Regionalism without Regions: Reconceptualizing Ukraine’s Heterogeneity

By Oksana Myshlovska, Graduate Institute Geneva / University of Bern

Ukraine has become a fascinating case study for the investigation of the phenomenon of regionalism. In the last decades, a vast amount of academic literature on the topic has been produced (to name just a few: Barrington and Herron 2004; Birch 2000; Hrytsak et al 2007; Katchanovski 2006; Kubicek 2002; Kulyk 2011; Malanchuk 2005; O’Loughlin 2001; Riabchuk 2003, 2015; Rogers 2007; Sasse 2001, 2010; Shulman 2004; Tatur 2004; Zhurzhenko 2010).

Between 2012 and 2015, more than two dozen scholars from different disciplinary fields and continents conducted scholarly work to further advance the study of regionalism in Ukraine by applying new methodological and theoretical lenses. The project “Region, Nation and Beyond: A Transcultural and Interdisciplinary Reconceptualization of Ukraine” was hosted by the University of St. Gallen and co-funded by Swiss and German science foundations. It resulted in multiple publications, including the volume “Regionalism without Regions: Reconceptualizing Ukraine’s Heterogeneity”, summarizing the core findings of the project, by the Central European University Press in August 2019. The aim of the volume is to challenge the dominance of the nation-state paradigm in analyses of Ukraine by investigating the interrelationship between transnational, national and regional dynamics of change.

Oksana Myshlovska, Ulrich Schmid (ed.), Regionalism without regions: Reconceptualizing Ukraine’s Heterogeneity. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2019.

The “Region, Nation and Beyond” project has been unique in several ways. It was an interdisciplinary project promoting cross-disciplinary learning and building a network of scholars from different disciplines and countries interested in the study of Ukraine. Network members met regularly from 2012 and, in their respective six working groups, focused on identifications, history and memory, language, religion, literature and economy in different locations in Ukraine and elsewhere. The project allowed for methodological pluralism, flexibility and innovation. For example, it applied some established approaches to the study of regionalism that emerged in other parts of the world (for example, the famous study of social capital in Italy by Robert Putnam or the World Values Survey) to the case of Ukraine. The core data-collection tool designed by the project was a sociological survey that included blocks of questions for each working group. The first survey, covering 6,000 respondents representative of the country profile with respect to age, education and size of residency, was carried out in March 2013. The survey was repeated in 2015 and 2017 in all regions of Ukraine except for Crimea and non-government controlled areas in eastern Ukraine. In addition, some working groups used other methods of data collection, such as focus groups and in-depth interviews in different regions and a managerial survey that included a sample of 625 companies. A survey based on the methodology of the World Values Survey was organized in spring 2015 with a sample of 20,000 interviewees.

The volume defines regions both as homogenous areas in terms of the identity profiles of inhabitants and as mental constructs endowed with symbolic meaning defined by a variety of factors such as the historical legacies of belonging to different states, demographics, patterns of industrialization and urbanization, etc.  It consists of eight chapters:  six summarizing the findings of the working groups and two that were added at a later stage, which focus on the new political geography in 2013-2014 (Yaroslav Hrytsak), and on the identity and beliefs of the Euromaidan participants (Anna Chebotarova).

The main insight of the volume is that the use of a variety of disciplinary and methodological lenses to study the phenomenon of regionalism produces a dynamic and fine-grained regionally-differentiated vision of Ukraine without any stable macroregions. Each of the volume’s chapters have some interesting findings, below is a short overview of some of them.

The group on identities measured 14 territorial and non-territorial identification targets on a scale from 1 to 5. The group research identified the broadest and most homogeneous regions on the basis of the content of identities as western and central Ukraine, which are characterized by an overall strong identity profile with a strong sense of belonging to the place of residence (city and region), strong non-territorial identity and a strong Ukrainian identification. The eastern regions of the country are characterized by the overall weakest emotional attitudes of respondents toward their places of living and national issues. The exceptions are the regions where a strong Russian or other national identity coexists with above-average local identification – Chernivetska oblast, Crimea and Odeska oblast.

The chapter on history and memory finds that none of the historical metanarratives (nationalist, national-democratic, Soviet or Russian-imperial) commands a dominant national or regional position, and that the new public holidays institutionalized in independent Ukraine are still less popular than the Soviet-era ones.

The chapter on language(s) establishes on the basis of focus groups with teachers in twelve cities carried out in 2013 that there has been an increase in the interest in the Ukrainian language in the center, south and north while the Donbas region saw the switch from the Ukrainian to Russian classes and the closing of Ukrainian schools following the adoption of the 2012 law on languages. Crimea, Donetska, Odeska and Kharkivska oblasts had the highest support for Russian as a second state language in accordance with the 2013 project survey. Another interesting finding of the group was that the number of people declaring two mother tongues, Ukrainian and Russian, increased between 2006 and 2013.

The literature group finds that while Russian language books are widely read in all regions, there is little practice of reading Ukrainian titles in the east and the south. There is a clear canon of the Ukrainian literature with the national poet Taras Shevchenko accepted in all regions of Ukraine.

The chapter on religion investigates the open, diverse and pluralist religious situation in Ukraine with the rising role of religion during the post-Soviet period. In accordance with the 2013 survey, the levels of religiosity are high across the country, however, the particularity of the Ukrainian situation is that more than a third of believers do not declare any particular confessional allegiance and consider themselves as “just Orthodox” or as “believers without confession”. The levels of trust in the church are the highest in the west. Allegiance to some national churches has been increasingly correlated with loyalty to the Ukrainian nation and statehood.

The chapter on the attitudes to risk, envy and corruption finds significant differences in attitudes to risk between the Donbas and south-east regions, on the one hand, and the west, north and central regions, on the other. The former are more risk-averse while the latter are more risk-prone. The findings appear to support the hypothesis on the difference in attitudes to risks between earlier and later developed regions. Furthermore, the chapter establishes regional differences in levels of envy with the urban population of Donbas followed by northern and western regions characterized by the highest levels of envy. There are also regional differences in terms of the perception of corruption and the encounter of corruption and informal practices by businesses.  

Yaroslav Hrytsak notes the dynamic transformation of central, southern and eastern regions beyond the Donbas and Crimea since 2013. On the basis of his survey, grounded on the methodology of the World Values Survey in 2015, he records new inter-generational divides in Ukraine with the emergence of values linked to democratic governance and self-expression shared by the younger generation, Ukrainian speakers and people with higher education across all regions since the 2000s.

The data generated by the project is available through open access on the website  The editors and authors of the volume hope that it will inspire new questions and methodological approaches to the study of regionalism in Ukraine.


Barrington, Lowell W.  and Erik S. Herron (2004). “One Ukraine or Many? Regionalism in Ukraine and Its Political Consequences”, Nationalities Papers 32(1): 53–86.

Birch, Sarah (2000). “Interpreting the Regional Effect in Ukrainian Politics”, Europe-Asia Studies 52(6): 1017–1041.

Hrytsak, Yaroslav, Portnov, Andriy and  Viktor Susak, eds. (2007). Lviv–Donetsk: sotsiialni identychnosti v suchasniy Ukrayini (special issue of Ukrayina Moderna). Kyiv and Lviv: Krytyka.

Katchanovski, Ivan (2006). “Regional Political Divisions in Ukraine in 1991–2006”, Nationalities Papers 34(5): 507-532.

Kubicek, Paul (2002). “Regional Polarisation in Ukraine: Public Opinion, Voting, and Legislative Behaviour”, Europe-Asia Studies 52(2): 273–94.

Kulyk, Volodymyr (2011). “Language Identity, Linguistic Diversity and Political Cleavages: Evidence from Ukraine”, Nations and Nationalism 17 (3): 627–648.

Malanchuk, Oksana (2005). “Social Identification Versus Regionalism in Contemporary Ukraine”, Nationalities Papers 33(3): 345–68.

O’Loughlin, John O. (2001). “The Regional Factor in Contemporary Ukrainian Politics: Scale, Place, Space, or Bogus Effect?” Post-Soviet Geography and Economics 42(1): 1-33.

Riabchuk, Mykola (2003). Dvi Ukrainy: Realni mezhi, virtualni viiny. Kyiv: Krytyka.

Riabchuk, Mykola (2015). “The ‘Two Ukraines’ Reconsidered: The End of Ukrainian Ambivalence?”, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 15(1): 138–56.

Rogers, Peter (2007). “Division, Difference and Diversity: Regionalism in Ukraine”, in Hrytsak, Yaroslav, Portnov, Andriy and  Viktor Susak, eds, Lviv–Donetsk: sotsiialni identychnosti v suchasniy Ukrayini (special issue of Ukrayina Moderna). Kyiv and Lviv: Krytyka, 210-236.

Sasse, Gwendolyn (2001). “The ‘New’ Ukraine: A State of Regions”, Regional and Federal Studies 11(3): 69–100.

Sasse, Gwendolyn (2010). “The Role of Regionalism”, Journal of Democracy 21(3): 99-106.

Shulman, Stephen (2004). “The Contours of Civic and Ethnic National Identification in Ukraine”, Europe-Asia Studies 56(1): 35–56.

Tatur, Melanie, ed. (2004) Making Regions in Post-Socialist Europe: The Impact of Culture, Economic Structure, and Institutions. Case Studies from Poland, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Vols. 1,2.

Zhurzhenko, Tatiana (2010). Borderlands into Bordered Lands: Geopolitics of Identity in Post-Soviet Ukraine. Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society 98. Stuttgart: Ibidem-Verlag.

Citation: Oksana Myshlovska, Regionalism without Regions: Reconceptualizing Ukraine’s Heterogeneity, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 10.10.2019,

Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien is a research organization that promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. The Forum provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. In cooperation with universities and research institutions in Berlin and the rest of Germany, it carries out research projects that examine other regions of the world and their relationship to Germany and Europe systematically and with new questions.

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