The project studies enlistment into Pro-Government Militia groups (or PGMs) in the context of modern armed conflicts. While PGMs as armed groups are getting an increased attention, very little insight has been generated regarding the circumstances under which pro-government combatants choose to join PGMs over the army. I develop survey tools, a survey experiments and a series of semi-structured interviews to study individual-level factors affecting recruitment dynamics in Ukraine, the country that successfully employed PGMs to defend itself against Russian hybrid aggression. The inquiry tests for the role of such factors as trust in the army, emotions, and subjective individual reasons (existential desires), and is aimed at helping policy makers and military analysts better understand combatants' motivation to join the fight and the potential of grassroots mobilization in the context of well-developed Western societies. The results offer several insights. The interview analysis reveals that the ex-combatants situate their choice within a dichotomy of "fight" vs. "serve". These self-identified fighters are driven to PGMs by their existential need for excitement, meaning or the need to "reinvent" themselves. Other most-cited reasons include the lack of trust in the army and informal communitarian obligations before the nation as opposed to the state. On the national level, results of an emotion-based survey experiment suggest that the respondents who experience pride as a result of recent conflict developments are more likely to support potential conflict participation of their friends and family. In contrast, self-efficacious, highly motivated individuals, are interested in joining PGMs as a way to fight for their home while not being constrained by army bureaucracy.
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Sciences
School of Politics, Security and International Affairs
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Campus-only Access)
Shapovalov, Miroslav, "Between Fighting and Serving: How Existential Motivations Shaped Combat Participation in the Donbas War in Ukraine" (2021). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 930.
Restricted to the UCF community until December 2022; it will then be open access.