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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 18:43 GMT
Analysis: Divided Ukraine
By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News

Ukraine's election map reflects its history.

Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko with supporters
Yushchenko was born close to the Russian border
It has always been a divided country, though there are several different fault lines relating to language, religion, culture and politics and they are not always clearly delineated.

The most obvious geographical dividing line is the Dnieper river, which runs through the capital, Kiev, curls south-east to Zaporizhia and then turns back to empty into the Black Sea at Kherson.

Historically, the land to the west has been known as Right Bank, the land to the east as Left Bank.

Very crudely, Russian is the dominant language on most of the Left Bank, at least in the large urban centres, and Ukrainian on the Right.

Orthodoxy is the dominant religion on the Left Bank, while on the Right it co-exists with the Uniate (or Greek Catholic) church, which combines Orthodox service rites with allegiance to the Pope.

The Uniate church was formed as the Ukrainian aristocracy began to identify with Poland at the end of the 16th Century.

Anti-Soviet resistance

Poland, and later Austria, dominated the westernmost regions of the country for hundreds of years. These regions only joined the rest of the country in the Russian/Soviet empire after World War II - very much against their will.

Some western Ukrainians were so bitterly anti-Soviet that they took the Nazi side in World War II. Others fought both the German and Soviet armies hoping to carve out an independent state.

Armed resistance to the Soviet regime continued in the Carpathian mountains throughout the 1950s.

The western regions of Galicia (which includes Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil) and Volyn are still a stronghold of nationalist sentiment.

The bulk of Ukraine's Russian minority (some 17% of the total judging by the 2001 census) meanwhile lives on the Left Bank (including Crimea) - and in Odessa, which also voted for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Part of the Russian population in the east arrived to work in the heavy industries, such as coal, steel and chemicals, that were developed under Stalin. Crimea, meanwhile, became a favourite retirement home for the Soviet elite.

This population was the most Sovietised, while the population in the west of the country had the strongest cultural links with the rest of Central Europe.

This translates today into a general orientation towards Moscow, on the one hand, and a general orientation to Europe, and the EU, on the other.

The divisions are not always as neat and simple as they may seem, however. Some northern Left Bank regions voted for Yushchenko, just as some southern Right Bank regions voted for Yanukovych.

Central regions of the country have tended to be Ukraine's versions of "swing states" in the US.

It is also said that the purest Ukrainian language is spoken in the Poltava region - which is on the Left rather than the Right bank.

The language spoken by Ukrainian villagers in fact changes gradually from Ukrainian to Russian, as one travels from west to east, while dialects in the far west include strong Polish influences.

Cossack nostalgia

Leonid Kuchma, from Dnipropetrovsk, and Viktor Yanukovych, from Donetsk, both easterners, made efforts to learn Ukrainian once they gained high political office.

And opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, darling of the nationalists, was born in a village in the Sumy region, close to the Russian border in eastern Ukraine.

Viktor Yanukovych
Yanukovych attempted to learn Ukrainian after gaining high office
Ukrainian nationalists often regard the era of the Cossacks - rebels who defied both Russian and Polish overlords in the 17th Century - as their country's golden age. But they inhabited the Left Bank as much as the Right. The most famous Cossack settlement was on an island in the middle of the Dnieper at Zaporizhia.

It would also be wrong to portray Ukraine as a country inhabited only by Ukrainians and Russians. Poles and Jews once made up a large part of the urban population, particularly in central and western areas of the country.

Crimea is the homeland of the Crimean Tatars, who were deported to Central Asia in 1944, but have slowly been returning.

There are also sizable Belarusian, Moldovan, Bulgarian, Hungarian and Romanian minorities, each making up between 0.3 and 0.6% of the overall population.

Map showing breakdown of official results by region




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