Donbass Nationalism


The ongoing events in South-eastern Ukraine indicate a very important phenomenon. This is not only an indicator of the front of the geopolitical fight between the West and the club of the multipolar world structure, it is also the following: the break of Ukrainian statehood, serving in recent time as a satellite and client of Washington and Brussels; the growth of the political consciousness of the citizens (in the sense of the citizens who defend their rights and freedoms with weapons in their hands, and not subjects of the weak Weber State who cannot defend them from the arbitrary rule of political opponents and continue to fulfill their social obligations); and also the emergence of a new nationalism, unique in its characteristics and goals.

Many people are used to the two main characteristics of nationalism, founded on culture, including language (the German version) and politics (the French variant). Nonetheless, nationalism has more than a wide assortment of attributes, to which can be included ethnicity, group solidarity, self-representation, and identification. Precisely in such a sense, we will regard the ongoing processes of the disintegration of the Ukrainian state as marking Donbass  Nationalism.

With the political character of the process being obvious enough, as in Lugansk, Donetsk, Slavyansk, and in other cities, we see a clear demonstration of political subjectivity. This subjectivity entered into the active phase of formation in the period of the conflict, just as how in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the sharp rejection of the chauvinistic politics of the Georgian President Gamsakhurdia broke pockets of resistance and independence out from Georgia.

Similar aspirations of attaining political subjectivity can be observed in other regions of the world that are associated with the ethnic factor and have different methods of resolution. In Britain it is Irish and Scottish nationalism, in Spain, it is Basque and Catalan. Supporters of the assembly and creation of a united Ukrainian nation often intentionally forget about it, although an appeal to the national idea is precisely cited as an example of the European nationalist movement. It is obvious that Ukraine was doomed to different kinds of ethno-nationalism, even if it is based on its political geography – in relation to the other countries of Europe, the former Soviet republic is too big to be homogenous in the sense of a homogenized mass of national culture, history, and socio-political practices. It is clear that in addition to the artificial, and to a large measure, theoretical nationalism of the Banderites that is overflowing in Ukraine, there are other forms of identity – from the Ruthenian in the West to the Russian Imperial one in the East.

By typology, we can determined that Donbass Nationalism is a mixed type – it is situational, i.e. it has a constructivist specification, which prompted the action of the Kiev junta. Together with this, it is primordial, i.e. it has deep historical roots and what is properly called tacit knowledge. The inferiority of the Liberal-Galician politics of official Kiev for the past 10 years contributed to the embryo of Donbass Nationalism being able to grow and get stronger, however in different variations but rooted in a complete platform. If the federalization of Ukraine would have been held at that time, Ukraine may have avoided the current situation, in the framework of including state nationalism with various levels, languages, and cultures, we would see something similar to what is happening in the federal lands of Germany or the Swiss cantons (we consider such options given the frequent statements about the European choice of Ukraine and the vector of different political forces over the past 10-15 years), but this did not happen.

As far as the primordial aspects most commonly placed in the support of various nationalist (and liberation) movements go, it is necessary to consider in detail all the historical phases that are associated with it and the single layer of continuity, all the while including our own mythology and historical memory. The first phase is associated with the proto-region, which does not have a clearly expressed contemporary state specification associated with the concept of sovereignty. Nevertheless, we can find such interesting factors like the Alanian (Sarmariac, Scythian) arrival on the lower Don (Tanais in Greek and Latin sources) and the upper Left Bank of the Dnieper and the northern Sea of Azov. Just as the Crimea in this context falls in the zone of the Hellenic world, Donbass is becoming a part of the Alanic-Samariac cultural circle. The second phase, dating back to the epoch of the Great Migration, gives evidence that numerous people passed through and lived in the examined territory. Apart from the Slavic and Turkic people that were here, there were the Pechenegs, Torks, Kumans, and the Berendeis, often known under the collective name of the Black Hoods (Karakalpaks). Their territory was part of the Khazar Khanate and later became part of the Golden Horde. The third phase was when the region was a zone contiguous to the peripheries of different powers, a kind of terra nullius, a Wild Field without an explicit state but where the interests of the conflicting and competing states (the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Poland, the Crimean Khanate, and the Ottoman Empire) were able to collide in military conflict. It is enough to recall the letter of Ivan the Terrible to the Crimean Khan where he says that the Cossacks, having lived on that territory and troubled the Tatars, did not have such relations with Muscovy because they are a free people. But such limes cannot exist autonomously for long because important players are forced to set up control over the land, river, and sea communications, and also to create a buffer zone that protects the metropolis from all kinds of unexpected events.

Novorossiya was thus created, when in the course of war with the Ottoman Empire, the Black Sea area and remote regions were mastered. It must be emphasized that the region of Donbass had cross-cultural factors, though it was related with the general Orthodox Christian identity. In present-day Lugansk and Donetsk regions in the middle of the XVIII century, there was a military unit called Slavic-Serbia, named so because of the Serbs, Montenegrins, and Vlachs that moved there during Turkish Balkan advancement (another such unit appeared in the Kirovograd’s region and called New Serbia). Incidentally, a detachment of Montenegrin soldiers earlier appeared on the Slavic territory, who were placed in the fortress of Tor (the site was laid in 1637). Here we see a quite interesting connotation. The famous Norwegian scientist, traveller, and explorer Thor Heyerdahl, while trying to find the origins of Scandinavian mythology, arrived at the conclusion that the ruling deity of the pagan pantheon Odin was an historical person, the head of a tribe which arrived to the north of Europe precisely from the lower Don. In Odin’s group, as we know, was Thor, who is directly related to war and military practices. Thor sacrificed his own hand so that the Gods would be able to trick the wolf Fenrir who was the embodiment of evil in Scandinavian mythology.

The next phase is the territorial-political unit of the Russian Empire known as the Land of Don Forces. The Cossack factor here is mixed with the religious, as most of the Cossacks did not accept the reforms of Patriarch Nikon and adhered to the Old Belief. This is followed by the period of the October Revolution and the attempts to create the Great Don Army and Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Republic. However, the territory of Donbass was included into Ukraine. Next comes the epoch of Stalin’s modernization in the region, were new streams of people were again pulled, who created the industry of the region. It is obvious that the working character, the heroic deeds of the miners and metallurgists, the opposition figures, workers, traders, and politicians (the crypto-bourgeoisie) also had importance in the process of understanding the depths of Donbass identity. This phase moves organically in the late Soviet period, when one can already hear the phrase “We are from Donbass” from the mouths of the people, not binding them to Ukraine as a whole.

Incidentally, the mining factor also has a defined meaning in the formation of the world outlook of the residents of Donbass. It is a dangerous profession that often leads to individual or group death, forming a corresponding perception and attitude towards death which is absent in the residents of Polesia or Lvov. Lvov nationalists prefer to escape death to “enlightened Europe” or a new home in Canada or North American Chicago, as did many of their predecessors who were later included in the general strategy of the CIA in the fight against the Soviet Union. The current resistance of Donbass testifies to the highly impassioned spirit of the inhabitants of this region.

Per an appeal by first Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk in 1991, the intelligentsia (including the foreign diaspora) involved themselves in the process of forming a new Ukrainian state, nation building seemed exceptional and corresponding to mythmaking, talking about the great ancestors of the Ukrainians or Aryans (Oryans in version of these mythmakers), and the direction was towards laying the primordial foundations of Ukrainian ideology, which was more like the heavy delirium and hallucinations of the mentally ill and not scientific research or a theoretical program for the preparation of a new state elite and an upbringing in the spirit of patriotism. Banderite nationalism in its very nature has an exclusionary character, and the contradictions laid inside Ukrainian nationalism, including the ideologues of the XX century between them, have a more repulsive than attractive character (similar contradictions are usually well hidden by the current number of intellectuals from the ranks of nationalists, although the main mass is far from the theoretical cognition of ideas of Dontsov, Lipa, Stetsko, Mikhnovsky, and other apologists of Ukrainian nationalism).

Moreover, it needs to be mentioned that the Donbass region is not subjected to the Greek-Catholic expansion from which Western Ukraine once suffered, and consequently, it is the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate that occupies a dominant position there. Small groups of heretics who call themselves the followers of the Kievan Patriarch (Filaret) and later extended to the Uniate Church, along with various Protestant denominations do not play a significant role in the formation of the mindset of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions and their supporters and preachers usually reject them.

So, we have the fact of the appearance of a new, unique, and interesting occurrence – Donbass nationalism. At the same time, it is an integral part of wider Russian nationalism because its structure is implemented on the same base as Russian nationalism, which acts as an umbrella factor and connecting element with Russia, especially in the southern regions that are historically associated with Donbass. It does not depend on the outcome of the current geopolitical battle going on between the Don and the Dnieper because it is obvious that Donbass nationalism organically comes into the Russian world of Eurasia.


1. Donbass is a label for region of the South-East of contemporary Ukraine (parts of Dneptropetrovsk, Lugansk and Donetsk regions) and part of Russia’s Rostov region.

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