Understanding the Narratives Explaining the Ukrainian Crisis: Identity Divisions and Complex Diversity in Ukraine

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Abstract

The central argument of this paper is that radical and opposing interpretations of the Ukrainian conflict in politics and media should be studied as offspring of broader narratives. These narratives can be better understood by examining the national identity of Ukraine. Since Ukrainian national identity shows a high degree of diversity, it offers a rich source of arguments for any party wanting to give an interpretation of the present Ukrainian crisis. Narratives explaining the crisis often ignore this complex diversity or deliberately use elements from it to construct the ‘desired’ narrative.

Firstly, this paper defines four overarching narratives used in the current debate: the geopolitical, the nationalist, the structuralist, and the legal narrative. Secondly, this paper shows how various interpretations fitting within these narratives are all one way or another related to the divisions dividing Ukraine’s complex national identity. Examining the underlying divisions helps to explain the appeal of differing interpretations of the conflict in the West, Ukraine, and Russia. Especially the nationalist narrative and geopolitical narratives show how the complexity of Ukraine’s national identity is deliberately used to construct a narrative.

The combined study of constructed narratives and Ukrainian national identity thus provides valuable material for any scholar or policymaker looking for a deeper understanding of the situation in Ukraine amidst a confusing information war.

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