Network theory and situation in Ukraine

First of all, I think that what is happening at the moment in Ukraine is horrible; in fact, it’s a tragedy not only for Ukrainian and Russian people, but also for the whole world. I still hope that the conflict can and will be solved without violence, in a peaceful manner.
Nevertheless, when I was following the story in the news, I understood that we could actually use the network theory principles to understand the conflict dynamics in southeastern regions of Ukraine.

So, in this post I would like to avoid politics, discussions about who’s right and who’s wrong, as well as calling names, and look at the situation from the positions of social networks scholars instead.  My small research is based on the information available on different Ukrainian and Russian web sites, discussions with friends in Ukraine, as well as on some reports in Western press.

As we know, the whole population of Earth can be described in terms of social networks. This enormous network consists of myriads of different more or less dense clusters connected with each other by strong or weak ties, as well as of structural holes.

The dense clusters are usually formed on the basis of homophily principle (i.e. some common attributes, such as connection, friendship and even language). Propinquity (often geographical) is another characteristic of network clusters. These properties of social networks help to develop a sense of “trust” among their members, as well as generate social support, cohesion and embeddedness, in other words, make people feel themselves  as a part of one group and support group decisions. 


Based on this information about social networks’ and developments of other revolutions in Eastern European countries, we could suppose that all the population of Ukraine should more or less support the events (riot, shift in power, etc.). However, the situation in the western and eastern parts of Ukraine was different since the beginning of the riot.

Let’s look at the overall situation with protests starting from November 2013. While western Ukrainians were actively involved in protests, eastern Ukrainians (although they in general supported the shift in power) were more cautious – there weren’t a lot of news about takeovers of administrative buildings (in comparison to the number of news about the buildings takeovers in the western part of the country).

The situation has changed in February 2014, when one of the leaders of protesters (which now could influence the domestic policy of the country) announced that he would like to revoke a law about the official use of second language in regions where more than 10% of ethnic minorities live. From this moment on the situation in eastern regions destabilized: information about protests against the revoke of the law and even against new government has appeared both in Ukrainian and Russian news channels. Some even say that eastern Ukrainians asked to attach their territories to Russia, but I would be careful not to believe all the information we see in the news. At the moment, the information war is on, and it’s even worse than the one during Georgia war in 2008.

Anyway, one thing is clear: the difference in attitudes between eastern and western regions we observe right now cannot be explained by simple variations inside country network cluster. Rather we can suppose that the country social network consists of several different dense clusters that are connected with each other by weak ties.

I created a very rough drawing of the dense clusters that exist right now in the Ukrainian social network. It is based on homophily principle (language, traditions, historical background) and also illustrates ties with other networks in bordering countries. As you can see, this drawing supports our hypothesis about the structure of social network in Ukraine. When something threatens the existence of the cluster created on principle of homophily, the density of the ties within this cluster increases, the weak ties with neighboring clusters become weaker or even disappear, and numerous structural holes emerge. Since the brokers that helped to bridge these holes and integrate them into one network have disappeared as well, different clusters within one network can’t communicate with each other and that leads to conflict. That is what we observe right now in the eastern regions of the country.


That’s one example how social networks theory can help us to understand and explain the ongoing processes in societies all over the world.

Have something to add? Any other ideas on the application of social network theory? Please, share your opinion with me in comments.


Posted on March 2, 2014, in COMM506, MACT and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on schibolet and commented:
    I can recommend this blog as a one interesting interpretation of what is happening in the Ukraine, this is of course not poetry but enjoy 🙂

  2. This is really interesting. Thank you for providing a great interpretation of the situation through the lens of network theory. The map was very helpful, too, as I had no idea just how evenly divided, geographically, the situation is. As someone overseas, it’s important to hear about the situation from various angles that are not government/media specific.

  3. Tanya, thank you for this. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the applicability of network theory to our world – and it happens every day. Especially the point that “when something threatens the existence of the cluster created on principle of homophily, the density of the ties within this cluster increases, the weak ties with neighboring clusters become weaker or even disappear, and numerous structural holes emerge,” – we get closer to our own network when there is a threat.

  4. Reblogged this on Birds of a feather. and commented:
    Great post on networking theory and the situation in Ukraine.

  5. Thanks for taking on this research Tayna. It’s very interesting to visualize how the networks are forming/shifting in Ukraine. Homophily and propinquity are big factors here.

  6. Thanks for this informative post Tanya. It’s a refreshing and important explanation of one aspect of the situation – and a perspective that is certainly not making it into the corporate mainstream news media in the west. What a great way to use network theory!

  1. Pingback: 10 Master Ideas of Social Networks: brought to you by MACT 2013 Cohort! | Tanya's blog about everything

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