Conflict, Borderization, and Population Displacement in Ukraine's Donbas Region

Authors: Ralph Clem*, Florida International University, Cynthia J. Buckley, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Jarod Fox, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Erik S. Herron, West Virginia University
Topics: Political Geography, Eurasia, Russia
Keywords: Ukraine, Donbas, Conflict, De Facto States
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 50
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The post-Soviet space has been especially prone to centrifugal geospatial forces, with seven separatist entities having broken away from parent states that emerged from the wreckage of the USSR; six of these remain, at this writing, as de facto states. Considerable attention has focused on the survival challenges these de facto states face. However, relatively little attention has been paid to problems that their parent states must confront. Once armed conflict has ensued, the damage wrought to infrastructure, food insecurity, the disruption of economic relationships, and especially the plight of internally-displaced persons (IDPs) place serious and potentially de-stabilizing strains on the parent state.
We examine how, since the war with Russia began, living in Ukrainian government-controlled areas proximate to the conflict zone affects the local population’s access to social goods provided by the Ukrainian state or by international relief agencies. To illustrate the effects of the war on humanitarian infrastructure, we employ local-level outcomes and events-based data on state capacity infrastructure in and near the Donbas region and compare these to other parts of Ukraine. We show how damage to local hospitals, schools, and other parts of the socioeconomic landscape further marginalizes populations, exacerbates displacement, precludes return, and creates mid- to long-term conditions for negative views of state legitimacy on either side whenever open hostilities end. We conclude with an appraisal of post-conflict reconciliation options in light of former events and the current status of the conflict and discuss longer-term geopolitical implications for the wider region.

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