Drifting apart while coming together

What think Ukrainians about the situation of their country, what are priorities and opinions towards current issues?

Some research on this was published recently. Two things stand out significantly:

  • People are proud of being Ukrainian citizens; trust in court, parties and parliament is low and aversion against Russia (intervention) is high.
  • Opinions differ depending in which region of the country people live.

A few numbers… (IRI, 12-25/9/14, n = 1200, including Donetsk and Luhansk!?) [1]

Institutions, top and bottom (‘What is your opinion of the work of each of these institutions?’ favorable / unfavorable):

Army:                             68% / 23%
Church:                         67% / 17%
Ukrainian media:    54% / 36%
Central bank:            14% / 73%
Political parties:      14% / 75%
Courts:                          11% / 77% [2]

Most important issues (‘Which of the following issues are the three most important for Ukraine?’ Three responses):

Military conflict in the Donbas:          73%
Corruption within the state bodies: 37%
Unemployment:                                            24%
Political instability:                                      23%
Relations with Russia:                                20%


Use all available resources to return Crimea to Ukraine: 55%
Accept the loss of Crimea to Russia: 26%

Ukraine by regions (iri.org)

National pride (‘To what extent do you agree with the following statement?“I am proud to be a Ukrainian citizen” completely agree / somewhat agree):

Ukraine:    49% / 33%
West:          77% / 20%
Center:       57% / 30%
South:         33% / 44%
East:             25% / 40% (completely disagree 11%)

Russia (‘Do you support the decision of the Russian Federation to send its army to protect Russian speaking citizens of Ukraine?’ somewhat oppose / definitely no)

West:           3% /  96%
Center:     12% / 81%
South:       13% / 76%
East:           13% / 65% (4% strongly support)

The pattern (of different attitudes depending on regions) is seen in most tables of this study. The highest consensus among regions is the rejection of Russian intervention.


My very personal view on this: Different perceptions of a population on important political issues is a good thing in many respects. But: The more they correlate geographically, the higher the challenge for political institutions and leaders to keep the nation together – especially under the given circumstances. Draw a line between Kharkiv and Odessa, then you see what I have in mind. It is a too large part for not having it ‘on board’. Sure, this split in attitudes by regions is to some part historically and due to the different impacts of the conflict on the regions. Nevertheless, this does not decrease its contentious potential.

The Ukrainians might not be very proud of their country in the eastern and southern regions, but their unifying rejection against Russian intervention stands out clearly. Over the last six months this and the and the wish to ‘remain a unitary country’ has increased (p. 7).

On one hand the Russians threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine, on the other hand it strengthens the national identity of Ukrainians – but not without polarization and radicalization. Additionally, the crisis gave ground to the ‘cleaning’ of institutions (lustration law, snap elections). If this is done in a legit manner, institutions are in a good position to have a moderating effect on the split of attitudes. (A crucial issue in this respect might become how the cost of war is shared.) Strategically, the spirit of national unity (as a reflex of outside intervention) is the best protection against Russia since it serves as precondition for guerrilla warfare (… like a fish in the water).

If the cleaning of institutions is done by dirty hands (respectively not serving the common good), it rather determines and speed up the sell out of Ukrainian assets accompanied by political and territorial fragmentation.  So the Ukrainian elite has some rationals for not eating the horse it is riding on.

[1] International Republican Institute (IRI), published 14/10/14, conducted 12-25/09/14.

[2] The rest of this picture on institutions (p. 18) might be quite interesting for political scientists or sociologists. Maybe IRI provides the data sheet for further statistical analysis, if asked nicely.