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#15. Call of Duty: Research in Warzone

Updated: Nov 24, 2022

Speech by Elena Koneva at the 75th Annual Conference of the World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR)


On February 24, Putin announced the invasion of Ukraine. A day later, several spontaneously assembled research groups were preparing questionnaires under their own steam. Four days later, about 300 operators from several call centres were polling Russian residents about their support for the "special military operation".

We rushed to survey without even realizing what had happened. We thought the country was in shock. Through quick independent research, we wanted to show the authorities the people's reaction and warn against further destructive decisions.

It turned out to be more complicated – the special military operation entered the minds of 60% of the population like a hot knife in butter.

The mass consciousness turned out to be ready to accept the war.

Under conditions of censorship, and aggressive mass propaganda, the share of those opposed to the war was much smaller.

Why do we need the sociology of war?

The sociology of war demanded new approaches to all aspects of research. They predicted developments to plan research content, phrasing questions under censorship, and accounting for biases in the general and sample universe.

But the main challenge became interpreting the data and searching for an answer to the question: of how this war was made possible in people's minds and what might influence the "infernal mixture of optimism and fear".

ExtremeScan focuses on the research of countries in the context of war. In addition to Ukraine and Russia are Belarus, Moldova, and Kazakhstan.

My presentation today is based on research conducted in Ukraine and Russia.

Why do we need the sociology of war?
Why do we need the sociology of war?

1. We hope this is the continent's last war of this magnitude. But since it is happening, it is necessary to actively study the state of society in the countries involved to see its genesis empirically.

2. By the beginning of the war, there was virtually no free sociology left in Russia. Censorship, regulations, and repression effectively led to a ban on the profession, leaving the study of public opinion to state institutions.

But at the same time, the war mobilized independent sociologists in Russia, who operate voluntarily and mostly unpaid while being aware of the risks.

3. Years of well-funded propaganda have set the stage for this war. The sociology of war is needed to counter Russian propaganda and information policy in the countries affected. It allows us to target content and determine communication channels.

4. War is a unique prism, which can be seen as a social "Collider" for a virtual laboratory study. In it, we gain access to states of mind and search for archetypes that are nearly impossible to study that deeply in peacetime.

5. In conditions where a traditional statistic cannot be collected or is incomplete (as in Ukraine) or is falsified (as in Russia), surveys provide a dependable humanitarian information source.

How to estimate the consequences of the war

Comparing the available official sources of information with the data received, we are convinced that the latter, in the absence of other sources, can be a reliable guide to the consequences of the war.

According to surveys and the United Nations data, estimates of the number of refugees from Ukraine are virtually identical; today, it is 7.2 million people.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, 12% of Ukrainian territory remained occupied in October. Our survey-based estimate is 14%.

Surveys as a Source of Humanitarian Statistics
Surveys as a Source of Humanitarian Statistics

The surveys show massive humanitarian effects that have a valid correlation with their regional differentiation. The closer to the front lines, the worse the situation.

32% of respondents were forced to leave their homes, and 18% went abroad—the war-separated 27% of families. 4% of Ukrainian respondents experienced torture and violence by the Russian military.

Hundreds of thousands and millions of Ukrainians affected by the war

The same data are perceived much more materially when expressed in absolute values.

We extrapolate the percentages to the corrected general universe: 32 million people if to exclude those who left the country and the population of Russian-occupied territories.

Three million were unable to get medical care. 2 million were starving. Nearly a million lost close family members and friends.

Thousands and Millions of Affected Ukrainians
Thousands and Millions of Affected Ukrainians

The Ukrainian research industry

Our Ukrainian colleagues collect these data under harsh conditions. But thanks to the excellent service of mobile providers, interviewers reach respondents reliably and representatively.

It is important to note that the readiness of Ukrainian respondents to cooperate with interviewers got higher than in peacetime.

In the first two months of the war, Ukrainian interviewers even detected military personnel in the army and territorial defense among respondents. They stopped asking questions about the military services of respondents for ethical and censorship reasons.

Russian researchers can only dream of such availability of respondents.

I am infinitely proud of my colleagues from Ukraine and my cooperation with them.

Today I am delighted to present not only Ukrainian data but also a flash summary of the research industry state in Ukraine.

I just attended Ukrainian round table and was greatly impressed by the number and level of scientists and their dedication to the profession, even amid the war.

One can only imagine how difficult and dangerous it was to conduct in-depth interviews in occupied Mariupol.

In the Ukrainian opinion research industry
In the Ukrainian opinion research industry

I want to thank my Ukrainian partner, the research company Info Sapience.

We coordinate surveys and methodological materials.

We exchange data and model mirror topics covering the war situation simultaneously from the Russian and Ukrainian sides.

While there is unity in assessments of the war and Russia's role, we have disagreements about collaboration with Russians.

A recent joint project by ExtremeScan and Info Sapiens focuses on the possibility and format of collaboration between Ukrainians and Russians on anti-war issues, modelling the postwar world and attitudes toward opposition-minded citizens and those fleeing Russia.

Dialogue and the Responsibility of Russians

We have done a joint project, but our working title is different.

For me, it's a study on "anti-war collaboration," Inna Volosevich, director of Info Sapience, says it's a project about "Separation from the Russians."

We are both right.

Indeed, on questions about attitudes toward Russians, Ukrainians answered largely negatively.

A relative minority of Ukrainians seek revenge, but the most massive desire of Ukrainians is not to see, not to know Russians, to erase everything Russian from their lives.

Cancelling Russians
Cancelling Russians

At the same time, to achieve their strategic goals, Ukrainians are ready for pragmatic interaction with the right Russians.

We asked questions about responsibility for the war unleashed, readiness to cooperate with Russians in anti-war activities, and whether dialogue with the future government in Russia would be reasonable if it were to condemn the war.

Dialogue and the Responsibility of Russians
Dialogue and the Responsibility of Russians

By jointly analyzing the cooperation with Russians and the dialogue with the authorities, we again get two parity parties.

The Pragmatics of Anti-War Actions
The Pragmatics of Anti-War Actions

General Cooperation Party

27%: believe it is acceptable to cooperate with Russians against the war and that a dialogue with new authorities in Russia is reasonable if they condemn the war.

Rejection Party

30%: no cooperation with Russians and no dialogue with any authorities in Russia.

We see that under different segmentation, we get a consistent group of Ukrainians who, under certain conditions, are willing to cooperate for practical goals.

The numbers of support for cooperation and assistance are unexpectedly high.

They should also be used as a reference point when discussing the cancelling of Russians and European countries' non-acceptance of Russian migrants.

How Russia accepted Ukrainian refugees and captives from Ukraine

9% of Ukrainian respondents know people who voluntarily left for Russia, and 6% know people who were forcibly deported. The range of contacts of Ukrainians in Russia on the Russian side is enormous: from Russian military and filtration camp staff to volunteers and ordinary citizens.

Their impressions of interactions with Russians vary, but generally, the experience is split roughly in half between positive and negative. Much of the positive experience is related to the work of Russian volunteers.

Volunteering in Russia has gained momentum due to the war, and helping Ukrainian refugees, according to confidential research, has become a form of anti-war resistance for many volunteers.

Ukrainian Refugees in Russia
Ukrainian Refugees in Russia

War aftermath in Russia and Ukraine

Ukraine has experienced disproportionately harsher consequences of the war than Russia. Loss of home, job, and income, 67% experience anxiety or depression.

War aftermath in Russia and Ukraine. Eight months later
War aftermath in Russia and Ukraine. Eight months later

But despite all the hardships, Ukrainians today are proud of their country, army, and volunteers and are optimistic about the future. We see nation unity in all studies in Ukraine.

One can only admire the Ukrainians' incredible solidarity and willingness for fighting without compromising with the aggressor. This phenomenon will be a subject of historical studies.

Ukrainian spirit
Ukrainian spirit

92% of Ukrainians are not ready to give up captured territories in exchange for an end to the war. 70% of Ukrainians are willing to fight with weapons in their hands. This figure has increased slightly since the beginning of the war and remains stable. Partisan resistance, the army, and territorial defense are proving their readiness.

Support for the “Special Military Operation” and mobilization by Russian citizens

The main subject of our analysis in these months has been the support for the war among Russian residents. In a mass discourse in Russia and abroad, there are 70-80% support figures.

We asked Ukrainians: what percentage of Russians support the war? And we got the same result: 80%. Today we heard similar figures in the reports of our colleagues, and tomorrow we will probably hear the same.

Despite wide circulation, these data are mistaken.

Unfortunately, there is no time for a lengthy argument, so that I show you a table on the dynamics of support for the special military operation and the mobilization.

For further understanding, welcome to our website or the WAPOR library.

The dynamics of support for the special military operation and the mobilization
The dynamics of support for the special military operation and the mobilization

The level of support for special operations/war dropped in the summer from about 60 percent to 50 percent.

We do a lot of segmentation and estimate genuine, conscious support for the military operation at 30-40%. This figure is half of the widely circulated official ratings of Russian support for the war.

But even this is a monstrously high figure.

The reasons and the origin of such support are well-researched.

Support for the mobilization and verbal readiness to go to war turned out to be unexpectedly high. But the war party is opposed by the pacifist camp.

According to various estimates, the Ministry of Defense mobilized more than half a million people in the last 8 weeks.

But more than 400,000 men of conscription age left Russia, and an indeterminate number evaded war participation.

For the first time since the war, we have traced a change in the general universe and a shift in the sample universe.

However, the willingness to go to war is a reality. The suggestive power and content of propaganda, the sense of duty to defend the homeland, or simply submission, never cease to amaze.

Who are the belligerent Russians?

The genuine militarists are relatively few: such "hawks" are about 20%.

The core support of the war with Ukraine among Russians
The core support of the war with Ukraine among Russians

They are the reference group for Putin and the target audience of one of the most effective propaganda ever.

The "hawks" characteristic traits are euphoria, a supremacy complex, an accentuated power masculinity, and the anticipation of an inevitable victory march.

Behind their triumphant proclamations emerge complexes of low social subjectivity, the inability to influence their own lives decisively. In this sense, the attack on someone else's sovereignty becomes a kind of compensation for them.

What motivates the other supporters of the mobilization?

Fatalism. We see a more significant lack of subjectivity, repeatedly confirmed in our research.

The chance of making a living in the situation of poverty.

A vague sense of duty, at times incredibly paradoxical. It is essential to do qualitative research to hear: "We have done so much evil in Ukraine that Ukrainians will inevitably come for revenge, and then I will have to go defend my home."

The second phase of the Russian spirit
The second phase of the Russian spirit

Russians are scattered and confused, and Russia's future today is not palpable in our respondents' answers.

No matter the answer to the direct survey’s questions, only an insignificant fraction of Russian people are confident and optimistic. By all indications, the war has entered its second phase, with anxiety and fear dominating most of Russia.

The sociology of war: fighting for peace

And to conclude, I want to mention one more role of the sociology of war. For Congress participants, developing best practices for communicating research data to policymakers is a familiar task.

For us, this is a new experience. Working in real-time has encouraged us to see policymakers' mistakes and missed opportunities.

We have to provide not only data analytics but actionable insights as well.

I can cite our attempts to communicate an empirically substantiated understanding to stakeholders and the broad public that the war has finally divided Russians into two different populations.

Only some people can see that.

President Zelenskyy said: "let them (Russians) live in their own world until they change their philosophy" - this statement has no addressee.

About 30-40% of the population represents today's belligerent Russia, and they hardly would change their "philosophy."

But there are other 40% who stay in Russia or leave Russia, they do not accept this war, and they are not the bearers of that imperial "philosophy."

These "other" Russians react in various ways – fleeing abroad, migrating internally, protesting, sabotaging, and actively resisting in the media and real life.

Hundreds of lawyers defend activists, political prisoners, draftees, and the mobilised.

Journalists, risking their freedom and lives, conduct war crimes investigations.

About 100,000 volunteers inside Russia help Ukrainian refugees.

More radical anonymous groups sabotage army supply lines and fire military recruiting offices.

Support and cooperation with these other Russians is not just a matter of justice.

These people are a resource for fighting beyond the front lines.

Distinguishing them, despite the current conjuncture, is one of our Sociology of War goals.

I hope it will help to move from the Sociology of War to the Sociology of Post-War.


Dubai United Arab Emirates 10-13 November 2022

75th Annual Conference of the World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR)

Parallel Session: Ukraine: Public Opinion in a time of War

Chair: Colin Irwin (University of Liverpool, UK)


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