Valerie, 24, is a PHD student, studying social psychology. She is doing her research on the refugees from Donbas.
VALERIE: I am doing research into migrants from Donbas who have settled into other parts of Ukraine. We are not very tolerant in Ukraine and this partly comes from the name of the revolution. It’s called the Revolution of Dignity, and so those who supported the revolution have this set idea on what dignity is. However since many people from Donbas don’t support the revolution, in the supporter’s eyes, those people are not dignified. We have this division in Ukraine at the moment. Central and Western Ukraine whilst Eastern Ukraine speaks Russian. East doesn’t have this strong Ukrainian identity, they just seem themselves as people from Donbas and Luhansk. For thousands of years, the rest of Ukraine has had very strong connections with Hungary, Poland, Austria, and a sense of being Western. Not many people lived in the Donbas area until the beginning of the 20th century when coal mining was discovered and people from all over the Russian empire began to move there. During the Russian revolution people from Kiev and central Ukraine fought for independence, whilst Donbas was a self declared republic supported by the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Union. Donbas became known as a strong Bolshevik area and were very much supported by the Soviet Union. The population went up to 10 million during Soviet era. But when it collapsed, so did Donbas as the rest of Ukraine didn’t have such a need for industrialisation. In the 90’s it became a very depressive region, as the coalmines closed and these 10 million people lost their jobs.
During the Orange revolution tensions between East and West heightened. Donbas supported Yanukovych whilst the Pro West supported Yushchenko. The rest of Ukraine protested when Yanukovych won, saying it was fake, however when he was ousted, the people from Donbas felt defeated that their party lost and wanted revenge.
DOM- Do many people in Kiev know about the history of Donbas?
V- Maybe some. But it is mainly because I am researching it!
D- So you can understand the mind-set of the Donetsk Independence Party?
V- Yes but there is strong Russian propaganda. In Donetsk the strongest element of propaganda was about language. My friend from Donetsk didn’t study the Ukrainian language at all. All of his lessons were in Russian. Russians threatened the people in Donbas, saying the Ukrainian forces were going to come and force them to speak Ukrainian. They were scared their language and identity was going to be taken away.
I went to Donbas and spoke to people. They say there was not this tension between Ukrainian and Russian at the beginning of the 20th century. (?) They were very scared that they were going to get killed for speaking Russian.
D- How did they feel about the revolution?
V- There were people in Donetsk who supported the revolution but many people supported the government because Yanukovych was from Donbas. That was pretty their only reason for supporting him though. And of course they had seen Russian propaganda and news.
The revolution ended in February and in March there was this action in Crimea. People in Crimea were very happy about being part of Russia, because they had become scared the Russian media which said that Fascists had taken over in Kiev. They called it the fascist revolution, and said that fascists would come to take over Crimea. So when the Russians took over in 2014, they were actually happy about it. But now they are not. There is no electricity, no food and oil prices are very high.
Donbas also had a referendum for independence, and even intelligent people voted for it, because they had hear about all these happy people in Crimea. They didn’t think about the future. But Russia wanted Crimea for strategic reasons, and didn’t want Donbas as it’s a poor area. Now people have changed their minds due to the war, which was totally unexpected. Following it there have been three waves of migration out of Donbas:
There were not actually many people supporting this independence movement. Most people just wanted to live and get along with their daily lives, and not be involved in this politics. Now one side blames another for destroying the city and killing people.
D- Are the youth in Kiev affected by the war in many ways?
V- Of course. Probably in each school class there are children from Donbas. There is also Ukrainian propaganda. When the war began there was a call out for young men to join the army. So many families are affected. My father is a policeman and he was forced to go to Donbas. He had an order to go from June 1st for two months, in order to help evacuate the displaced children, and make sure they were taken to Ukraine and not Russia.
There are also a lot of migrants in Kiev. You can see them everywhere. It was difficult for a lot of Donbas locals to rent an apartment in Kiev. Lots of people don’t want them. Vie seen signs saying “Not for Donbas locals” because people are afraid of them. They are seen as others, not them.
D- If they spoke Ukrainian would that still be the case?
V- Not so much. Everyone in Kiev speaks Russian, so language is not seen as a case of identity here. But in Donbas it was, and used as a means of propaganda.
D- How were you involved in the revolution?
V- All the students had Maidan as the means of our future. My friends, my tutors and me were all helping people with pyscologocial issues, talking to them and trying to calm them down. I wasn’t going to Maidan everyday. It was cold and it frightened me. But my friends, especially the boys were going everyday. The revolution was a good idea but id did not offer a resolution. We should protest against something, but rather for something. There was not a clear programme for us, so now we have the same government. We don’t have many new politicians and our current president is as corrupt as the last one. I understand that we will not become part of EU because we are a big country with many problems and we need to sort them out. I want a good western orientated politician to lead us into Europe. I believe something good will happen. As we understand the war isn’t a matter of Ukrainians. It’s a war between the global East and the global West, and what we should be thinking about is what to do with Donbas when this war ends.