On May 19th, 2017, IWP graduate student Geoffrey Seroka gave an on-campus lecture titled “Mariupol: the Gates of the Donbass.” His lecture described the economic and strategic significance of Mariupol, a major city in southeastern Ukraine and flashpoint in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists.
The region of Donbass has been riven by separatist violence since March 2014, when protests by pro-Russian and anti-government groups erupted in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of Ukraine.The conflict, otherwise known as the War in Donbass, is part of a wider pro-Russian separatist movement that has rocked Ukraine but has gone widely unreported in the Western media.
Mr. Seroka argued that Mariupol’s significance is twofold. Firstly, the city is of economic importance because it is home to some of Ukraine’s largest iron and steel works, making it one of the most valuable cities in the country; in addition, it is the second-largest seaport in Ukraine after Odessa, and is connected to several other major cities via railway. Secondly, Mariupol is of strategic significance because it has historic and demographic ties to Russia (many of its inhabitants are native Russian speakers), and it is the de facto capital of Donetsk Province, making it a symbolic prize for both the Ukrainian government and the separatist forces.
Finally, Seroka drew attention to the land bridge that Russia began constructing in 2015 to connect Tuzla Island and Taman Peninsula, a project which (besides being illegal according to international law) would have profound political, economic, and environmental implications for Crimea.