‘To peace, to us – and to Donbas’: identity shifts during the armed conflict in the East of Ukraine
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The purpose of the current study was to compare the effect of conflict experience on sociopolitical attitudes, emotions and identity shifts of young people in two cities in the Donetsk province under Ukrainian governmental control. While the first city Kramatorsk fell under separatist control during the outbreak of the armed conflict in the East of Ukraine in 2014, the situation in the second one, Bakhmut, stayed largely calm. The different experiences of conflict of the informants were presumed to have had an impact on their perceptions. Hence, this project examined the attitudes of young people in these two cities towards Ukraine and its nationalising policies, the political elites in the Ukrainian capital, the separatist movement and towards political and cultural affiliations to Russia. Material for the in-depth examination consisted of 7 focus groups with overall 26 participants (13 in each city) conducted in these cities in Spring 2017. Themes were generated in a bottom-up way in the course of the evaluation and analysis of the focus group transcripts, field notes from participant observation and conversations in the two selected cities. The theoretical framework for the analysis is based on a set of constructivist literature, including Brubaker’ triadic nexus (1995) and Fox’ and Miller- Idriss’ concept of ‘everyday nationhood’ (2008). This research adds valuable qualitative insights to the existing literature on changes of identities, behaviour and attitudes of civilian population under the circumstances of armed conflicts. The research revealed, among other trends, that the more extreme the individual conflict-related experience of the focus group participants was, the less supportive seemed these focus group participants of DNR symbols and ideas. Additionally, the study results indicate that the focus group participants in Kramatorsk, who experienced the conflict stronger than most participants in Bakhmut, seemed to be more receptive to nationalising trends than their counterparts in Bakhmut – which indicates an impact of the experience of conflict on nationalising trends in the Ukrainian-controlled Donbas province.