PARIS (AFP) - The two self-proclaimed rebel republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, whose independence Moscow recognised on Monday (Feb 21), are situated in the rust belt in eastern Ukraine and broke away from Kyiv's control in 2014.
More than 14,000 people have since been killed in fighting between Ukraine's army and the Moscow-supported separatists there.
Coalmines and steelworks
Donetsk, surrounded by slagheaps, 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 centres of Ukraine.
It has two million inhabitants.
Luhansk, the former 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, which is 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 insurgency following Russia's occupation of Crimea in 2014.
Their independence, proclaimed following referendums, is not recognised 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 recognising 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, region, 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, each side blaming the other for the failure.
Each of the two republics are seeking full autonomy from the central government and have their own 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 Luhansk separatist region.
Many warlords and separatist officials have been killed over the past few years in attacks, infighting or in operations by Ukrainian forces, according to reports which 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.