More than 14,000 people have been killed in fighting between Ukraine’s army and the Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
The two self-proclaimed rebel republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, whose independence Moscow recognized on Monday, are situated in the rust belt in eastern Ukraine, and escaped Kyiv’s control in 2014.
Since then, more than 14,000 people have been killed in fighting between Ukraine’s army and the Moscow-supported separatists there.
About the region
Donetsk, surrounded by slag heaps, is the main city in the mining basin of Donbass.
Once named Stalino, it is a gritty industrial hub dominated by mining.
It is also one of the main steel-producing centers of Ukraine.
It has two million inhabitants.
Lugansk, formerly Voroshilovgrad, is also an industrial city of 1.5 million inhabitants.
They are grouped in the basin, on the border with Russia on the northern banks of the Black Sea – home to vast coal reserves.
The presence of Russian speakers came about as many Russian workers were sent there after World War II during the Soviet era.
Conflict since 2014
The regions have been locked in armed conflict with Kyiv’s army since a Kremlin-backed armed uprising following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Their independence, proclaimed following referendums, is not recognized by the international community.
Kyiv and the West say Russia instigated the eastern uprising, pouring arms and troops across the border to bolster them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday he was recognizing their independence.
Donbass is also at the heart of a cultural battle between Kyiv and Moscow, which says that the region, a large part of eastern Ukraine, is Russian speaking and needs to be protected from Ukrainian nationalism.
Efforts to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, laid down in the 2015 Minsk agreements, are deadlocked. Kyiv and the separatists have each accused the other of breaches.
A series of ceasefires have fallen through due to repeated violations by belligerents.
The political strand of the accords, which foresees a large degree of autonomy for the rebel regions and local elections under Ukrainian law, remains a dead letter, with each side blaming the other for failure.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denounced Russia’s recognition of separatist republics as “a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of the Ukraine”.
Each of the two republics is seeking full autonomy from the central government and have their self-proclaimed presidents.
Denis Pushilin, elected in 2018 at an election disputed by Kyiv, is the leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, while Leonid Pasechnik is the leader of the Lugansk separatist region.
Many warlords and separatist officials have been killed over the past few years in attacks, the victims of infighting or in operations by Ukrainian forces, according to reports that could not be verified.
Donetsk’s rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko, killed in a bombing at a Donetsk café in August 2018, is the most prominent rebel victim in the conflict to date.