Staunton, August 24 – Today is Ukraine’s Independence Day, and compared to the years before Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and the Russian invasion of the Donbas, Ukrainians are now far more united by patriotism and by their hopes for the future, according to Irina Bekeshkina, a sociologist at the Kyiv Institute of Sociology.
For more than a decade, she writes on the “Novoye vremya” portal today, she and her fellow scholars at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences have been carrying out surveys asking “one and the same questions” so as to be in a position to make longitudinal conclusions about changes (nv.ua/opinion/bekeshkina/chto-obedinjaet-ukraintsev-65425.html).
For the entire period from 2005 to 2013, she says, responses to the question “What feelings arise for you when you think about the future of Ukraine?” remained relatively constant: Thirty-two percent felt hope, 14 percent experienced optimism, 18 percent felt a sense of hopelessness, and 22 percent fear.
But between 2013 and 2014-15, she says, “essential changes took place,” and Ukrainians responded to the war, the annexation of Crimea, the occupation of part of their territory, and the constant threat of attack by a foreign enemy by becoming more optimistic and patriotic than ever before.
In 2014, those expressing a sense of hopelessness fell by half from 18 percent to nine percent, those feeling optimistic about Ukraine’s future rose from 14 percent to 23.5 percent, and those feeling hope rose from 32 percent to 49 percent, even though those expressing concern rose as well, from 31 percent to 44.5 percent. The share of those expressing fear “did not change.”
This trend, one at a time of enormous economic difficulties and war, Bekeshkina says, is “connected with the fact that in Ukraine an active process of the formation of a political nation is taking place,” a process that means that “the absolute majority of the population … is beginning to feel itself a single nation.”
For most of the first decade of this century, the sociologist says, Ukrainians told pollsters that faith in a better future, dissatisfaction with the authorities and common difficulties” defined what they had in common. Patriotism as such was seldom mentioned. Now, that has changed, and patriotic feelings are “a significant unifying factor” with 42 percent mentioning them.
Moreover, she says, this is an indication of the formation of a political nation because neither language, nor ethnicity nor religion is considered by the public “as defining factors of the unification of people.” Further evidence of this is that 52 percent of Ukrainians now include within the term “we” citizens of Ukraine and not just friends and family.
Thus, “the community ‘citizens of Ukraine is now for people no less important than their relatives and friends. In other words,” Bekeshkina says, “’the feeling of a single family’ is being formed among people.” And polls show now 72 percent of the country’s residents would vote for independence, up from 56 percent in 2013. Only eight percent would now vote against.
In 1991, 88 percent voted for independence, while 12 percent voted against, she says. “But then such voting was to a remarkable degree the result of illusions and hopes for a happy life in the near future. Now, there are no illusions: there is war, losses, and deprivations.” Yet there is almost the same result, reflecting the rise of “a strong undefeatable nation.”