War and Identity: the case of the Donbas in Ukraine

Gwen Sasse traces the political identities of inhabitants of the Donbas in Eastern Ukraine which has been at war since 2014.  In an article for the journal Post-Soviet Affairs Professor Sasse and Alice Lackner question whether the increasing political distance between the government-controlled area and the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics is reflected in the local population's identities and attitudes.

The article is open access until the end of May.


The study of identities struggles to capture the moments and dynamics of identity change. A crisis moment provides a rare insight into such processes. This paper traces the political identities of the inhabitants of a region at war – the Donbas – on the basis of original survey data that cover the four parts of the population that once made up this region: the population of the Kyiv-controlled Donbas, the population of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic,” the internally displaced, and those who fled to the Russian Federation. The survey data map the parallel processes of a self-reported polarization of identities and the preservation or strengthening of civic identities. Language categories matter for current self-identification, but they are not cast in narrow ethnolinguistic terms, and feeling “more Ukrainian” and Ukrainian citizenship include mono- and bilingual conceptions of native language (i.e. Ukrainian and Russian).

Prof. Gwendolyn Sasse is Professor in Comparative Politics, Professorial Fellow, Nuffield College, Harassment Officer