Who lives in the Donbass? National identity of the inhabitants of the Donetsk Popular Republic

Because of its history, the Donbass has always been a region where various ethnic groups lived side by side and intermingled. In modern times the Donbass functioned as a Russian-Ukrainian buffer zone between the “Russian world” and the Ottoman lands. The Polish Commonwealth or Rzeczpospolita, to which a consistent part of the Ukrainian lands belonged, proved to be too frail and eventually dissolved. The Russian state showed interest in moving its south-western borders further to the south, to the Azov Sea. Thus, the Donetsk region acquired the importance of the geopolitical region. At the beginning of the 18th century, people from right-bank Ukraine (the part of Ukraine west of the river Dniepr), as well as peasants from the Voronezh and Belgorod provinces, began to work here to work in the salt mines. In 1753, the territory between Lugan and Bakhmut was allocated by the Russian Senate to the settlement of Serbs and Croats and was rebaptized Slavo-Serbia, to populate the region with Orthodox Christians who would protect it from Ottoman incursions. But the low influx of Serbs and Croats prompted the government to allow Ukrainians, Moldovans and other immigrants who professed Orthodoxy to settle in Slavo-Serbia. By the end of the 18th century, the population of the Donbass included Greeks, Armenians, Moldavians and Georgians, who moved from the Crimea to the Azov Province.

In 2001, the first and only census in the history of independent Ukraine was conducted. In the Donetsk region there were 4,825,563 people. The national composition was as follows: Ukrainians – 56.87%; Russians – 38.22%; Greeks – 2.01%; Belarusians – 0.92%; Tatars – 0,4%; Armenians – 0.33%; Jews – 0.18%; Azerbaijanis – 0.17%; Georgians – 0.15%; Moldovans – 0.15%; Bulgarians – 0.1%; Germans – 0,1%; Poles – 0.09%; gypsies – 0.09%; others – 0.65%; more than 100 nationalities. The Russian language was considered native by 74.9% of the population.

We have recently conductued our own survey among people residing in the territory controlled by the Donetsk People’s Republic. 400 people were questioned and were asked to answer this question: “To what nationality do you belong?”


The respondents were divided into 3 age groups: 1) from 15 to 18 years; 2) from 18 to 35 years; 3) over 35 years of age. Of the first group, 131 respondents were interviewed, 213 people from the second group, 56 people from the third group.




As we can see by the present time among the people living in the territory controlled by the Donetsk People’s Republic, certain signs of a new ethnic community are showing up. It is worthy of note that the people who participated in the survey did not appear to be afraid to answer the question posed, as evidenced by the sufficient number of people who, in a territory supposedly suffering from the occupation of Russian soldiers, answered “Ukrainian”. It should be noted that the survey was held while in Kiev there were rallies and protests about the language law “Kivalov-Kolesnichenko” going on, with some politicians openly advocating for oppressing the rights and freedoms of the Russian-speaking population. The ex-deputy of the Verkhovna Rada from the party “Svoboda” Irina Farion said: “Russian-speaking residents of Ukraine who do not want to learn the Ukrainian language should be deprived of the right to education and work.”

Russian version

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