06.12.23 Review

Winter is Coming: Public mood in Ukraine as winter approaches

Ukraine is preparing for a new wartime winter, and Ukrainians are approaching it with a clear sense of what may await them. Generally speaking, according to a recent survey, Ukrainians are reasonably optimistic about the outlook, the degree of which, however, depends heavily on how informed they are. Although almost half of Ukrainians expect the situation on the front to improve during the winter, residents of large cities and young people are much more pessimistic about the military and economic prospects for the winter season than those who are less educated and older, relying on television and having a limited set of information sources. In addition, perceptions of the cohesion of Ukrainian society have somewhat deteriorated: last year 87% of Ukrainians surveyed noted this, this year it was mentioned by 64%. This indicates a weakening of the 'rally around the flag' effect and reflects increased discussions of friction in the country's top political and military leadership. The expectation of the country's integration into European structures — the EU and NATO — remains a pillar of optimism and unity.

More than half of Ukrainians are better prepared for the winter of 2023/2024 and possible Russian strikes on 'vital infrastructure' than they were a year ago. According to the latest wave of the national 'Ukraine at War' survey conducted by the 'Rating' sociological group, 75% of Ukrainians were preparing for the hardships of the winter phase of the war. The respondents mentioned the purchase of torches, batteries, generators, food and water as preparation measures.

In general, the expectations for the upcoming winter in Ukrainian public opinion look more optimistic than one might have assumed. For example, 51% of respondents believe that the overall situation during the winter will remain unchanged, a quarter expect it to improve, and 21% expect it to worsen. Contrary to expert assessments, public opinion in Ukraine predominantly expects the situation on the front to improve (46%), while at the same time believing that the economic situation will worsen — 34% of respondents think it will deteriorate.

According to the results of the cluster analysis, the researchers from the 'Rating' group note that Ukrainian society as a whole, on the eve of winter, can be divided into 21% optimists, 25% pessimists and 54% undecided. Interestingly, pessimists are predominantly found among younger age groups, residents of Kyiv, and people with lower incomes. Among young people aged 18-35 those who believe in improvement on the front are 38%, while among those aged 51 and above, 52% expect improvement. Economic deterioration is mainly expected by residents of Kyiv — 49%, and a pessimistic view of the economy is also mainly held by younger respondents. With regards to their personal financial situations during the winter, negative expectations are found more often among poorer respondents at 28%, while among wealthier individuals, it is 7%.

This distribution of pessimists and optimists is obviously related to the degree of awareness and diversity of information sources. Residents of the capital and large cities, as well as young people, in comparison with respondents from rural areas and older respondents, are more critical of official information and are generally more informed. Hence, the first category of respondents have both a more pessimistic assessment of the situation and the prospects for the future, but also demonstrate greater preparedness for the hardships of winter without relying on state care.

Respondents who anticipate a worsening situation in winter make more efforts to prepare for it. Residents of Kyiv and big cities and young people in general are preparing most intensively for power supply problems, while Kyiv, big cities and de-occupied or frontline territories have the largest number of 'points of invincibility' (governmental points of assistance to citizens in situations of power and other communications outages). The survey shows that across the whole country 72% of respondents know about 'points of invincibility', in villages 40% are aware of them. 

Positive emotions among Ukrainians are concentrated around the prospects of the country's accession to the European Union and NATO. These are the main elements of the positive agenda of Ukrainian unity. About 80% of respondents of all ages support Ukraine's accession to the EU and NATO and are ready to vote for it in a referendum. Support is somewhat lower among the poorer strata of society (65-67%), those in the south (70%) and east (65%) of Ukraine.

At the same time, respondents assess the level of cohesion of Ukrainian society with more scepticism than they did a year ago. The research conducted by 'Rating' shows that the level of interpersonal trust in Ukrainian society is higher than it was before the war: people have begun to trust 'other people' more, as well as state bodies or media. However, this increase is mainly driven by extremely high trust within family circles and acquaintances. Nevertheless, the growth in social trust is also linked to the prevalence of collectivism and solidarity practices, reflected in high volunteer activity and growing trust in public organisations and charitable foundations.

However, respondents believe that Ukrainians were more united last year than they are now. Last year, 87% of respondents noted national unity, while this year, only 64% do so. This can be seen in the growth of the share of those surveyed who believe that Ukrainians are not a cohesive nation yet — 34% this year; last year this figure was only 11%. The decline in these figures can be considered both a manifestation of the growing but unarticulated pessimism of Ukrainian society and the result of contradictions and tensions in the country's top leadership and more widespread criticism of both political (Zelensky) and military (Zaluzhny) Ukrainian leaders.