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Ukraine's Fog of War

Why the World Misunderstands the Crimean Conflict

A member of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic forces stands guard near buildings destroyed during battles with Ukrainian armed forces, at Donetsk airport, Ukraine, June 1, 2016. Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters

For all the articles written about the low-intensity war in Ukraine, few journalists and authors have actually visited the areas most affected: the two Russian-speaking regions within the Donbas. If they did, they might see that narratives that paint the conflict as a battle between Ukrainian nationalists and marginalized Russian speakers is overly simplistic and an outgrowth of four myths. The conflict in Ukraine is much more than a showdown between the Russian-speaking east and the Ukrainian-speaking west. In fact, language and cultural ties have little to with the conflict at all.

Most of those who live in eastern and southern Ukraine, including in Crimea, speak Russian. Throughout the rest of the country, though, Ukrainian is the main language. According to the 2001 census, moreover, most Crimeans identified as ethnically Russian, not Ukrainian. And yet the region’s linguistic and ethnic ties to Russia played no role in Crimea’s annexation.

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