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What's Next for Ukraine?

Expert Insight into the 2019 Ukrainian Elections


Olga Onuch, Gwendolyn Sasse & Henry Hale

How should we understand Ukrainian politics as the country moves to a momentous presidential election scheduled for 31 March (but likely to require a runoff later) and a parliamentary context slated for October? This collection of articles debunks many common myths of Ukrainian politics, provides a crucial foundation for interpreting what happens, and demonstrates why these election results will be so important for the future of Ukraine and for Europe more generally, not to mention Russia’s efforts to restore and expand its own influence.

Ukraine’s current elections are marked by unprecedented uncertainty. The top three candidates are neck and neck in the polls, but it is quite unclear whose supporters may have last-minute changes of heart or fail to turn up at the polls - and about a quarter of those who are planning to vote remain undecided. Indeed, the current front-runner is a comedian and actor who is new to politics but did play the role of Ukrainian president on TV, Volodymyr Zelensky. He is most popular among those who are younger, male, with lower levels of education, and located in the south and east of the country, though also has some broader appeal. The two closest challenges, current President Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, are in a statistical tie, meaning that either one could make a runoff if the top vote-getter does not get 50 percent of the vote on 31 March. And whoever wins, all the major players will not stop struggling since parliamentary elections in October will decide who becomes prime minister, a post that carries significant power in contemporary Ukraine.

One of the first issues that comes to mind when people think of Ukrainian politics is identity politics; how might identity divisions in Ukraine impact the 2019 election outcomes and shape how these outcomes play out in the future? Analyses in the articles made accessible here indicate that the simple “divided country” trope is inappropriate and quite likely to lead to inaccurate predictions and poor interpretation. For one thing, there are actually many salient dimensions of identity in Ukraine and these do not break down into a clear, single national divide (Onuch and Hale 2018). Thus ethnicity does not appear to be playing a key role in shaping support for either of the top three candidates in the 2019 presidential election. We see the same patterns regarding expectations of what the elections will bring. This is because, as Sasse and Lackner (2018), Robertson and Pop-Eleches (2018), and Kulyk (2018) point out, much has changed in Ukraine since 2014: namely, ethno-linguistic identities seem to have become less salient and attachment to the state (or what some would call civic identities) has strengthened in the five years since the Euromaidan and the onset of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. But while the war with Russia and high levels of corruption remain the top policy priorities for most Ukrainians, the population is highly skeptical as to whether any of the current Presidential candidates will be able to solve either of these two issues.

Special Issues

Special Issue Title JournalVolume/Issue
The Russian-speaking Populations in the Post-Soviet Space: Language, Politics and IdentityEurope-Asia Studies71.1
The Ukrainian Crisis and the Post-Post-Cold War EuropeEurope-Asia Studies68.4
The Ukrainian Crisis: Sub-State and Non-State ActorsSoutheast European and Black Sea Studies16.1
Retrospective on the Crisis in UkraineRussian Social Sciences Review58.2-3
Russia, Ukraine and Contemporary ImperialismInternational Critical Thought6.4
Ukraine in CrisisEuropean Politics and Society17.4

The articles below are free-access via this page only up until 31 July 2019.

Corruption and Propaganda

Article TitleAuthor(s)Journal TitleVolumeIssue
The Impact of ‘Boss’ Candidates and Local Political Machines on Elections in UkraineErik S. Herron & Fredrik M. SjobergEurope-Asia Studies686 (2018)
Does fraud trump partisanship? The impact of contentious elections on voter confidenceElizabeth Iams Wellman, Susan D. Hyde & Thad E. HallJournal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties283 (2018)
Ukraine and the Big Moral Divide: What Biased Media Coverage Means to East European BordersMartin Barthel & Hans-Joachim BürknerGeopolitics2019
Ukraine, Mainstream Media and Conflict PropagandaOliver Boyd-BarrettJournalism Studies188 (2017)

Electoral Approaches

Article TitleAuthor(s)Journal TitleVolumeIssue
Theoretical and comparative perspectives on populism in Ukraine and EuropeTaras KuzioEuropean Politics and Society2019
Multi-level voting and party competition in vertically simultaneous elections: the case of UkraineAilsa Henderson & Valentyna RomanovaPost-Soviet Affairs323 (2016)
Presidential activism and government termination in dual-executive UkraineSerhiy KudeliaPost-Soviet Affairs344 (2018)

National Identity

Article TitleAuthor(s)Journal TitleVolumeIssue
The Ukrainian–Russian Linguistic Dyad and its Impact on National Identity in UkraineNadiia Bureiko & Teodor Lucian MogaEurope-Asia Studies711 (2019)
Identity in Transformation: Russian-speakers in Post-Soviet UkraineVolodymyr KulykEurope-Asia Studies711 (2019)
Between Dependence and Integration: Ukraine’s Relations With RussiaRilka Dragneva & Kataryna WolczukEurope-Asia Studies684 (2016)
How Ukraine has become more UkrainianDominique ArelPost-Soviet Affairs342-3 (2018)
Studying identity in UkraineOlga Onuch, Henry E. Hale & Gwendolyn SassePost-Soviet Affairs342-3 (2018)


Article TitleAuthor(s)Journal TitleVolumeIssue
Introduction: The Ukraine Crisis and Post-Post-Cold War EuropeDerek Averre & Kataryna WolczukEurope-Asia Studies684 (2016)
The Ukrainian crisis: sub-state and non-state actorsTracey German & Emmanuel KaragiannisSoutheast European and Black Sea Studies161 (2016)
“Veni, vidi, …  vici?” EU performance and two faces of conditionality towards UkraineOlga Burlyuk & Natalia ShapovalovaEast European Politics331 (2017)
Irregular Militias and Radical Nationalism in Post-Euromaydan Ukraine: The Prehistory and Emergence of the “Azov” Battalion in 2014Andreas UmlandTerrorism and Political Violence311 (2019)
The Transition of Ukraine's Economy: A Second Start?Leonid M. Grigoriev, Eugenia V. Buryak & Alexander V. GolyashevRussian Social Science Review582-3 (2017)
Transition impossible? Ukraine between violence and powerAnton OleinikJournal of Political Power103 (2017)

Ukraine and Russia

Article TitleAuthor(s)Journal TitleVolumeIssue
Coercive diplomacy and the Donbas: Explaining Russian strategy in Eastern UkraineAndrew S. BowenJournal of Strategic Studies423-4 (2019)
Euromaidan revolution, Crimea and Russia–Ukraine war: why it is time for a review of Ukrainian–Russian studiesTaras KuzioEurasian Geography and Economics593-4 (2018)
Ukraine and Russia: Two States, One CrisisBoris KagarlitskyInternational Critical Thought64 (2016)
Ukraine in crisisNicolai N. PetroEuropean Politics and Society174 (2016)
The Russian annexation of Crimea: regional and global ramificationsHall GardnerEuropean Politics and Society174 (2016)

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