They didn't need to assimilate it. Like Putin once said Ukraine is brotherly nation. All Ukrainians can speak Russian - and often chose to speak it over Ukrainian - and there was not much cultural issues in Donbas - at least not anything that would be worse than stuff that happens anywhere else - including Russia it self. As long as presidents talk well of neighbors - there won't be any issues. Real problems only started when Putin started using aggressive rethorics towards Ukraine saying that they aren't real nation and was merely given lands as gift that now Putin decided to take back. Even if it was gift - what kind of people come to take back gifts? This rethorics from Putin - compounded with historical genocides comited by Moscow regimes in past - gave birth xenophobia towards Moskals - Russians supporting Moscow's regime and this rethorics. Putin also sponsored political campaigns to support this land grab idea - and naturally in Ukraine rethorics to fight it back started to build up. Problems would happen in any country if your neighboring country's president starts talking about taking lands. For example Trump could say that he wants to take Mexico - and surely he could find plenty of useful idiots in Mexico to support it - this would create conflicts in Mexico - and then Trump would say that he needs to denacify Mexico because there is too much hate towards pro-americans.

Tension between Ukrainians and pro-Putin Russians especially increased in 2014 when Putin started his military invasion in Donbas region, occupied Crimea, Luhansk, Donetsk with military forces. And launched a propaganda camapaign saying that it was people of Donbas that are doing it. No - people of Donbas - prior to this Russian military campaign - didn't reallly mobilized any serious political moviement. There was some movement - but this kind of movements could exists in literally every country - especially when you put as much money as Putin to support these pro-russian campaigns. It was all fabricated by Putin - and like it's common for Putin - once he occupied territory by force - he moved some ex criminals into position of leaders of newly called "republic" - for example Donetsk leader previously was leader of a scam pyramid scheme - he was not even popular among people - he was simply someone who Putin can trust. And then in Donbas anyone who spoke out against - was jailed. Many fearing for them selves simply moved out.

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