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Ukraine: Winning the Peace

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Linda-Marie Sundstrom & Mark Kling
April 8, 2022

What will be the result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Will Ukraine survive and Russia retreat? Or will Ukraine as a country cease to exist and simply become part of Russia? Perhaps the country will be split—one part remaining Ukraine, the other annexed by Russia. Most importantly, when the fighting stops, how will the “peace” be won?

Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, I traveled throughout Russia and Ukraine. In 2010, I returned to Ukraine as a U.S. State Department Fulbright Scholar teaching at the Kharkiv Regional Institute of Public Administration under the Office of the President of Ukraine. Living and working in Kharkiv helped me understand the country’s divided history. To understand these divisions, we must look at three areas:

  • History & Culture
  • Language
  • Religion

History & Culture

For centuries, Ukraine has been controlled by outside powers. Ukraine has rarely been united. Briefly, in the 10th century, the western half of what is now Ukraine was Kievan Rus. The eastern part became the Golden Horde. Subsequently, the west was controlled by Lithuania, then the Kingdom of Hungary and later by the Kingdom of Poland. The Ottoman Empire controlled the southern part of Ukraine. The Russian Empire eventually took control of the entire country and after the Russian Revolution it became part of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Ukraine found itself “free” and on its own—a new country struggling with independence, having little experience, but possessing a great many natural resources. Even though they were suddenly an independent country, each of its internal regions (oblasts) represented centuries of varying influences that uniquely shaped the culture of each. This included divided loyalties between the newly formed Ukrainian government and that of Russia. As an example, during recent election cycles pro-Russian candidates have usually won in the eastern part of Ukraine by up to 96% of the vote, while the pro-Ukrainian candidates have usually won in the west by the same margin.    

Language & Religion

Currently, the majority of people in the eastern part of Ukraine generally:

  • Identify as ethnic Russian
  • Speak Russian
  • Practice the Russian Orthodox Religion
  • Historically align with Russia

However, in the western part of Ukraine people generally:

  • Identify as ethnic Ukrainian
  • Speak Ukrainian
  • Practice several religions including:
    • Independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (majority)
    • Catholicism
    • Protestant, Jewish and Muslim religions (to a lesser degree)

As you can see, there is a divide between the two geographical ends of the country. While there are many legitimate historical and cultural reasons why this exists, it does exist and results in varying loyalties regarding the future direction of the country. These differences must be accounted for in order to establish a unified peace.

As in all countries, language can divide or unite a population. Language is an important and commonly debated issue in Ukraine. During the time of the Soviet Union, all Soviet states were required to speak Russian. Other languages were prohibited. One of my co-workers in Ukraine related how she studied English in college during the 1970s under Soviet rule. As a result, her job prospects were limited, and she could never become an “invited” member of the Communist Party because her knowledge of another language made her unreliable in the eyes of the government. When Ukraine became an independent country in 1991, the majority of the population only knew the Russian language. But parts of western Ukraine embraced their newfound freedom and rekindled the Ukrainian language. People from the eastern part of Ukraine, who self-identified as ethnic Russian, struggled to adopt the Ukrainian language. In 2010, colleagues at my Ukrainian University in Kharkiv were required to conduct meetings in Ukrainian. This was met with frustration since most were not adept at the “new” language. 

In 2012, President Yanukovych officially made Russian the second official language in Ukraine. This was met with great relief in eastern Ukraine where people could finally speak their native language again. However, in February 2014, the new government reversed making Russian a co-official language. This was later vetoed by the President. This sent a powerful message of distrust and instability to the Russian-speaking cities of eastern Ukraine. Trust and stability are the hallmarks of unity, loyalty and common purpose, essential for a strong government.


Can a country with divisions caused by history, culture, language and religion be governed adequately by a single central entity, either Ukrainian or Russian? Would a divided Ukraine, with an independent western half and a Russian Federation eastern half present, be able to coexist side by side or would it exacerbate existing differences, driving a wedge between the two? “Winning the peace” is the crucial long-term goal. But as we have seen with many recent conflicts around the globe, it does not have a record of success. As a result, after the shooting stops and the damage is done, countries can easily end up worse off than they were. Perhaps this time, focusing on what the “peace” will be, can be considered up front and something positive will come from all of the tragic waste.  

Author: Dr. Linda-Marie Sundstrom is a former Fulbright Scholar who taught Public Administration in Ukraine at a university under the Office of the Ukrainian President.  She worked for 20 years in local government and has taught in Master of Public Administration Programs for nearly two decades.  She is currently the MPA Program Director for California Baptist University in Southern California. Email: [email protected]

Author: Dr. Mark Kling has been in law enforcement for 35 years, 14 as police chief.  He has taught both Public Administration and Criminal Justice courses for the past 20 years.  He is currently the Criminal Justice Program Director for California Baptist University and came out of retirement to transition the Rialto Police Department to new innovative executive leadership. Email: [email protected] / [email protected]

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