Kyiv, October 14, 2014. Public opinion in Ukrainе has changed significantly since the success of the pro-European Maidan movement, Russian annexation of Crimea, and warfare in the Donbas. This was stated by Iryna Bekeshkina, the Director of Ukrainian polling agency “Democratic Initiatives” during her press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. Ukrainians are increasingly supportive of the European Union and NATO, while suspicious of Russia because of Moscow’s role in the Ukrainian crisis, noted Bekeshkina.
Democratic Initiatives conducted independent polling throughout Ukraine, presenting findings on political opinions divided by region. For one, Bekeshkina said, Donbas residents’ support for separatism and union with Russia has decreased significantly over the past several months. Support for separatism has always been miniscule in other areas of the Russian-speaking Ukrainian southeast. In May, 45 percent of respondents in the Donbas claimed to want the region to join the Russian Federation. “We must be honest about this support,” Bekeshkina said. Now, however, 48 percent of residents are strongly against joining the Russian Federation. In areas of the Donbas which were liberated by the Ukrainian military, only ten percent of the local population currently supports separatism, as compared to 35 percent of the population in the area occupied by pro-Russian organizations.
Opinions in other areas of Ukraine have also turned against the Russian Federation. Prior to the contemporary conflict, roughly an equal number of Ukrainians wanted to join the European Union and Customs Union with Russia. At the moment, support for the Customs Union is much smaller, roughly 20 percent, while a majority of Ukrainians prefer closer relations to Europe. In addition, support for Ukrainian membership in NATO has increased significantly. A plurality of western, central, and eastern Ukraine wants to join NATO, as opposed to the plurality of southern Ukraine which prefers a neutral security posture. A plurality of the Donbas wants a military alliance with Russia.
Ukrainians’ changing views on the European Union and Russia can be in part contributed to what is perceived as Russia’s interference in the country. Approximately 75 percent of Ukrainians believe that Russia is involved in and responsible for the bloodshed in the Donbas. 70 percent believe that Ukraine is in a state of war with the Russian Federation.
Only the Donbas stands out from other regions of Ukraine, and believes that Russia is not primarily responsible for the conflict there. However, “at the same time they don’t want to go to Russia,” stated Bekeshkina. Instead, most of the Donbas prefers to stay in a federated Ukraine in which they receive more autonomy and decision-making power.