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  • The History behind the Regional Conflict in Ukraine
  • John-Paul Himka (bio)

Different historical experiences in various regions of Ukraine have produced very different political cultures and identities.1 Each region of Ukraine has a unique history: Transcarpathia was the only part of Ukraine to experience protracted Hungarian rule—nearly 1,000 years of it; Bukovina was the only part to experience both Moldavian and later modern Romanian rule; Bukovina and Galicia were the only regions to have experienced Austrian rule; large parts of the southern territories were carved out of the Crimean Khanate; significant portions of central Ukraine were once part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; and much of Ukraine’s formative historical experiences unfolded within Poland and Russia/USSR. The border between the latter states has shifted over time, and some parts of Ukraine have lived much longer under Poland (Galicia: 1386–1772, 1918–39) and others much longer under Russia and its Soviet successor (the Hetmanate and Sloboda Ukraine: since the mid-17th century until independence in 1991, interrupted by the German occupation of 1941–43). Of course, Crimea was not included in the Ukrainian SSR until 1954 and had previously been in the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR).

All former regimes have left their traces in the regions, and not just in the spheres of art and architecture: Polish and Magyar are still widely understood and spoken in Galicia and Transcarpathia, respectively, while Russophones predominate over Ukrainophones in the eastern and southern regions; labor migration from Ukraine to Hungary, Poland, and Russia originates from regions with historical associations with those countries; the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is strongest where Catholic powers once held [End Page 129] sway (in formerly Polish and Austrian Galicia and in formerly Hungarian Transcarpathia), while Orthodoxy reigns where once there was Russia and Moldavia (central, eastern, and southern Ukraine, as well as Bukovina). A variegated past has produced a variegated Ukraine.

In the present crisis, the most salient regional division is between Galicia, on the one hand, and eastern and southern Ukraine, on the other. Galicia, as used here, comprises three western oblasts of Ukraine: Ivano-Frankivs´k, L´viv, and Ternopil´. (The Austrian crownland of Galicia was larger; its western territories were incorporated into Poland after World War II.) Often commentators and scholars operate with the term “western Ukraine,” but as far as politics are concerned, the three Galician oblasts are quite different from the other western Ukrainian oblasts of Chernivtsi (comprising mainly the former Bukovina) and Transcarpathia. Galicians were overrepresented in the antigovernment demonstrations both in the Orange Revolution and what is often called the Euromaidan Revolution (the terminology for what happened in the winter of 2014 remains contested).2 In both cases, the Galicians were protesting against governments headed by presidents and their networks based in the East (Leonid Kuchma in Dnipropetrovs´k and Viktor Yanukovych in Donetsk). Even though persons from all around Ukraine have adopted their viewpoint, it was the Galicians who articulated the vision of Ukrainian identity that informed the Euromaidan Revolution and inflamed heated resentment in the East and South. For example, the greeting popularized by the Euromaidan Revolution—”Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!”—originated in Galicia in the 1930s as the slogan of the radical right Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The other relevant political culture is that of eastern and southern Ukraine. These were the areas most resistant to the political changes introduced by the Euromaidan. In eastern and southern regions where the population was over 90 percent Russophone, the dissatisfaction contributed to the emergence of powerful secessionist movements (Crimea, eastern Donbas). [End Page 130]

Central Ukraine has been less a creator than a reflector of political cultures. Kyiv, a prosperous capital city, has drawn migrants from all over Ukraine. The top administration, as embodied by the successive presidents, has either striven to balance between West and South/East (Leonid Kravchuk, Kuchma) or has leaned to the West (Viktor Yushchenko) or to the South and East (Yanukovych). Some of the antigovernment activism in Kyiv has been generated by Kyivan rivalries with powerful political and economic “clans” based outside the capital, in Dnipropetrovs´k and Donetsk.

Galicia’s political culture...