Ukraine divided less between “east” and “west” than between “city” and “village”

National Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life of Ukraine (Photo:

National Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life of Ukraine (Photo: 

Analysis & Opinion, Culture

Most discussions about divisions in Ukraine focus either on the differences of “east” and “west” or on those between Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers, but a deeper and more important divide, one cutting across both of the others, Sergey Koshman writes, is between those who live in the cities and those who live in the villages.

In a commentary on “Novoye vremya” today, Koshman, one of the coordinators of the “We are Europeans” movement, says that this divide not only must be acknowledged but also that Ukraine’s future depends on reaching “a new social contract of mutual recognition of these two civilizations.”

There is no such accord now, he writes. Instead, “patriarchal, traditional, and conservative rustic civilization looks at the city and the values of self-expression with distrust,” and “the city, cosmopolitan and more liberal and open view the village with distaste ascribing to its representatives the notions of backwardness” of one kind or another.

“The village seeks to seize the city,” while “the city wants to reform the village under itself.” That, Koshman says, is “the essence of the conflict.” And it can be overcome only if each recognizes that the other has a contribution to make and that each has an obligation to respect the other.

That is especially true in times of crisis. In normal times, the cities play the key role in promoting progress, but when the security of the state is threatened, most of threats are directed at urban centers, and much of the defense of the country comes not from them but from the rural areas and the values the rural areas maintain.

“When the threat passes,” he continues, the cities “help restore the institutions and global interfaces” and become again “the centers of the crystallization of Ukrainian political and economic subjectness.” That must be recognized, but it isn’t, and as a result, “a struggle is still going on.”

A failure to understand this divide has led the Ukrainian culture ministry to promote rural values over urban ones rather than see the way the two complement each other. That has serious consequences especially in Crimea where the Russian-speaking-vs.-Ukrainian-speaking and East-vs.-West paradigms leave the Crimean Tatars as “outside observers” rather than active participants.

But there is a more serious consequence of ignoring the urban-rural differences in cultural policy. It creates a vacuum into which other non-Ukrainian values can penetrate, including pro-Moscow ideas. Indeed, Koshman suggests, language is not the key element; culture is.

In thinking about this and especially about what should be done next, he writes, it is useful to recall what happened in Western Ukraine after World War II. In that situation, there was “no mutual understanding or recognition between the cosmopolitan urban civilization and the rustic Ukrainian world.”

As a result, Koshman says, “instead of multi-cultural urban centers like Lviv and Chernivtsy, there emerged the practically mono-ethnic centers of Soviet Ukraine,” centers that in many respects were cut off from the rural culture surrounding them.

“And it is possible,” he concludes, “that precisely these events gave rise to the paradoxical similarity of the extreme east and west of Ukraine” rather than forming a new and common nation linking both together. What is needed, he says, is “a single Ukraine” with two civilizations, urban and rural, each with its own rights but each with responsibilities to the other.


Edited by: A. N.

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  • Marko

    “it’s not only not right, it is not even wrong”

    • kievjoy

      I live in a village and have many friends in Kyiv and Brovary. Many of my friends in Kyiv and Brovary have houses in the surrounding villages as well. We have industry here as well, I have a friend who’s son works in the medical university. Many of the Ukrainians here are as highly educated as those in the city. if the city friends want to get out of town to some peace and quiet they come here, we often go to Kyiv for a night out. Another couple of friends are on the top rung in businesses, from their education, being from a village never stopped them from getting on the bottom rung and working their way up. Places like Lugansk and Donesk, yes there is a divide, but I think it is of their own making. We’ve had refugees stay here from Crimea, the refugees from Donesk and Lugansk don’t want to stay in the country, although we have a good bus service. As for the Tartars, they are being persecuted just because they’re Tatars, nothing to do with city or country.

  • puttypants

    I agree with the article. And urban must do more to connect and respect country after all they have much to sell to the world. However, if you look at the USA and all of europe it is the same. country is always more conservative than Urban. It’s the nature of the beast but that doesn’t mean they can’t be united. Urbanites are disrespectful to country folks and don’t value them or their countribution to the country and they must change that.

  • Rods

    There are massive differences between rural, town and city life in Ukraine compared Western Europe. Not only are the wages and employment levels much higher in Europe, but also the levels of infrastructure. IMO improved infrastructure is one of the major keys to solving this.

    In Ukraine travelling around is difficult on many of the failing roads, many villages have at best rough granite paved or unpaved tracks which makes commuting difficult. Many villages rely on wells for water, a pit for a toilet, and soviet era phone exchanges, so broadband Internet is not possible. Mobile phone coverage is patchy with cell nodes often overloaded and 3g Internet connections are slow and unreliable, providing you have a signal in the first place! Some villages are close enough to cities or towns to have Wimax coverage but many aren’t.

    Reasonable transport links and good telephone and internet communication systems are essentials for being able to easily interact and participate in a society and where in Western Europe it is common to live in a village with an Internet based business so wealth can be created in rural areas this is difficult to impossible in Ukraine. Generally in Western Europe, villages are thriving communities, whereas in Ukraine they are dying through young people moving to towns and cities for employment opportunities, leaving the villages for mainly retired people, who as they pass away, so the villages die with them.

    If the Ukrainian Government wants to keep a good balance between city and rural life, then improving infrastructure is the key.