Staunton, August 26 – Moscow propagandists have long insisted that Ukrainians became hostile to Russia as a result of what they say was the Western-organized Maidan, but sociological research clearly shows that it was not the Maidan but rather subsequent Russian aggression that caused Ukrainians to change their attitude toward Russia and Russians.
Ukrainians now view Russians as an enemy rather than as a fraternal people, a dramatic shift that was highlighted this week by President Petro Poroshenko’s remarks on Ukrainian Independence Day and that has been documented by Ukrainian sociologists and other scholars in recent studies and polls.
Ukrainian political analyst Yevgeny Magda sums up these changes in the following way: “Russian-Ukrainian relations have changed forever,” he says, and “the formula, ‘we will no longer be brothers’ is appropriate: There is thus no reason to speak about the restoration of good-neighborly relations in the foreseeable future” (news.online.ua/751100/chestno-o-shansah-na-pobedu-shest-glavnyh-slov-o-voyne-ukrainy-za-nezavisimost/).
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has transformed the situation, Magda continues, “and it is important for Ukraine to show to the rest of the world that in fact it was a colony of Russia and not a republic equal to the RSFSR in the former Soviet Union,” as Russian propagandists regularly insist.
But as insightful as these observations are, it is important to have more objective measures of just how and perhaps especially when Ukrainian attitudes toward Russia and Russians have changed. That is now possible because of the rapidly maturing polling sector in Ukraine.
The QHA news agency summarizes the reports of Ukrainian sociologists that were presented at a meeting last week organized by the Kucheriv Democratic Initiative Foundation at the Institute of Sociology of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences (qha.com.ua/ru/politika/kak-priklad-ekspansii-rf-razbil-vitraj-ukrainskih-simpatii/164678/; for the complete report of their findings (in Ukrainian), see dif.org.ua/ua/publications/press-relizy/do-dnja-nezalezhno.htm).
The sociologists reported that the latest surveys show that 60 percent of those questioned said that they were proud to be Ukrainians. Only 16 percent said they were not. Those figures are far higher than in the 1990s, and the situation began to change at the time first of the Orange Revolution and then at that of the Maidan.
The highest figure in this regard – 67 percent – was reached in 2015. It has fallen off somewhat as Ukrainians recognize that the situation they find themselves in is likely to last a long time and be filled with uncertainties, the sociologists say. They also stress that it is significant that 22 percent of those surveyed identify more with a city or village than with the country, but only seven percent with a region more than with Ukraine as a whole.
Yevgeny Golovakha, the deputy director of the Kyiv Institute of Sociology, said at the meeting that Ukrainians today feel hope and only then concern and that now “hope is even more the predominant feeling than was the case in the relati8vely stable and well-off period of the beginning of 2013.”
In that year, 32 percent of Ukrainians said they were hopeful about their country; now 44 percent do. He also noted that ever fewer Ukrainians are interested in any integration with Russia: “Fewer than 20 percent of the respondents” favor that now, and “up to 57 percent” say they are opposed to some kind of hypothetical “’Slavic union’” of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
Irina Bekeshkin, head of the Democratic Initiative Foundation pointed out that this is a reversal of the situation in 1998 when 60 percent of Ukrainians favored such an arrangement. In her view, QHA says, “the decisive role in this shift was played not by the Dignity Revolution but by the aggression of Russia.”
She added that ever more Ukrainians look to integrate with Western institutions like the EU and NATO. A majority now expect their country to be in the EU 20 years from now. And the number of those favoring NATO membership now equals the number opposed, a radical shift even from as recently as 2006.
Ukrainian sociology and polling have suffered from the problems of youth, QHA says, but they are not alone in that. Some of the most distinguished Russian polling agencies also do things that sociologists elsewhere would reject as problematic or worse.
The article gives the example of a recent Levada Center poll which found that 58 percent of Russians are now hostile to Ukraine and only 31 percent are positive as an example of such problems (levada.ru/2016/08/22/vospriyatie-ssha-ukrainy-i-zhitelej-etih-gosudastv/) because the Moscow pollsters asked about Russian attitudes toward Ukraine while also asking about their attitudes toward the US and the EU.
Given that Kremlin outlets insist that “in the Donbass, Russia is fighting not so much with Ukraine as with the entire Western world,” asking the question about Russian attitudes toward Ukraine and Ukrainians is a kind of “manipulation,” something Ukrainian pollsters would be criticized for even if Russian ones aren’t.