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Ukrainian society.Twenty months of the full-scale war

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Elena Koneva's presentation at the annual conference of the Japanese Association of Public Opinion Researchers, November 2023

 

Good afternoon, dear colleagues!

My name is Elena Koneva. I am originally from Russia but have resided in Cyprus for eight years. 

For 25 years, I led COMCON, Russia's premier research company, which eventually became a part of the global Ipsos network.

With the invasion of Russia of Ukraine in 2022, I have extended my research efforts to include Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Belarus, and other nations that were once part of the Soviet Union. For this goal, I established ExtremeScan, a non-profit and non-governmental organization. This agency is a collaborative effort of independent researchers and scientists from various countries.

It is my great honor today to share an analysis of Ukrainian society, shaped by the impact of 20 months of ongoing war.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to this professional audience, and I hope that my presentation will be helpful to you.

Ukrainian Research Industry

I want to start by saying that the professional Ukrainian research industry is alive and actively, selflessly working despite the extreme conditions of the war.

Ukrainian researchers conduct telephone and online surveys and qualitative research.

The high qualification allows them to obtain reliable results, considering the active migration of the population, the occupied territories, and the sensitivity of conducting interviews.

It should be noted that the level of cooperation of Ukrainian respondents has decreased slightly, and there is a reverse effect: in conditions of experienced stress, a call from an interviewer can be perceived as an opportunity to share experiences and as a symbol of 'normalcy of life.'

Even respondents in occupied territories, where participating in Ukrainian surveys carries great risks, often welcome a call from the 'Big land.' But in this case, the interviewer uses a more 'safe' questionnaire to not interrupt the survey and not expose the respondent to risk.

Sources

The presentation is based on data from seven institutes and organizations, but this is only part of the available research. In preparing the presentation, I tried to use the most exciting data from different sources. However, there is a relatively considerable overlap of topics among different companies, and the results are similar. This only confirms the reliability of the research.

Sociological research during the war as a source of humanitarian statistics

In conditions of war, public opinion polls, in addition to their primary purpose, play an essential role as a vitally necessary source of humanitarian statistics. Even the Institutes of the United Nations relied on such research in Ukraine during the war.

Humanitarian statistics

The list of consequences of the war was supplemented with new sad items as the research progressed. Here are the most basic ones. The indicators continuously grow. It is essential to remember that behind the percentages are millions of people. 9% of Ukrainians who have lost family members are about 3 million people. Only 8% of Ukrainians and their family members have not experienced any losses.

Stress factors

The conflict in Ukraine began in 2014 and affected about 20% of Ukrainians living in combat zones by the beginning of the full-scale invasion in 2022. By spring 2022, the occupied area had increased to 27%, and only some residents managed to leave. A significant part of the civilian population, in addition to military personnel, participated in combat operations. Currently, only 56% of Ukrainians have not lived in combat zones.

The Stresses of War 1

Studying war stresses is vital, allowing us to understand the humanitarian situation. A third of Ukrainians have experienced the traumatic experience of death and injury of people in their immediate proximity. 34% have left their homes, 14% have had their homes destroyed. 10% of people do not know the fate of their housing. One of the most stress-inducing factors is leaving one's home.

The Stresses of War 2

A wide range of stress factors is about close relatives: experiencing threats to their life and health, loss of life, mobilization of men, separation from family - all this was experienced by 60-75% of Ukrainians. 

It is important to note that the war is taking place in reality and the media space. 

80% of Ukrainians are constantly stressed by watching reports about the war, sensing their involvement in the disasters experienced by the whole country.

Levels of psychological distress

The study of stress allows us to assess the proportion of the distressed population.

Comparative analysis of data from 2023 and 2020 (COVID year) shows the same distress coverage.

However, the duration and intensity of military stresses may lead to further deterioration.

Women are more sensitive and dependent on stress factors: 37% of women experience distress compared to 24% of men. The highest risk of distress is among displaced persons.

Resources of mental resilience

Where do Ukrainians find constructive sources of overcoming stress?

The primary sources are communication, and the most important is communication with colleagues and friends.

Ukrainians' inherent optimism helps them cope with stress. It is essential to feel oneself as a subject of what is happening, to influence one's life, the life of loved ones, and the country as a whole. During the war, people in Ukraine turned not only to God but also to other high values: interpersonal interaction, morality, and, surprisingly, knowledge.

What parameters of the public consciousness of Ukrainians were affected by the war


National identity in dynamics

Ukraine, throughout Soviet history and for some time after, represented a unique heterogeneous linguistic-ethnic mix. 30 years ago, 28% of respondents called themselves Russian and Ukrainian. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a complex process of forming a national identity in the direction from the Soviet base to the Western European one.

Proud to be Ukrainian

Russia, in Putin's time, made serious propaganda efforts to prevent Ukraine from breaking away from Russia. But it didn't help.

All of this - Ukraine's increasing orientation towards Europe, Russia's outbreak of war against Georgia in 2008, the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, anti-Ukrainian rhetoric in Russia before a full-scale war, and a full-scale invasion in 2022 - has led to a complete ethno-political consolidation of the Ukrainian nation.

The approval of government’ efficiency is not endless

The war significantly changed the political views of Ukrainians. They began to view the state and government authorities differently, valuing them more while maintaining a critical stance.

By May 2022, a clear majority gave positive evaluations, contrasting sharply with the end of 2021. The initial effect of euphoria from unity faded, and subsequent surveys show a decrease in positive responses and an increase in negative assessments. However, the situation remains significantly better than before the war.

Sustainable optimism despite the war

The war also led to a noticeable increase in social optimism regarding the future of the Ukrainian state. Interestingly, this positive trend shows no significant signs of decreasing. Although assessments of prospects have somewhat declined, most respondents still believe the situation will improve.

The resilience of Ukrainians in the face of adversity

Subjective assessments of the living conditions of most Ukrainians have also improved. The sudden increase in national-level threats and Ukraine's remarkable resilience forced citizens to recognize that even in difficult times, the population lives in satisfactory conditions. 

Subsequent changes have yet to be significant so far. This corresponds to the surprising phenomenon of assessing the country's economy. In 2022 and 2023, the state of the national economy was rated higher than in the pre-war years.

Admissibility of criticism of the authorities in Ukrainian society

Criticism of the central government is growing in Ukraine. Despite the war, the share of those who believe it is possible and necessary to criticize the authorities has almost tripled in a year and a half, from 26% to 70%. But it is essential to emphasize the pragmatism of Ukrainians: criticism from the population does not lead to a desire for immediate re-elections. More than 80% oppose holding elections during the war. Victory remains a priority.

Approval of the work of the institutions of power

Today, the President of Ukraine [Volodymyr Zelensky] is approved by an unprecedented majority of Ukrainians, with only a more minor part wishing to replace him.

The main criticism from citizens is mainly directed at the Government, the Verkhovna Rada, and local authorities. Ukrainians perceive the reform of decentralization of power as one of the most successful ones. However, there is a tendency to form an image of the national government needing to be more sufficiently responsible in wartime conditions. As a result, there is a risk of rolling back from the idea of decentralizing power.

Dynamics of approval of the work of the AFU and the President of Ukraine

The approval rating of President Volodymyr Zelensky in December 2021 was only 27%. We see a phenomenal effect of consolidation under the flag in the very first weeks of the war. In the opinion of the international community, leaders of countries, and the Ukrainian society itself, Zelensky has excellently shown himself to be a leader of a country fighting against an aggressor. They call him the 'War President,' emphasizing his courage. And at the same time, such a title means that after the war, the country expects competitive elections.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine were the absolute leader of trust throughout the war.

It is an organic result of decisive confrontation with superior enemy forces, high moral spirit, and the readiness of the male population to defend their homeland despite the complexity of mobilization. Given the broad scope of mobilization, the army for Ukrainians is the people's army.

Prioritising Reforms: Fighting Corruption #1

Ukrainians are now ready to engage in the most pressing reforms without waiting for the war's end.

The society has come to realize that the main internal problem of the country is corruption. Corruption in Ukraine has become a socio-cultural artefact and an integral part of everyday life in any sphere of activity. Therefore, the need for reforms in this area is recognized by 90% of Ukrainians. Even the tasks related to the war are in second place. It is important to note that 64% of people see concrete steps in the fight against corruption.

Who should fight corruption

Several government institutions are involved in reforms aimed at solving this painful problem.

First, from whom does the population expect actions to overcome corruption?

Bodies from the new anti-corruption infrastructure are in first place. However, 56% of Ukrainians believe that both new and old anti-corruption bodies cannot fight corruption. In this situation, the primary responsibility falls on the shoulders of the President and his administration.

Opinion on corruption

Corruption is a powerful trigger for Ukrainians. For ordinary citizens, it embodies both the moral-ethical dimension of injustice and the reason for the insufficiently high standard of living. Against the backdrop of the invasion of Ukraine, there is an increase in trust, primarily in institutions that are related to repelling the enemy. But trust in judicial institutions, courts, the prosecutor's office, or anti-corruption bodies must be higher.

Fighting corruption is a matter of Ukraine's survival as a whole. On the one hand, Western partners may limit support for Ukraine due to corruption. On the other hand, this can affect Ukrainians' perception of justice in the state. And this depends on their motivation for volunteer work and protection from the enemy.

Ukraine and its Allies

Which countries and to what extent are allies of Ukraine

From the first days of the full-scale war, Ukraine has been receiving unprecedented assistance from many countries and international institutions.

This assistance significantly impacts the image of countries as allies of Ukraine. But it depends on more than just the size of the help. The traditional closeness of people, the public position of country leaders, and consistency in policy regarding sanctions against Russia are essential. GR and PR play a significant role. In this regard, Japan, which significantly assists Ukraine, could strengthen communication links with Ukrainians.

Attitudes towards Ukraine's accession to the EU

The European Union acts as a strategic partner for Ukraine.

A new page in the country's history began at the end of 2013 with the Euromaidan - a protest against President Yanukovych's refusal to sign the association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union.

Nevertheless, even after the success of the Revolution of Dignity, the proportion of Ukrainians supporting EU membership did not grow significantly, although it remained high.

The situation changed radically only after Russia's invasion.

Is it important for Ukraine to be part of the European Union?

77% of Ukrainians today believe it is vital for Ukraine to be part of the European Union. There are several motives for this. Survey results show Ukraine's priority is security and economic development. But the main factor today is security, so the desire to join NATO sharply increased during the war.

However, Ukrainians do not reduce Euro-Atlantic integration to a practical pursuit of protection and well-being. Among Ukrainians, 95% want to see Ukraine as a fully functioning democracy. Ukrainians are increasingly discussing democracy, the rule of law, and Ukraine's European identity.

How do you assess Ukraine's readiness to join the EU?

In November 2023, the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyne, described Ukraine's progress in reforms as brilliant, mentioning the reform of the justice system, curbing the pressure of oligarchs, and measures to stop money laundering. But Ukraine still has a long way to go to meet all the conditions. 

Ukrainians know the requirements that Ukraine must meet to join the European Union. Soberly assessing the state of the country, 43% of Ukrainians believe that further reforms in Ukraine are necessary before it can be accepted as a member of the EU. Only 22% believe that Ukraine is ready to join the EU now, and 20% believe it is not.

How often do you hear about EU efforts to help Ukraine during the war?

Ukrainians must know about the active assistance of various countries. On the one hand, this improves the country's image in the eyes of the Ukrainian population. On the other hand, it strengthens Ukrainians' internal confidence in the country's position and allows them to look to the future optimistically.

Three-quarters of Ukrainians hear about EU assistance at least once a week.

Usefulness and sufficiency of EU aid

Just as many consider the help of the European Union useful, and only a third consider it sufficient. The main dissatisfaction is associated with limited supplies of weapons. Ukrainians know that Ukraine lacks weapons and think that it is the main reason for the failure of the counter-offensive.

Western aid dependent on Ukrainian army's successes

A third of Ukraine's population considers that if significant progress is not made in the counter-offensive, there is a risk of reducing assistance.

However, those who do not believe in the possibility of such decisions are 1.5 times more.

Evaluation of the West's readiness to make concessions to Russia

The topic of Western countries' fatigue with the war in Ukraine is actively raised in the press, both Western and Ukrainian, and Ukrainians are aware of it. The share of Ukrainians who believe that the West is so tired of the war that it is ready to persuade Ukraine to make concessions to Russia has grown from 15 to 30 percent in a year and a half. This narrative, of course, weakens people's faith that Ukraine will achieve its goals.

Peace? Yes, but on Ukraine's terms

Assessing Russia's Military Potential: Growing Pessimism

Over eight months, the share of people with the following view has grown from 22% to 49%: Russia has so many reserves that even the help of all countries involved will not help Ukraine end the war on its terms. 

The alternative point of view - the belief that Russia has exhausted itself and, with the help of other countries, Ukraine will force it to accept its terms - has fallen from 62% to 43% in a relatively short time.

The counter-offensive has not been as successful as everyone had hoped. We must honestly say that Ukraine is now psychologically going through the most challenging moment of the entire war.


Willingness to make territorial concessions

But so far, this has not shifted the firm position of Ukrainians not to make territorial concessions to Russia, neither for the sake of peace nor to preserve the country's independence. This chart shows the correlation of these positions with the assessment of Russia's military potential. 

Even if the assessment is high and the threat is significant, 73% of Ukrainians must still be ready to cede land.

Terms of peace

On some issues, Ukrainians can be inclined towards compromises, but the percentage is insignificant. 18% are ready to give up NATO membership and to grant the Russian language official status. 17% are willing to sacrifice the country's decommunization, and 13% are open to reducing the army in peacetime.

Refugees as a mirror of Ukraine

Biggest refugee crisis since World War II

Before the war, Ukraine had about 40 million people. More than 10 million people were killed, became refugees abroad, and remained in the occupied territories.

Since the beginning of the war, 26.3 million have crossed the border out of Ukraine. 19 million have returned. These were the largest refugee displacements since World War II. Currently, about 6 million remain in Russian-occupied territories and over 6 million abroad.

Migration intentions

The time of mass movements has passed. According to research in August 2023, 90% of Ukrainians have no intention of moving to another city, another country, or returning home.

Demographics of adult refugees

The demographic profile of refugees abroad reflects the restrictions on men leaving. 81% are women. 20% have a husband remaining in Ukraine, and 44% have children under 18.

Social status of refugees

These are predominantly highly educated people. They are active and do not want to rely only on welfare. Half of them are employed, though half of those employed are in less qualified jobs than they had in Ukraine. According to the refugees, 51% have a higher standard of living in the country of stay than they had in Ukraine; for a third, it is lower.

Consequences of war for refugees from Ukraine

76% left the country due to direct threats to life and health. Nearly half had friends or close acquaintances who died, and 11% lost relatives. 28% no longer have a home or property or do not know what happened to them.

Obstacles to return to Ukraine

We see three groups of barriers to returning to Ukraine. First of all, fear of a prolonged war and corresponding threats to life/health and occupation. Immediately following are concerns about the absence of reforms, primarily related to fighting corruption, political conflicts, and government incompetence. Economic conditions in post-war times. Possible unemployment, poverty, hunger.

Conditions under which refugees can return

These barriers stem from the conditions for the return of refugees to Ukraine. After security, the following condition for 80% of the interviewed refugees is the fight against corruption. Interestingly, 24% of refugees are ready to return to Ukraine without waiting for the war to end but presumably expecting significant reforms.

The attitude of Ukrainians towards Russians

Experience of interaction between Ukrainian refugees and Russians abroad

The image of the enemy in the face of Russians was an inevitable result of Russia's aggression. However, some areas give hope for productive and positive interaction between Russians and Ukrainians. We asked Ukrainian refugees about their experience of communicating with Russian emigrants, including those who left Russia because of the war. 32% had such experience. In 48% of cases, it was a friendly, caring attitude, guilt on the part of Russians, and in 26% - active support. 23% of contacts were conflictual.


Who in Russia is responsible for the war

In a representative poll, 60% of Ukrainians said that all Russian people are responsible for the war, but 26% consider only those Russians who support the war responsible, and 10% consider only the army and the government responsible. This proportion does not change.

Cooperation with Russians: readiness has increased

Notably, 67% are ready to cooperate with Russians based on anti-war activities, and 52% consider it appropriate to dialogue with the new authority in Russia if it condemns the war. Both indicators were significantly lower in November 2022. 

This data characterizes Ukrainians as people who do not compromise their principles but are pragmatically ready to achieve set goals by cooperating with the ‘good Russians’.


Ukrainians today are a nation to bet on

At the beginning of the war, few believed that Ukraine would withstand the Russian onslaught.

Russian military groups marched into the attack with parade uniforms in backpacks, confident of a quick and easy victory, preparing for a victory parade in the center of Kyiv on May 9.

The propaganda was supposed to align in people's minds the capture of Ukraine by Russia with the victory of the Soviet Union in World War II. Ukrainians held out. Their resilience amazed the world and ensured support in this unequal confrontation.


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