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UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser

Ukrainian geopolitical fault-line cities: urban identities, geopolitics and urban policy

Alternative title: Ukrainske geopolitiske forkastningsbyer: byidentiteter, geopolitikk og bypolitikk

Awarded: NOK 4.0 mill.

This project explored urban policy issues in Ukraine's “geopolitical fault-line cities,” focusing on policy areas that are most exposed to the country's geopolitical and foreign policy choices. There were two main goals. Using the examples of five south-east Ukrainian case study cities, the scientific goal was to advance the concept of the geopolitical fault-line city and to contribute to the knowledge on conflict in divided or polarized cities. The main policy-related goal was to explore the urban social and identity policy challenges confronting southeastern Ukrainian geopolitical fault-line cities. The main sources of primary data included survey materials from Kharkiv, Dnipro and Mariupol and interviews with key persons, officials and residents of the case study cities, which also include Kramatorsk/Sloviansk and Luhansk (for some purposes, Luhansk was replaced by the Russian-occupied territories known as the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics more generally ). The Russian war in Ukraine dramatically altered the central characteristic of geopolitical fault-line cities, i.e., that they host significant divisions and potential for conflict related to foreign policy and geopolitical alignment preferences. The war has largely erased such divisions, while Russia’s soft power projected elsewhere has largely vanished. Instead, our project suddenly faced the prospect of studying cities at war, frontline cities rather than fault-line cities. Our project included five work packages devoted to a rather wide array of topics relevant for the theoretical refinement of the concept of the geopolitical fault-line city: WP1: Soviet legacies in the southeastern Ukrainian urban social landscape, with a focus on housing. WP1 focused on the political and economic forces that have formed the social geography of the cities in southeastern Ukraine, under the assumption that they exert a significant legacy influence on the conflict dynamics today. WP2: Countering urban disinformation in traditional and social media. In WP2 we studied how disinformation reaches and spreads among the populations of the case study cities, exploring inter alia the topics and “life courses” of disinformation campaigns, as well as the receptiveness of the target populations and the degree to which local and regional identities and public discourse are influenced by them. We placed particular emphasis on the local conditions that have facilitated/discouraged the spread of disinformation, conspiracy theories and false rumours within cities. WP3: Accommodating displaced persons from the Donbas and Crimea in Ukrainian cities. In this WP we studied where and how IDPs are housed in the case study cities, as well as the medium- and long-term strategy of the local and regional authorities for the inclusion of IDP’s. We also explored the lived experiences of displacement among IDPs, including the effect of the fact of displacement on their perceived national/ethnic self-identifications. WP4: Urban identities, identity politics and social cohesion during/after the ongoing Donbas war. WP4 studied how local, regional, national and supranational identities have articulated themselves in the built environment and among the residents of Ukraine’s geopolitical fault-line cities. Because of the war, we re-focused some of the WP’s efforts towards the ongoing urbicide in Ukraine, which has two main expressions: the destruction of both symbolic and ordinary places, including physical structures, and the destruction of the heterogeneity and socio-cultural vitality of cities. WP5: Theorizing geopolitical fault-line cities. In this “meta-WP” we took stock of the findings of the four empirical WPs to develop and refine the concept and theoretical underpinnings of the geopolitical fault-line city. In doing so, we contributed to ongoing academic conversations taking place in the literature on divided cities as well as on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Together with producing valuable scientific contributions, the project explicitly aimed at constructing a modern and connective research environment in Ukraine. The achievement of this goal was ensured by the multi-sited nature of the project as such, and through the organization of a large number of events aimed at scientific and policy users, and at the public. We also supported the community of Ukrainian PhD students (within the field) by organizing a series of intensive Doctoral School in Urban Geopolitics events; moreover, three PhD students defended their dissertations based on work within our project.

As a result of the project, the participants are recognized as experts on topics related to internal displacement, disinformation and urban identities in Ukraine. As such, they are often consulted by policy-makers, and they appear frequently in the national media. Moreover, it is resoundingly clear that the project will have a positive impact on the research environment within human geography (and potentially beyond this discipline) in Ukraine and particularly at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. The envisioned or already implemented outcomes and impacts are as follows: 1. The project strengthened the skills of Ukrainian doctoral students, primarily as a result of communication and collaboration activities with foreign doctoral students and international experts during four doctoral schools. Relatedly, we successfully conducted a doctoral school on site in Lviv, despite the Russian military aggression in 2022; apart for the positive effects on morale (this was the first post-covid19 event for most participants, and it was successful despite the simultaneous wave of missile attacks on the city), this event created a sustainable platform for young researchers to engage in meaningful discussions, share experiences, and learn, all within an internationalized setting. 2. The project involved scholars, young researchers, public activists, policy-makers, and practitioners at the urban and regional levels, facilitating dialogue and exchange of ideas among them, fostering long-term perspectives and collaboration, as well as a shared understanding of urban challenges and solutions, and promoting effective policy-making and implementation at the local level. The research findings were discussed with local authorities and practitioners, and the international status of the project made these discussions more influential and legitimate in the eyes of stakeholders. 3. Interdisciplinary connections among Ukrainian researchers, including geographers, sociologists, political scientists, and media analysts, have been strengthened against a background of a traditional disciplinary insularity. 4. The project opened the research environment (particularly in Kyiv) to greater international coöperation, and the project members are now included in more international joint research efforts than ever before. 5. The results have led to substantial changes to the human geography curriculum at Taras Shevchenko National University, starting from the creation of a course in Urban Geopolitics. This course is a centrepiece of the planned Joint Master’s Programme in Political Geography which the University is working on together with the Universities of Ostrava, Tbilisi and Budapest (Eötvös Loránd). 6. Being very large by Ukrainian standards, the project contributed to improving administrative routines at partner universities. Over time, the institutions’ respective bureaucracies started working more efficiently.

This project explores urban policy issues in Ukraine’s "geopolitical fault-line cities", focusing on policy domains that are most exposed to the country’s geopolitical and foreign policy choices. As such, it addresses the nexus between geopolitics, urban studies and urban policy. Building on a detailed analysis of five case study cities in southeastern Ukraine, the overarching scientific goal is to theorize the geopolitical fault-line city. The main policy-related goal is to detail the urban social and identity policy challenges confronting southeastern Ukrainian cities in order to support related decisions by local and national policy-makers. The findings will be the basis for recommendations aimed at fostering the social sustainability of urban policies implemented in Ukrainian geopolitical fault-line cities. The project includes five work packages: (1) Soviet legacies in the southeastern Ukrainian urban social landscape, with a focus on housing; (2) Countering urban disinformation in the traditional and social media; (3) Accommodating displaced persons from the Donbas and Crimea in Ukrainian cities; (4) Urban identities, identity politics and social cohesion during/after the Donbas war; (5) Theorizing geopolitical fault-line cities. The work packages use a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods appropriate to the issues and questions covered by them.

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UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser