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Cf. PUBLICATION:  Ukraine in Conflict of National Identity. The Rights of the Russian-speaking Population were and remain essential for Peace, in: Forschungshorizonte Politik & Kultur, Vol. 6, 2022/5, 28 p.



“Andrij Waskowycz: The war [in Donbass and Lugansk] is being suppressed because there are no solutions to the problems that this war brings with it. There is no idea of how to end this war. And it claims new victims every day. People are killed by shelling or by exploding mines. The buffer zone, where the war is taking place, is the second most heavily mined region in the world. Because of this, people in the buffer zone cannot cultivate their land. They live there in a constant state of emergency. They have difficulties meeting their basic needs for food and healthcare. The children find it difficult to reach school, they often have to walk a long way. In addition, they have also seen a lot of violence or been under fire for days and witnessed bombings in basements. …” (Quote from an interview with the president of Caritas Ukraine, in: Caritas International: 23, translation: S.R.].

Since the beginning of 2022, Ukraine has temporarily pushed Corona off the top of the headlines. The armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, in Donbass and Lugansk, has been smouldering for a good eight years, with no end in sight. On the contrary, the OSCE mission there complains about violations of the Minsk ceasefire agreement (15 February 2015), which was reached under the auspices of Russia, France and Germany. The latest OSZE-Report accuses both the rebels and the Ukrainian government forces of accepting the destruction of civilian infrastructure. But unlike in the Syrian conflict, where the media show great understanding for the suffering of the civilian population, they hardly report on the suffering of the around 3 million people in eastern Ukraine and the approximately 1.5 million refugees. In the process, “the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in Europe since the Second World War” is emerging  there (Caritas International).

Instead of participating in the development of peace concepts, German politicians are currently discussing in all seriousness the delivery of weapons to Ukraine. But in doing so, they would not only be supporting a warring party, they would also be violating the Minsk Agreement. For what reason are politicians and the media recklessly endangering the OSCE mission, which came about partly on the initiative of the German government, with such proposals? The answer is to force Russia to withdraw its massive troop deployment from the Ukrainian border. It clearly shows that the inner-Ukrainian conflict is increasingly overlaid by the security interests of external actors, which are no longer disclosed. The public is being misled about the true background and led to believe that there is no solution to this conflict.  

The following article would like to draw attention to the fact that there are solutions that were already developed and widely discussed in Ukraine years ago. To counteract this forgetting, the internal conflict in Ukraine is examined from the perspective of various factors. They are based on the hypothesis that this is an identity crisis that is closely linked to the founding of the state and the nation-building of Ukraine since 1992. The central challenge then, as now, is how Kiev deals with its cultural heritage. Should the state reduce itself to a few historical narratives or does it have other options to do justice to the entire cultural wealth of its history and its people?  … 




♦   Psychological projections play a central role in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Soul researchers such as C.G. Jung understand this to mean the attribution of one’s own traits or intentions to others. Most of the time, hidden fears or feelings of guilt lie behind them ( They can be the expression of an unstable personality or of identity crises.

♦  This approach is based on the concept of the “collective unconscious”. It refers to that part of a personality that does not include one’s own experiences, but rather the historical, social and cultural contexts into which a person was born. Therefore, the concept of psychological projection can also be applied to societies.

♦  This concept can contribute to the analysis of conflicts within and between states because it reveals underlying structures and motives of the actors. Ukraine is a particularly illustrative example: with the help of psychological projection, it can divert its identity crisis, which has become manifest in Donbass, Lugansk and Crimea, onto an external “enemy”.

♦  Ukraine benefits from identity crises in Russia, which has been experiencing a process of nation-building since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Moscow is pursuing a liberal course towards minorities, while Ukraine locates its state identity in a nationalist doctrine. It projects this onto Russia in order to justify human rights violations in its own country.


♦  For the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Kievan Rus (10th-13th centuries) is “not part of our history, it is our history” (, 28.7.2021). The commemoration day on 29 July stands for the “indissolubility of both states”. Under his predecessor in office, a petition was even launched to change the name of Ukraine to Kievan Rus  (Petition 30.3.2016).

♦   Ukraine’s claim to the heritage of Kievan Rus is directed at Russia, which also regards this empire as part of its statehood (Kapeler 2019;, 12.7.2021). It comprised four times the size of Ukraine. Because the centre of power shifted from Novgorod to Kiev early on, Russian historians in the 19th century gave this empire the name “Kievan Rus”.

♦   With the invasion of the Mongols, Kievan Rus disintegrated. Today’s Ukrainian part came under the rule of Lithuanian and Polish princes. From the 16th century it belonged to the noble republic of Poland-Lithuania (pol. Rzeczpospolita). Despite religious tolerance, Catholicism dominated there, so that the Moscow princes took up the cultural heritage of Kievan Rus.

♦   From the middle of the 17th century, Kiev was once again under Russian rule, which extended to most of historical Kievan Rus at the end of the 18th century. The area, which was then called Ukraine (“borderlands”), was located in the far south on the border with the Crimean Tatar Khanate, which enjoyed the military protection of the Ottoman Empire.

Maximum expansion of Kievan Rus
(10th – 13th c.)

Sources: Own compilation of two maps (inscription: S.R.):
1. Europe blank laea location map.svg, Wikimedia, 9.3.2020,
2. Die Ausdehnung der Kiewer Rus um 1000 n. Chr., Wikipedia, 3.2.2006 [extends across Ukraine, Belarus, Russia].

Maximum extent of the noble republic
Poland-Lithuania (16th – 18th)

Sources:Own compilation of two maps (inscription: S.R.):
1. Europe blank laea location map.svg, Wikimedia, 9.3.2020,
2. Verwaltungsgliederung Polen-Litauen, Wikiwand [extends across Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Belarus, parts of Russia].

Cf. Sabine Riedel, Ukraine in Conflict of National Identity. The Rights of the Russian-speaking Population were and remain essential for Peace, Forschungshorizonte Politik & Kultur, Vol. 6, 2022/5, 28 p., p. 5.


♦  The naming of today’s Ukraine only became established with the founding of the Soviet Union (1923). As a constituent Soviet republic with self-governing rights, Kiev has since been able to develop its own literature with its own language standard. Until then, the absolutist government of the tsars had banned all publications in Ukrainian for fear of revolts.

♦  The written language precursor of today’s Ukrainian official language, however, was Ruthenian, which was cultivated in the Polish-Lithuanian period as an East Slavic officialese. From a linguistic point of view, it is considered a historical language level for both Ukrainian and Belarusian and can be regarded as a sister or variant of Old Russian.

♦  In addition to “Ukrainians” and “Ruthenians”, “Little Russians” was a suitable name at the beginning of the 20th century. It goes back to the 17th century and marked those Eastern Slavs who became subjects of Russia after the dissolution of Poland-Lithuania. The Ukrainian national movement rejected it (Filatova 2010: 18), because it served as a concept for the unification of all Eastern Slavs.

♦  The Ukrainian official language is the result of Soviet cultural policy. This included a policy of multilingualism, which assigned Russian the dominant, because unifying, role. This functional side is seen retrospectively as oppression and personalised with the Russian-speaking minority. Their rights as a minority are at the centre of the conflict.


♦  The history of Ukraine is still marked by rivalries between churches and religious communities. However, the end of Soviet rule marked the beginning of a previously unknown freedom of religion. Because, like Turkey, it had followed the laicist principle that knew no separation, but instead ensured political control over the churches.

♦  Ukraine’s independence triggered inter-religious power struggles: The restitution of nationalised property split the Russian Orthodox Church (ROK). Although Orthodoxy is organised along the lines of state self-government, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOK) was only recognised by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul in 2018 (, 12.10 2018).

♦  The ROK, led by the Moscow Patriarchate, fought for privileges in Ukraine as well as in Russia. However, both states have rejected its recognition as a state church and instead put all faith eligious communities on an equal legal status. Nevertheless, the ROK was able to enforce special rules in Russia, such as tax exemptions (Dobruskin 2006).

♦  The close connection between church and state holds its own dangers for Ukraine (, 8.9.2017). For with its claim to the historical heritage of Kievan Rus politicians are shifting the conflict with Russia to the religious level. Its historical mythology makes the UOK the origin of Orthodoxy among the Eastern Slavs. This does not lead to more inter-religious tolerance.


♦   The Ukrainian identity has affected international law since 1945: Josef Stalin, constructor of the Soviet peoples and their republics, pushed for Ukraine and Belarus to become seperate members of the United Nations (UN) when when they were founded. He took the risk of secession in order to give the Soviet Union more influence on decisions of the United Nations (Schwenk 1969: 80).

♦   In 1992, Ukraine’s state independence was internationally recognised, not as a result of secession, but because of the collapse of the Soviet Union (Homann 1993). This rule of international law was also applied to the successor states of Yugoslavia. In addition, the 16 Soviet republics had the right to withdraw (but not the German federal states).

♦  With the constitution of an independent state, the Ukrainians became a  subject of international law and thus the bearer of national sovereignty. But domestically, they did not grow into the role of a political nation of will. They remained in the corset of a Soviet-era nation defined by language (Preamble, Constitution 1996; Besters-Dilger 2011), which made others a “minority”.

♦   The Ukrainian constitution speaks of the protection of “national minorities” (Art. 10 and 11). In 1992 a “Ukrainisation” and “Derussification” began (Schmidt 1994: 12), which continues to this day. An education law (5.9.2017) led to protests from Russia, Hungary and Romania ( 2017). They demand the protection of minorities within the framework of the Council of Europe.


♦ Ukraine has feared separatism since its independence. Crimea used the disintegration of the Soviet Union to restore its status as an autonomous republic, which Stalin had abolished in 1944. Since it no longer belonged to the Russian but to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic from 1954 onwards, completely new lines of conflict arose in the Ukraine.

♦  The demands of the Crimeans for autonomy rights were taken up by Ukrainian dissidents of the Helsinki Group as early as the 1980s. They discussed state models for a decentralised or even federal Ukraine (Heran 2002: 103). The Constitution (1996) rejected these concepts and defined Ukraine as a “unitary state” (Art. 2). Only Crimea had an autonomous statute (1992).

♦  In 2000, the discourse on decentralisation in Ukraine was revived. President Leonid Kuchma proposed constitutional reforms, among them establishing a bicameral parliament representing 24 regions and the cities of Kiev and Sevastopol. In the referendum of 16.4.2000 ( it was accepted with 83 per cent of the votes in favour.

♦   A few months later, the reform project was stopped by the Council of Europe. The Parliamentary Assembly had followed the recommendation of the Venice Commission, which criticised the reform project. It took offence at the strong position of the president, but underestimated the envisaged federalisation as a counterweight and a balance of domestic political interests (

Percentage of people with Ukrainian as their native language according to 2001 census (by region)

Source: Percentage of people with Ukrainian as their native language according to 2001 census (by region), Wikipedia, 21.8.2008, cf.:

Most common native language in urban and rural municipalities of Ukraine according to 2001 census

Source: Most common native language in urban and rural municipalities of Ukraine according to 2001 census, Wikipedia, 9.3.2014, cf.:

Cf. Sabine Riedel, Ukraine in Conflict of National Identity. The Rights of the Russian-speaking Population were and remain essential for Peace, Forschungshorizonte Politik & Kultur, Vol. 6, 2022/5, 28 pages, p. 16.


♦  After the failure of the constitutional reform, this project was increasingly discredited. Since the Ukrainian government did nothing to eliminate the deficits of vertical separation of powers, the regional forces organised themselves at the central state level. The Party of Regions thus became the mouthpiece of the Russian-speaking Ukrainians from Donetsk and Lugansk.

♦  The increasing polarisation of the country along linguistic affiliations seemed to confirm the argument that giving in to greater regionalisation or even federalisation would further intensify the lines of conflict. Thus, the issue of administrative or constitutional reform became a problem rather than part of the solution.

♦ It would have been an advantage for Ukraine to implement the reforms from 2000. The plebiscite gave them legitimation and a convincing concept: a two-chamber parliament would have ensured the regions or federal units an equal say and broken with the former Soviet principle of linking political rights to ethnic affiliation.  

♦  Because Ukraine dropped its reform project, the inter-ethnic conflict intensified and erupted in violence. Today, external actors are demanding compromises: Point 11 of the Minsk Agreements provides for a constitutional reform that Kiev actually rejects but has to accept: a “special status of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions”.



Sabine Riedel, Ukraine in Conflict of National Identity. The Rights of the Russian-speaking Population were and remain essential for Peace, Forschungshorizonte Politik & Kultur, Vol. 6, 2022/5, 28 p.

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