Kiev (AFP) - Portraits of President Vladimir Putin in the Ukrainian capital? Plenty -- but they're printed on toilet paper.
The Kremlin leader's stern features stare from novelty rolls sold for 20 hrvyna (1.5 dollars) in Kiev gift shops. He appears on T-shirts emblazoned with an obscene slogan. He's on doormats.
"He's popular," jokes Svitlana Khotumsova, 25, who runs a small shop under Maidan Square, epicentre of Ukraine's pro-Western street revolts.
That the Russian leader should be loathed in Ukraine -- where he sent troops to annex Crimea in March and supports a separatist rebellion in another region -- might not be surprising.
But hatred for Putin is only the thin end of a very big wedge driving Ukraine in a historic, perhaps irrevocable, break from its neighbour.
- Ancient ties -
Putin hoped to keep Ukraine in Russia's orbit, but triggered the opposite, Ukrainians say -- a patriotic movement that has transformed the way they see themselves forever.
"It's the one good thing Putin has done for Ukraine," philosopher Myroslav Popovych told AFP.
Ties between Russia and Ukraine have been under strain since the 2004 pro-Western street uprising dubbed the Orange Revolution. But today's war, in which at least 4,000 people have been reported killed, would have been considered impossible less than a year ago.
The two countries don't just share a 1,208 mile (1,944 km) border, or -- until the crisis -- well integrated economies.
They have closely related languages, a majority of their populations adhering to Orthodox Christianity, and cultural similarities that go far beyond enthusiasm for vodka.
In fact, as the location of Kieven Rus, an ancient state that introduced Christianity to the region, these lands on the eastern fringe of Europe were the cradle of both modern Ukraine and Russia.
"What is striking... are the cultural similarities rather than differences. This is a clash of brothers rather than a clash of civilisations," wrote Akos Lada, who is researching war between states with shared identities at Harvard University, in The Washington Post.
- 'We're being reborn' -
However, Ukrainians say today's patriotic surge has been a long time in the making.
They point out that those brotherly relations were mired in tragedy, especially the Holodomor, the name given to the starvation of millions of peasants during Soviet dictator Stalin's forced collectivisation of agriculture in the 1930s.
Less dramatic, but even more pervasive was the damage done to Ukraine's identity during long decades of Russification, a cultural and linguistic policy applied across the Soviet Union.
In 1991, Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union, which collapsed shortly after. But it was the Orange Revolution and the dramatic battle by Ukrainians to wrest their country into a pro-European future that really set off today's crisis.
When protesters toppled Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych in February, Moscow annexed Crimea, the separatist rebellion began in the east, and descent into chaos began -- along with a nationalist awakening.
Frail and well-spoken, Iryna Podoprigora, 65, is hardly one of the street fighters who took on Yanukovych's security service thugs on Maidan Square.
But she shares their sentiments.
- Winning Ukraine, losing Ukrainians -
"We believe that we are being reborn," Podoprigora said in the Kiev shop she runs selling traditional Ukrainian clothes and hand-crafted toys. "Consciousness of our ethnicity and our nationality is so strong now. We've come to understand our deep, historic roots."
Moscow justified its takeover of Crimea and support for rebels in Ukraine's industrial east as a mission to protect ethnic-Russians from what it claimed were Fascist nationalists taking power in Kiev.
Analysts say the real reason was the geopolitical battle for the borderlands between Russia and the West. For years, the Kremlin watched the European Union and NATO alliance expand to the east, and in Ukraine, the theory goes, Putin drew a line.
The problem, though, is that while Moscow now controls two large chunks of Ukraine, it appears to have lost the vast majority of Ukrainians themselves.
"We now have quite high levels of national consolidation and patriotism," Popovych said.
"History, in this rather unpleasant way, gave us a way to reach this goal of fighting for freedom," he said. Putin "pushed us into this."
- Bitter divide -
The big Slavic split appears to reach right through society.
Rumours this week of a pro-Russian march in central Kiev to celebrate pan-Slav relations attracted dozens of edgy nationalist youths promising to "keep order," or, likely, to start a fight. In the end, no pro-Russians showed up.
But when a seemingly deranged, elderly man shouted, "We're all Slavs!" he was immediately surrounded and harangued.
"Our great, great grandfathers were Russian!" the man yelled.
"Maybe yours, but not mine," a woman shot back acidly.
In the more genteel setting of her folklore shop, Podoprigora explained that she too has experienced the bitter divide, which the media on both sides has done much to accentuate.
"I don't even feel like watching Russian television or seeing their films. I can't stand it," said Podoprigora, who, like a majority of Ukrainians, is bilingual.
"We were so close. I have a cousin living there and we can't even talk now. We can't understand each other anymore."