Why Donetsk isn’t Crimea, in two maps

(Laris Karklis / The Washington Post)
(Laris Karklis/The Washington Post)

It's tempting, when we hear that pro-Russian protesters have declared a "Donetsk People’s Republic" in the eastern Ukrainian city, to imagine it as the next step in the Kremlin's gradual takeover of their beleaguered neighbor: a "Crimea 2.0" to follow the successful annexation last month.

But Crimea had a unique place in Russian history, and its relationship to Ukraine (which it only joined in 1954) was always quirky. Donetsk –and other cities, like Kharkiv, that have been hit by pro-Russian protests – are very different beasts.

The maps above show two of the most important differences. On the left, you can see that Donetsk does not have the Russian ethnic majority found on the Crimean peninsula, where almost 58.5 percent of the inhabitants were Russian and just 24.4 percent  Ukrainian (a further 12.1 percent  were Crimean Tatars, according to the 2001 census). Donetsk city may have a slim Russian plurality (48.15 percent vs. 46.65 percent Ukrainians), but the oblast it is at the center of a significant Ukrainian majority (56.9 percent Ukrainians to 38.2 percent Russians).

That first map is one good reason to doubt the popular support of the "Donetsk People’s Republic," but the other shows you something else: why Ukraine would care so much about it. The oblast, and in particular its namesake city, are renowned as the economic backbone of Ukraine for their coal mines and steel production (even if the truth about Donetsk's economic strength may not be so rosy).

Combined, these two maps paint a good picture of why the Ukrainian government seems willing to take a stricter line on Donetsk than it did with Crimea. But they also paint a picture of why Russia's tactic could be different, too: Less a simple act of annexation, and more an act of provocation.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.

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