27.04.23 Review

From High Mobilisation to a More Moderate Approach: Ukrainian public opinion remains consolidated but has grown more critical of the country's leadership

Data from a February opinion poll conducted by the American International Republican Institute suggests a substantial consolidation in Ukrainian public opinion. It reflects a strong belief in Ukraine's victory and confidence in the country's future prospects. Over the course of the year, the proportion of respondents who believe Ukraine will retake all of the territories currently under Russian occupation has risen to 74% (from 53% in April 2022). Support for the country's leaders and authorities remains strong but has become more nuanced and critical. Respondents believe that Russia should pay for Ukraine's reconstruction. Still, they would prefer that the money be spent under the supervision of international organisations (57%) rather than the Ukrainian authorities (19%) and that spending priorities be determined through local referendums. Support for the policy of derussification does not appear to be universal either. Only 7% of those who exclusively speak Ukrainian spoke Russian until recently but stopped after the war began. Given that a significant portion of the population in Ukraine's east and south are russophone (28% and 17%, respectively, according to the survey), a policy of intense derussification may cause tensions in these areas. It will be difficult for people to abandon the Russian language completely.

Despite 14 months of war, Ukrainian public opinion appears to be consolidated: the majority of Ukrainians believe in the country's victory and future, according to survey data compiled by the Ukrainian Sociological Group ‘Rating’ at the request of the American International Republican Institute's Centre for Insights in Survey Research. 93% of respondents are hopeful about Ukraine's future, and 97% are confident that their country will win the war. However, as Re: Russia has previously covered, during wartime, such mobilisation effects in polling data must be interpreted with caution, a matter which applies to both Russian and Ukrainian polls. 

74% believe Ukraine will retake control of all of the occupied territories within its internationally recognised borders. Over the past year, confidence in this outcome has grown: 53% believed this would happen in April 2022, and this figure grew to 64% in June. This shift reflects Ukrainian society's high expectations for the anticipated AFU counteroffensive. 

In response to the open question, ‘Which countries, in your opinion, have supported Ukraine the most in its fight against Russia?’ The absolute majority (71% of respondents) named Poland and the United States. The United Kingdom (48%) and Germany (17%) follow with a considerable gap; other countries were mentioned in less than 10% of responses.

At the same time, the approval ratings of almost all Ukrainian government bodies are falling (with the exception of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, whose activities are approved by 98% of Ukrainians). The President's overall approval rating has barely dropped: it is down to 91% in February 2023 from 94% in April 2022. Over the same period, the percentage of respondents who unconditionally approve of his activity has dropped from 74% to 58%. At the same time, the approval rating of the Cabinet of Ministers, led by Denys Shmyhal, fell from 70% to 53%, the Verkhovna Rada from 64% to 41%, the Defence Ministry from 79% to 62%, the Foreign Ministry from 82% to 76%, and the Ukrainian Security Service from 80% to 71%. However, this does not indicate a decline in confidence but rather a process of normalisation. The ratings were a clear reflection of public mobilisation in the months initially following the full-scale invasion; now, the poll records ‘normal’ trust, i.e. conditional rather than unconditional support.

However, responses to the survey’s other questions indicate the possibility of a further drop in trust. 89% of those polled believe Russia will eventually have to pay for the damage it has inflicted on Ukraine. Respondents believe that it is better to entrust the spending of allocated funds to international organisations (a view held by 57% of respondents) rather than to the Ukrainian government (19%). At the same time, 54% believe that the population of cities and towns should decide their own reconstruction priorities through direct voting, while 37% believe that local authorities should be in charge of the country's reconstruction. These figures demonstrate a strong desire for decentralisation and direct democracy. 

14% of the survey’s respondents have left their pre-war residence, while another 9% left but have returned home. Of those who left (a sample of 274), roughly half hope to return but do not intend to do so before the war is over, 22% say they will return soon, 11% are only prepared to return to their homes after the infrastructure has been rebuilt, while 12% do not want to return at all. 

More than half of those polled (58%) said they spoke Ukrainian at home, 30% said they spoke both Ukrainian and Russian, and 11% said they communicated exclusively in Russian. The country's east and south have the highest proportions of Russian speakers (28% and 17%, respectively), while almost all those in the west of Ukraine speak Ukrainian (94%). 64% of people in central Ukraine prefer to speak Ukrainian, while 29% speak both languages. However, only 7% of those who currently speak exclusively Ukrainian (1,067 out of 2,000 respondents in the sample) claim to have changed their language practices since the invasion, which in this context means that they refuse to use Russian. This data suggests that a consistent derussification policy may cause social tension — thus we should not expect a quick and complete renunciation of the Russian language.