Physics to understand the Ukrainian conflict

May 25, 2022

Two researchers from IFISC (UIB-CSIC) have analyzed the existence of "the two Ukranias" using statistical physics tools: the data-based evidence does not support this hypothesis.

Massimiliano Zanin and Johann Martinez, researchers at IFISC (UIB-CSIC), have analyzed the Ukrainian conflict from the perspective of statistical physics. In the article, published in Chaos (AIP Publishing), the authors analyzed a dataset of violent events occurring inside Ukraine between January 2021 and before the armed conflict of February 24, 2022.

The "two-Ukraine theory" asserts the existence of clearly defined pro-Western and pro-Russian regions within the country. This hypothesis, however, does not seem to be aligned with the united response of Ukrainians against the Russian invasion. To analyze this problem, they used tools from statistical physics and complex systems. Thanks to the growing number of open intelligence communities, such as the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), more relevant data are available to address studies focused on real conflicts that support or reject these theories.

In the case of the "two Ukrainias", the researchers used two techniques of statistical physics to analyze whether the occurrence of violent events is a consequence of the existence of these two distinct regions within the country itself. They developed this idea on two axes: time and space. In the temporal dimension, they calculated the entropy of the sequence of violent events in the country, which makes it possible to see if the events are random (each event is independent of the others), or on the other hand if there is a regular structure in the events reported in the data.

This makes it possible to determine whether a violent event is correlated with a previous one. On the other hand, in the spatial dimension they reconstructed functional complex networks, where each node represents a region of Ukraine, and pairs of them are connected when they detect that events in one region potentially depend on events occurring in the other. Both analyses, applied to the same data set, allow determining how independent an event is from the rest, both spatially and temporally.

The results obtained do not provide evidence of the existence of the "two Ukranias", nor that the eastern part is being exploited by the western half. According to the authors, this result should be taken into account for a possible resolution of the conflict, as the data suggest that any proposal involving the division of the country would be artificial and would possibly not guarantee long-term stability and peace.

The authors conclude that, with the data used and the techniques employed, the two-Ukraine theory is not supported. While there are internal conflicts within the country, they lack defined geographical boundaries: these conflicts form a complex web of interactions hardly reducible to differences between East and West. Although the article results in a first approximation of the concept, a deeper and more detailed analysis with a larger volume of data is necessary to confirm the result.

M. Zanin and J. H. Martínez. Analyzing international events through the lens of statistical physics: The case of Ukraine, Chaos 32, 051103 (2022). DOI:


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