubkov. Oleg was a strong supporter of Russian annexation, but found life under Russian governance disappointing. Similarly, many of the residents of Mariupol opposed the Revolution of Dignity. Many of them supported the deposed President Viktor Yanukovych. It’s likely some of those views have already changed. Of course, differences will remain between Eastern and Western Ukraine. Still, the response from its people to Russia’s assault will matter as much to the campaign as any victory on the battlefield.