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Crimea overwhelmingly voted to join Russia in 2014, and even in retrospect, Crimean public opinion is strongly in favor of joining Russia (source, source). Comparatively, the rest of Ukraine - including 73% of people in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (the Eastern Ukrainian provinces at the heart of the ongoing War in Donbass) - think the separatist-controlled areas should remain part of Ukraine (source).

Why is there such a discrepancy? Why are Crimeans so unhappy with Ukraine (or why are they so fond of Russia), while the rest of the country including Donetsk/Luhansk take the opposite view? After all, they are (were) all Ukrainians, so a priori we would expect them to have similar beliefs.

I've read some articles about how Crimeans speak Russian while the rest of Ukraine speak Ukrainian, but that doesn't seem like a good explanation because this language difference also applies to Donetsk/Luhansk, and they still view union with Russia differently. There is some indication that quality of life has improved for Crimeans after joining Russia in the second quoted source above, but presumably Crimeans could not have known that was going to happen prior to the 2014 referendum.

To illustrate the kind of answers I'm looking for:

  • "Because Ukraine did/did not do XYZ in Crimea, but not in Donetsk/Luhansk" would be an explanation.
  • If the answer is "because Crimeans identify as Russian not Ukrainian", then some kind of explanation why they identify as Russian + didn't switch identities after >20 peaceful (?) years as part of Ukraine, as well as an explanation for why the people of Donetsk/Luhansk don't identify as Russian.
  • If the answer has something to do with the 1954 transfer of Crimea from Russia to Ukraine, then an explanation of why this event which happened almost seven decades ago still affects Crimean identity today, since not many Crimeans today would remember events in 1954.
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  1. The quoted source talks about people on free and recently liberated territories of Donbas who know the war and who don't want the invaders to come to their land.
  2. The people of free regions can speak out freely. But we don't know the public opinion of people on Russia-controlled territories of Crimea or Donbas. Whatever happens behind the barbed wire or at gunpoint is anything but a legitimate survey.
  3. Speaking of 21st century, people of Donets'k and Luhans'k have seen the horrors of war, while they who occupy Crimea haven't (yet).

The Wikipedia article quoted in the original question says (highlight mine),

The survey contained an over sample of respondents from the Ukrainian-controlled areas of the Donbass […]

Most obviously, people on free part of Donets'k and Luhans'k regions know the horrors of war that has been raging a few dozen kilometers away and they don't want it splash to their place.

Even more so are people of liberated places like Mariupol' and Slovyans'k who have seen the invaders in their towns. Regardless of their ethnicity or spoken language, they don't want Russians to come again. See this short video of Russians shelling a peaceful city of Mariupol' to know their reasons.

On the contrary, during the first several years of attempted occupation, people on Crimea enjoyed a status of bespoke "display window", when the agonizing economy of Russia has subsidized a whopping 79% of the entire Crimean budget.

A word about the refugees. A huge number of between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 people fled from the Russia-occupied territories after 2014. It is not known how the surveys quoted in the original question calculate these people's opinion.

Having this said, I believe your original intent is not to receive a trivial answer like this, so I'm going to re-frame the original question and post a different answer accordingly to my understanding of the question.


Let me also correct several inaccuracies in the original question. I believe this would shape the question according to the internationally-recognized course of events.

  • Crimea overwhelmingly voted to join Russia in 2014 […]

    No voting took place on Crimea after 2012 Parliamentary election. The "Occupendum" has never been recognized by vast majority of world countries or international organizations.

  • Crimean public opinion is strongly in favor of joining Russia […]

    There is no credible information what Crimeans think. The last known surveys took place before the occupation, and it has not been that bad. Daresay, 50% is far from being "overwhelmingly".

    In March 2014, the Russian regular army took control of government buildings and the entire infrastructure of Crimean peninsula. Whatever happened at gunpoint is no different from voting in a concentration camp. Everyone would do what they are told to, and even then the "authorities" can draw whatever number they want, even the turnout of 146% wouldn't stop them.

    This is not the way how the polling station looks like (source: Wikipedia):

    Russian terrorists captured government buildings in Ukraine

  • After all, they are (were) all Ukrainians […]

    No. They were different factions of immigrants. This deserves a separate answer which I'm going to post soon. The indigenous peoples of both regions are Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians, correspondingly.

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    I'm skeptical of the claim that Crimean public opinion might not be strongly in favor of joining Russia. The Wikipedia source cited in the OP itself cites multiple surveys all conducted after the annexation, all of which were not conducted at gunpoint (since the surveyors are international organizations), saying otherwise - e.g. "The survey found that 82.8% of those polled believed that the results of the Crimean status referendum reflected the views of most residents of Crimea, whereas 6.7% said that it did not" – Allure Sep 27 '20 at 6:01
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    Two more surveys commissioned by Canada and German government backed agencies: Do the Crimean people prefer to be with Russia than with Ukraine? Do the methodology sections of any of these surveys say anything about "barbed wire or at gunpoint"? What is your source for that claim? – Keith McClary Sep 28 '20 at 1:28
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    @KeithMcClary, perhaps I'm missing something, but the "Media Survey Methodology" section of Gallup poll only contains a bulleted list of 5 items. "Fieldwork date: April 2014" also speaks for itself. Another one mentioned within, "a poll by German polling firm GfK" no longer exists, link broken. Did you mention another survey? – bytebuster Sep 28 '20 at 3:58
  • The methodology section is where I would Gallup to mention any "barbed wire or at gunpoint" concerns that might bias their data. What is your source for your claim about such concerns? At the end of my Answer:(Forbes' link to the GfK poll is broken but there is a copy here and a "Free Crimea project" video presentation.) – Keith McClary Sep 28 '20 at 17:33
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It is somewhat unfair to use so-called "Ukraine public opinion" from Wikipedia — because it is the fact, that creates such a gap for you.

Real opinions of people are well described by that map (support of "pro-Russian" Yanukovich, from english wiki):

enter image description here

And that map shows such divides in historical perspective. Note, also, that "added" — was added by the Russian Empire (before 1917), and then the Soviet Union, not by Ukraine itself. You may see similar map if opening history book, or just opening reddit

And that shows dividing by language (was picked from Wikipedia):

enter image description here

Correlates pretty well, doesn't it?

So, in fact, the answer is, there is NO "thinking differently", other than in Ukrainian official opinions. That country is divided in its core, with pro-Western west and pro-Russian east and south.

Since the Ukrainian Government started to suppress ethnic minorities, as Russian or Romanian/Czech in the west, the standoff began. Open and armed, as in the east, or diplomatic — with Romania/Czech Republic in the west.

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    It sounds like you are dismissing the public opinion surveys without explaining why they should be mistrusted or providing alternative and more trustworthy surveys. While I don't doubt that the percentage of people who voted for Yanukovich in 2010 is correlated, it is a bit of a leap to say that it can give people's opinions on union with Russia in 2020. – Obie 2.0 Sep 25 '20 at 18:44
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    It's perfectly plausible that someone could vote for a pro-Russian president without wanting to be part of Russia, or even change their opinion over time, say from 2010 to 2020 - after all, Yanukovich did. – Obie 2.0 Sep 25 '20 at 18:52
  • -1: This post badly needs sources. These pictures circulated in russian social networks during the times of Russian armed invasion to Ukraine, but they are not backed by any evidence, and this post fails to add any. – bytebuster Sep 30 '20 at 19:52
  • @bytebuster, one of the pictures is from Al-Jazeera. It hardly can be named a "russian social network".)) I think, truth just hurt your eyes.) And historical picture don't need to be backed - it is just truth.))))) – user2501323 Oct 1 '20 at 6:01
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    @user2501323, if it is from Al-Jazeera it might be possible to provide with some links. I'm sorry you failed to do that, and this is where my downvote came from. And the other two pictures, where are they from? – bytebuster Oct 1 '20 at 7:48

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