National resilience to protracted violence in Ukraine

Karina Korostelina,
Ph.D., Professor,
Director, Program on History, Memory, and Conflict
Co-Director, Program for the Prevention of Mass Violence,
School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
George Mason University

In 2014, shortly after the annexation of Crimea, the Russian Federation attacked the Donbass region with the agenda to “defend” ethnic Russians and Russian speakers who live outside the Russian Federation. With this support, the separatist movement had established self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. The Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015 did not produce a noteworthy deterrence effect on the violence and did not established a feasible road map for conflict management. According to the OSCE mission in Ukraine, both sides of the conflict continuously violate the Minsk agreements leading to multiple civilian casualties. The conflict also resulted in the relocation of 1.7 million people.

The Ukrainian public perceives the conflict as a long-term, low intensity conflict that can become frozen for decades. The surveys have demonstrated that many people in Ukraine experience fatigue and dissolution due to conflict. The low trust toward Ukrainian authorities among the population of occupied territories and a sabotage of the referendum by Russia makes the decentralization approach unfeasible. Another negative factor is the active role of the Russian media and propaganda in inciting and sustaining the war. The success of reintegration depends on the ability of Ukraine to develop its economy, to win the hearts and minds of people, and to establish the foundations for well-being for all its citizens.

International interventions are considered by the Ukrainian public as the most effective way to resolve the Donbas conflict, however, the impact of this interventions is impeded by the low level of comprehension of the roots and dynamics of the conflict among international actors and a deficient coordination between them. Peacekeeping operations can increase the prospects of the termination of violence and reintegration of Ukraine, however the peacekeeping forces should be placed not only on the line of contact but also on the border between Russia and Ukraine. The policy of economic sanctions against Russia is currently a strongest deterrent, however it has to be better executed including unconditional participation of all European countries. The combination of this policy with the economic aid to Ukraine will help the country become more resilient, successful, and powerful state.

The corruption continues to posit a major impairment for national resilience impacting all levels of the society and leading to a deep stagnation. Several current surveys showed that the Ukrainian public has perceived the importance of both issues- the war and corruption- equally. Corruption demoralizes the society and increases social and economic inequality. A half of Ukrainian citizens believe that international organizations should impose sanctions against Ukrainian politicians or officials who are responsible for the lack of anticorruption reform.

The building of the resilient nation requires significant reforms and building of democratic political institutions. Resilient Ukraine should be a modern European state that promotes sharing power, compromise, and democratic deliberation. Current opinion surveys have demonstrated overwhelming support for fully functioning democracy and accountable government institutions that can end the war, improve the economy, fight corruption, and implement reforms.

Economic development and well-being of all citizens is a crucial societal capacity of resilience that also requires significant improvements. The surveys have demonstrated the low level of economic security and high economic uncertainty among Ukrainian people. Together with the government accountability, the strong and vibrant civic society can contribute to robust national resilience. However, while EuroMaydan and volunteerism inspired many people for civic engagement, the level of civic participation is still very low.

Another important societal capacity that needs further development is understanding of citizenship and belonging to the nation among Ukrainian people. The majority of Ukrainian citizens believes that ethnic nationalism divides country and excludes some groups of population. They support pluralistic national identity, promoting multicultural meaning of nation, ethnic diversity, and importance of equal rights for all ethnic groups in Ukraine. Civic meaning of identity and equal citizenship of all people is another shared approach to the Ukrainian nation that is receiving a growing support.

Instead of seeing themselves as victims of the Russian intervention and as a divided nation with a weak and corrupted Government, the citizens of Ukraine were able to mobilize resources, capacities, and strengths of the national community to address chronic violence. The Ukrainian nation has developed practices that help protect the nation, reduce trauma, and address the needs of the community, including volunteerism, critical approach to history, and dialogues. By employing this practices, the Ukrainian nation reduces the effects of protracted violence and creates a foundation for nation-wide activities and discussions that bring national community to the new level.


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