Most Ukrainians believe their country will win the war against Russia, reads a recent survey carried out by the International Republican Institute. The study also reveals that Ukrainians continue to argue in favor of Euro-Atlantic integration, although their perception of NATO reported fluctuations due to delays or readiness to provide military assistance, and they remain critical of their elected officials, despite the war.
Ukrainians believe they will win the war and want to join the EU and NATO so their politicians will be forced to abide by democratic values
During the first weeks of the war, surveys indicated that the attitude of Ukrainian citizens changed due to pressure from the war and also as a result of delays in the delivery of technical and military assistance from Western partners. As the weapons the West had promised were nowhere to be seen, and their delivery was hampered not just by the internal bureaucracy of these organizations, but also by national legislation, popular interest in joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had dropped. The Ukrainian people discovered NATO is a complex mechanism, and its effective support is hard to access by partner, non-member states, regardless of any statements made by NATO officials. On the other hand, European integration has remained a topical issue at society level, heightened also by the accession request, signed and submitted to Brussels by Zelensky, Stefanchuk and Shmyhal as early as March, and its acceptance by the EU.
On the other hand, the survey carried out by the International Republican Institute (IRI) among Ukrainian citizens in June, whose findings were published in August, also shows that, despite the war and the excessive bureaucracy dominating decision-making at the level of international organizations, despite the economic and social challenges facing Ukraine, despite the mass-destruction caused by Russia, the authorities’ actions are critically appreciated by Ukrainian citizens. It is important to note in this respect that the survey also provides a point of comparison, as some of the questions that are analyzed rely on data collected in April and in June, allowing for a complex assessment of the attitudes and behavior of respondents.
The aforementioned survey conducted by IRI at the end of June shows that 81% of Ukrainians are confident Ukraine will be victorious against the Russian Federation. If we also factor in the 16% who believe Ukraine is more likely to win rather than be defeated, then we notice that Ukrainians band together around the idea of “just fight”, which they pursue both in terms of liberating the occupied territories, as well as regarding the internal developments in the political, economic and social sectors. Therefore, this fight does not simply boil down to territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty, although this remains the number one goal of the political leadership and the population. Ukrainians are unwilling to renounce their previous ambitions, such as the fight against corruption and the advancement of the economy in terms of quality and structure, which represents their second goal after securing territorial integrity.
Accession to the European Union or the North-Atlantic Alliance is second to strengthening the country’s military capabilities, but it remains an objective listed by Ukrainian citizens among their top five priorities. This is important, for at least two reasons. The first has to do with changing perceptions of NATO and the waning interest for this collective defense organization, simply because its leaders said they won’t go to war and cannot agree to Ukraine’s request to shut down air space. The second reason refers to past developments in Ukraine and its efforts to develop instruments for keeping politicians in check. More specifically, the introduction of some clear-cut mechanisms of democratic transitioning which political leaders pledge to ensure the moment they sign agreements of regional integration. The Euromaidan protests, triggered in response to the Yanukovych regime’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement, should be understood not just as a movement that sought to forcefully achieve a foreign policy goal, but also as a process whereby ordinary citizens try to gain control over political elites by imposing these unequivocal rules for managing the country’s internal and external affairs, which should reflect the values and principles enshrined in documents underlying the functioning of the European Union. In 2013, no other country in the Eastern Partnership other than Ukraine had a better understanding of the fact that, in addition to financial assistance, the EU also brings about rules and procedures, also imposing transparency in decision-making. This was recognized by both citizens as well as the political elites clustered around Viktor Yanukovych. The latter invoked the financial side in the Association Agreement, calling for a review of the document in order to avoid the implementation of reforms and democratic transition. Today, we can see that the fight against corruption, the transformation of decision-making and its close scrutiny by ordinary citizens who are overwhelmed by their efforts to stay alive, remain key priorities.
External relations: Ukrainians have not given up EU and NATO accession
Coming back to the IRI survey and its findings, when discussing external relations, it is equally important to look at data collected by experts. It is curious to note that approximately 1% of respondents mentioned both Romania and the Republic of Moldova as countries that have helped Ukraine. Obviously, if we consider their potential and available resources, we can argue Chișinău has exceeded all expectations in terms of its support to Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees. And if we examine the complicated dialogue between Bucharest and Kyiv, the very mention of Romania (7% of Ukrainians argued that Bucharest has supported Kyiv in April, as compared to 1% in June) as one of the states mentioned in this survey should not be underestimated. A better communication on behalf of Bucharest authorities would have painted a brighter picture of Romania among Ukrainians. Ukrainians believe Poland, the United States and the United Kingdom have provided the most support to Ukraine. The European Union doesn’t hold a leading position in this respect, but some Member States, such as the Baltic States, rank among the top 10 countries that have delivered on their promises of aid to Ukraine.
Over 80% of the country’s population believes Ukraine should join the European Union, and only 1% believe it should consider the possibility of joining the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union. Previously, the number of people who rallied behind cooperation with Eastern allies was significantly greater. Most respondents who favored this option of regional integrity are in the east of the country, where surveyors had access to respondents.
As regards NATO integration, whereas approximately 59% of interviewees would have voted in favor of integration in April, at the end of June their percentage increased to 72%. The evolution of discussions about providing military assistance, the adoption of strategic documents or modifying national legislation in partner states that should allow the delivery of weapons to Ukraine, have all impacted citizens’ perception. Obviously, the lowest number of respondents who favor NATO accession is reported in the east (58%), where most military operations are still underway. In the west of the country, conversely, 80% of the population strongly believes NATO accession should remain a priority. Only 29% of respondents agree that Ukraine should become neutral as a tradeoff for ending hostilities.
Despite the war, Ukrainians remain critical of their lawmakers
In terms of home affairs and perception of public institutions and the executive, legislative and judicial powers, the survey points to a continuous critical assessment of the decision-making process. Whereas in April Ukrainians praised the actions and decisions of various public institutions and their leaders, in June their enthusiasm toned down. This downward trend is largely owing to the evolution of military operations and their stabilization in the east, although not to an exclusive extent. Ukrainians continue to monitor decisions taken by the authorities and the way they handle key moments, as well as the fight between various politicians who oppose Zelensky and the Parliament majority. Furthermore, the war has brought to light acts of corruption at local level and enabled the identification of older, unsolved issues, which extended the threats to the physical security of inhabitants of various regions. Right now, people are calling for efficient civil protection mechanisms and holding accountable those whom they blame for making these measures inaccessible to those who needed them.
These answers prove that one of the aspects that have remained unchanged despite the war is Ukrainians’ critical appraisal of policymaking, which is a characteristic feature of this people.