Covering Ukraine's Cartographic Evolution

For months, Ukraine’s continued war with Russia(n-backed separatists) has come with a geographical frame. A Sovietized, Russian-speaking east versus a Europeanized, Ukrainian-speaking west – a convenient dichotomy for those unfamiliar with the country, the region, the geopolitical realities. An easy division. A facile frame for the fraught fratricide. Split down the middle, for all to witness and quickly comprehend. And when Ukraine first revolted nearly a year ago, such linguistic and ethnic splits were consistently played as the fighting's raison d'etre throughout English-language press.

Of course, despite claims that there is one “one map you need to understand” the ongoing crisis, such divisions are easily and readily debunked. Correlation, as ever, stands as a distant cousin of causation – sometimes present, oftentimes absent. Ukraine is no different. (Much to the chagrin of Eurasian revanchists like Alexander Dugin, who was counting on Russian-speakers – those stakeholders in the Russkiy Mir – to rise up as soon as the Kremlin came calling.) Ethnicities are messy. Linguistics can change – over months, or in the midst of an ongoing thought. Despite the Kremlin’s wishes, Ukraine presents far less of an ethno-linguistic chasm than, say, Kazakhstan. (Heads up, as ever, to Kazakhstan.)

Now, though, that geopolitical frame may finally be waning. With Ukraine’s recent parliamentary elections, it’s become that much clearer that the Ukrainian polity is tilting toward Brussels. Staunchly pro-Western parties – led by President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk among them – gathered nearly three-quarters of the votes cast. More importantly, it appears that for the first time in the better part of a century Ukraine’s government will come without the participation of any members of the Communist Party. If there’s any symbolic break with Russian chauvinism, there you go.

And the best part? This may, finally, put an end to those flippant, misleading cartographers who would split Ukraine according to a sole factor. A search for recent map-based analyses of the parliamentary elections in English-language press turned up a grand total of zero efforts to paint Ukraine (via map) as a country rent in two. Indeed, the only map I could uncover relating to the elections came from the BBC. (Although I'm sure I missed some.) In a welcome development, this map only incorporated voting dates, rather than some attempt at splitting the country according to whichever factor - language at the dinner table? favorite type of kasha? - other editors had deemed relevant:

It’s tough to tell whether this means English-language press has abandoned the glib, Kremlin-supported notions of a Ukraine built of two distinct factions. Time will tell. But this may remain one of the more positive developments viz. Ukraine seen in Western press in some time. Here’s hoping it continues.