What Polling Says About Trends in Modern Ukrainian Society?

March 16, 2023
UkraineWorld spoke to Volodymyr Paniotto, Director General of the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology.

Key points — in our brief, #UkraineWorldAnalysis: 

1. On persistence of national-civic consolidation

  • It is difficult to say which trends will persist and which will not. It depends on various circumstances and is significantly affected by how long the war will continue, what sacrifices we will still have to make, and how it ends -- whether we regain all our territories or have to compromise. We can say for sure that geopolitical orientations, attitudes towards Russia and Russians on the one hand, and towards the EU and NATO on the other, will remain even after the war (the attitude towards Russia and Russians had already been deteriorating for many years). 
  • Other changes, such as high trust in the president and the government, will significantly decrease after the war. Nevertheless, I believe that national-civic consolidation will remain in the long term because we do not have significant alternative options.

2. On how the salience of newer European values and older traditional ones

  • Even with an absolute commitment to Euro-integration, some EU requirements on this path can cause controversy in society. Most Ukrainians are willing to sacrifice the speed of joining the EU but only if Ukraine will defend its values. This means that the transition to European values will not be easy, and values will not usually change quickly, even though the war is accelerating these processes. Our study was conducted primarily to show that measuring values is a complex process and that speculation based on unreliable data is possible. It is necessary to rely on data from more thorough and scientifically-based studies, and not to use 1-2 questions whose nuances significantly affect the result.
  • Traditional Ukrainian values ​​largely remain post-Soviet. They include prioritizing security, equality (orientation towards power), isolationism, conservatism, irresponsibility, and paternalism. We need to move towards values ​​of equality before the law, tolerance, openness to change (instead of conservatism), individual responsibility, and mutual assistance (instead of paternalism). As we can see, there are certain shifts towards self-reliance, but values ​​may not change as quickly as we would like.

3. On whether there is a threat to democracy in post-war Ukraine

  • Threats to democracy always exist. Unfortunately, it is never possible to say that the situation is irreversible. We had such hope in 2004 after the Orange Revolution, but in 2010 Yanukovych came to power and began to roll back democracy. Note that he came to power relatively fairly, the majority of Ukrainians really voted for him, and all exit polls aligned with the election results (the problem was in access to media during the election campaign, illegal financing, and other such issues). If it were not for the Revolution of Dignity, our situation would have approached Russia's (the adoption of a "foreign agent" law, dictatorial laws of January 16, and such). Therefore, we need to always monitor threats to democracy and be prepared to fight against them.
  • But I do not see any reason to worry about it now. The rollback of democracy during the war and media restrictions are quite understandable and do not cause concern. After the war, competition among the media and internet media will undoubtedly resume. Zelensky does not seem like a person who is keen to dismantle democracy, as was the case with Yanukovych. Currently, he enjoys maximal levels of support and trust, but as our data shows, Zaluzhny, Prytula, and Klychko compete with him in terms of trust. And most importantly, if Ukrainian society did not allow Yanukovych to usurp power in 2013, then after the war, when people have increased expectations for justice in the post-war structure of the state and there are a lot of weapons laying around, an attempt to usurp power would be suicidal.

4. On potential signs of division in Ukrainian society and whether the pro-Russian sentiments are decreasing in various areas, regions, and age groups

  • The question of the Ukrainian population's unity and cohesion is one of the most important ones. A comment from Arkadiy Ostrovsky, the international editor of The Economist, in an interview with Ukrainska Pravda, is very to the point: "It is impossible to defeat Ukraine from the outside right now. It can probably be undermined from the inside. That is why unity is so important." This opinion has been quoted repeatedly and is supported by many experts. Russia continues to wage a high-intensity information war and make attempts to instill pro-Russian narratives of division. In September 2022, we studied how susceptible Ukrainians were to "division" narratives. We asked respondents about 7 possible "division lines," and the results showed that the vast majority of Ukrainians do not support these narratives. In December 2022, we asked again about 3 particularly serious (in terms of possible destructive consequences) narratives to track the dynamics. They were:  "There is a serious conflict between the political and military leadership of Ukraine," supported by only 10% of the population; "The Ukrainian government is ready to make unacceptable compromises with Russia," supported by only 7% of Ukrainians; and "The West is tired of Ukraine and wants Ukraine to make a deal with Russia," supported by 15%.
  • If before the war in Ukraine there was a significant regional and linguistic-ethnic differentiation іn many characteristics, including attitudes towards Russia, Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainian independence, EU accession, and NATO, now it has decreased significantly, and in some cases even disappeared. For example, in 2021, in Western Ukraine, 89% of respondents indicated that they would vote in favor of EU accession in a referendum, while in the East, only 46% would (a difference of 43 percentage points). Currently, in the West, it is 96%, and in the East, it has skyrocketed to 80% (a gap of 16 percentage points).
  • However, there is another danger. A new basis for social differentiation has emerged: behavior during the war. There are now four different groups in the population: those who did not change their place of residence, internally displaced persons, those who left abroad, and people who were in the occupied territory. Negative attitudes of certain groups towards others, which now manifest themselves in certain cases and in discussions on social media, can significantly affect Ukrainians' unity. For example, negative attitudes of those who stayed towards those who left for Europe reduce the likelihood that people who left will return. They are included in public discourse, read the media, and use social networks. Even without this, with each passing day of the war, a decreasing percentage of people will return because they are learning the languages of where they settled, they have started working, their children have found friends, and they are developing roots. And it is crucial for us that they return, as they are very active people. 70% of those who have left for Europe have higher education, so they represent serious national potential.
  • It is also very important to have a positive attitude towards those who are in occupied territory, as this will determine the integration of these territories after their return. We have conducted some research and found that so far, the overall attitude towards our refugees in Europe is more or less friendly.  For example, 90% of those who stayed have no complaints against women with children who left. The attitude towards the population of the occupied territories after February 24 is somewhat worse, but it does not yet cause concern. However, continuous monitoring of these issues is necessary.
Volodymyr Paniotto, Director General of the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology

This material was prepared with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation.