A Closer Look at Ukraine’s Donbas after Russia’s Occupation

If war reached most of Ukraine in February of 2022, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion, the country’s eastern Donbas region has been torn apart by war since Russia, having occupied Crimea, undertook operations there in 2014. Since February, Russian forces have occupied even more territory in the region, some of which Ukrainian troops have now liberated. But having done so, Kyiv must grapple with the question of how to govern in the face of deep societal divisions and suspicions that at least some of the local residents collaborated with occupiers. 

In this episode of War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Elissa Jobson talk with Brian Milakovsky, an expert on economic development in eastern Ukraine, to unpack what’s been happening in Russian-occupied regions in Ukraine’s east throughout the war and what’s next for people living in those territories that have now returned to Ukrainian control. They talk about the simmering conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas before Russia’s February full-scale invasion, and how it shaped perceptions of national identity in the region. They discuss how Russia’s expansion of its occupation in these regions played out this year, and why Moscow misjudged the popular support for its invasion, expecting a friendly welcome it decidedly did not get. They also address how Ukraine is dealing with alleged Russian collaborators, how they are identified and what kind of treatment suspects can expect. Finally, they discuss whether there are lessons to be learned from the past to overcome societal divisions in Ukraine in the years to come.

For more in-depth analysis on Ukraine and the Donbas, make sure to check out Crisis Group’s Ukraine regional page and our Donbas Visual Explainer

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