Only two years ago, in the middle of the conflict in Ukraine’s East, this question would sound entirely different. We would likely offer a discussion on the possible ways of reconciliation. About how we would reunite, not if it could happen at all. Unfortunately, the longer conflict persists the more doubts arise about the possibility of a common future.
Over three million Ukrainian citizens who live on the non-government controlled territories, under the persistent informational bombardment of pro-Russian separatist media, are becoming more and more detached from “the mainland.” Even those who still keep faith in Ukraine often feel betrayed by the government when facing such measures as termination of social payments, or the procedure they have to undergo when crossing the demarcation line. The recent failure of many people with Donetsk and Luhansk registration to obtain biometric passports raised doubts about if Ukraine even still treats them as citizens.
Meanwhile, on the Ukrainian side, people are getting tired of the stagnating conflict that swallows the lives of their loved ones without any significant result to show for it, except perhaps that the frontlines haven’t moved closer to them. In this atmosphere, an idea that was unthinkable in 2014 is gaining traction: is it even worth fighting for Donbas? If people are so different there, if they have chosen another path, why are we dying to bring them back? According to a nationwide survey by the Razumkov Centre, 53,6% of respondents support recognition of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics as occupied territories and their complete isolation.1
A disturbing trend is the treatment of people displaced by war. UNHCR in its recent report points to repeated violations of human and civil rights of the displaced people in Ukraine as well as the absence of any comprehensive internally displaced people (IDP) strategy and legislation.2
On the other hand, despite all the difficulties and misunderstandings, there still remain many ties between Ukraine and its breakaway territories. On average, 40000 people cross the demarcation line every day, carrying back and forth currency, documents, goods and – most importantly – themselves. A recent study by the Berlin-based Center for East European and International Studies shows that over half of the regional population maintains close contacts across the frontline.3 Moreover, both in the separatist and government-controlled parts of Donbas, people maintain bilingual and mixed Russian-Ukrainian identities, which counterbalance ethnification and polarization induced by the war.
The current discussion of the so-called “Ukraine crisis” focuses mostly on the search of military and political solutions to it. But there is one more aspect we tend to forget or simply avoid: Even if a miracle happens and tomorrow we are a united country again, it will be not a happy end but only the beginning of a new complicated chapter. We will have to figure out how to peacefully co-exist again after years of killing each other. History offers examples both of societies that managed to overcome it and go on and those where unresolved tension led to new waves of violence.
How different are we in reality? Is our reunification possible? Can we return to life as one community after fighting on the opposite sides of the frontline? What compromises do we have to make on both sides for the sake of peace and prosperity? What kind of social environment should we create in order for us to be able to co-exist? Even more critically, are these futile attempts, and Ukraine and Donbas should part their ways? If so, what paths would these be?
To help us explore all these possibilities, we invite contributions from qualified scholars, activists, public intellectuals and others with relevant knowledge and experience. We encourage a balanced and respectful discussion of this emotional issue.
Alisa Sopova (2017–2019)
– Length: around 2,000 words
– Deadlines: initial submissions were received in March and April 2018. We currently invite submissions on all aspects of a hypothetical reconciliation with a mutually agreed upon deadline.
– Please include your updated CV that shows your qualifications
Please send your contribution and supporting materials to Dr. Oleh Kotsyuba at email@example.com.