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Donbas today: skeptical, but tolerant

Donbas today: skeptical, but tolerant

Ukrainians do not want to war – this has been the key thesis of the last several years in the country which repels the Russian aggression. The desire for peace and prosperity as well as tiredness because of the war unites Ukrainians. However, views and opinions differ in different regions.

For the last two year the number of people who are detached from social and political processes has increased from 35% to 45%. In the past, a lot of people from this group strongly supported Russia. The sharpest changes are noticed in the east of Ukraine. The data is presented by the Office of Transition Initiatives which conducted the research with the help of SCORE* methodology. The researchers stress that civil passivity of almost half of the population of the country is caused by the fact that Ukrainians do not feel free in expressing their political views. At the same time, there are more “tolerant reformers” in Ukraine now – those people who are for reforms and support the idea of social unity and diversity: their number has increased from 15% to 31%. The majority of “tolerant reformers” live in the south of the country.

The number of “tolerant conservatives” has decreased for the last two years. Those are people who experience nostalgia for Soviet times. At the same time, they are ready to participate in the dialogue about the future of Ukraine. The Office researches did not find at all the people who were called “the polarized with pro-Russian orientation”; in 2016 they accounted for 15%. The same number of respondents has supported the pro-European orientation. Their number has not changed. The geopolitical preferences of Ukrainians have moved to the background. It is expressed in their skepticism with regard to the EU stability. Now there are fewer people who expect some potential benefits from the European Union.

It seems that, having such views of western partners, Ukrainians will not pin their hopes on international structures in resolving the conflict in the Donbas. However, several recent studies showed that the idea of interim international administration under the protection of UN peacekeepers has got the highest support among the population of Ukraine. 60% of respondents expect peacekeepers to resolve the conflict as the results of the Kalmius Group’s research show. More than that, the initiative, which was not considered serious even by western partners two years ago, has credibility of Donbas residents. That was claimed by Maria Zolkina, analyst of Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation. However, in the east and south people are more critical of the influence of that instrument (51%) than in the west (64%) and in the center (67%). The Kalmius Group experts explain that saying that residents of the region experienced and know more negative things caused by the war.

There is another group of people from other regions who are skeptical of the positive influence of peacekeepers on the resolution of the conflict. According to Oleksandr Kliuzhev, analyst of Civil Network OPORA, 20% of respondents throughout the country think that the mechanism, even of it is launched, will not influence the outcome of the conflict. 13% of respondents think that such international instruments may make the situation worse. He added that Ukrainians have witnessed violations of the Minsk Agreements as well as agreements adopted by the “Norman Four.”

“Criticism is based on the fact that missions and interim administrations may be thought out inadequately, and peacekeepers may become hostages of the conflict,” Kliuzhev thinks.

The analyst believes that an information campaign will improve the situation – it should be explained to Ukrainians what UN peacekeepers and interim administration mean.

The study of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation also showed that the desire of peace and stability prevail among residents of the uncontrolled part of the Donbas. Their attitude to peacekeepers is ambiguous, and even skeptical.

“The war in heads won’t be over when the shelling stops. It will be over when the infrastructure has been restored completely. Residents of the Donbas say that they cannot understand how to reach peace if the war is profitable for a lot of people, if people hate each other because of the perished and wounded, and if people on the uncontrolled territory are afraid of the punishment for their participation in the war… There is an impression that the peacekeeping process is discredited for Donbas civilians. The state should make a principal decision: to tell the truth or, at least, something close to the truth: there will be no peace as long as there is Putin’s regime. The war in the Donbas is the manifestation of his policy, and  no peacekeeping process has sense,” claims Petro Burkovskiy, analyst, the research author.

Despite serious disillusionment, Ukrainians still believe in the Minsk Agreements

The attitude to “Minsk” had changed a bit in different regions. The research of the Office of Transition Initiatives shows that, for the last two years, the difference in the indicators of the Minsk Agreements support has diminished between the west and the east.

“Support has slightly decreased in the East where it used to be high and has increased greatly in the West so now there is no contradiction on the national level”, stated Dr. Alexandros Lordos, Research Director of the Centre for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development (SeeD).

He claimed that the respondents’ views divided the most on the question of granting a special status for separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. At the same time, their views on the conflict resolution differ greatly: some respondents support the idea of separating self-proclaimed republics or their joining the Russian Federation, some support the idea of their reintegration into Ukraine either with a special status or without it.

“The Ukrainians’ predictions about the Donbas special status differ a lot from full reintegration to full separation. It depends on how they see the resolution of the conflict and if they support or do not support a special status”, said Lordos.

He said that more political discussions on what a special status for any region of the country is in general and what it is for the Donbas in particular must be conducted. 

The Ukrainians do not want to lose the eastern region

The research conducted by the Office of Transition Initiatives showed that the uncontrolled territories in the East of Ukraine also think about integration. As a rule, citizens with pro-European views want to integrate into Ukraine. Lordos stated that they had seen similar moods on other conflict territories such as Transnistria and Cyprus.

The wish to reintegrate the uncontrolled Donbas territory has increased in the last two years among the residents of the Luhansk region. According to the research, residents of controlled territory approve of the idea just as Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Kyrovohrad, Cherkasy and Lviv region — they give it 6 points, which is an average result in Ukraine. In the controlled parts of the Donetsk region the wish to reintegrate is 5 points  just as in Sumy, Poltava, Zhytomyr, Rivne, Ivano-frankivsk, Odesa, Khmelnytsky regions. 

The idea of reintegration has lost its popularity in some regions of the country (mostly in the West) during these two years. For example, the index fell from 6 to 3 points in the Volyn region, from 4 to 3 points in Zakarpattya region, from 5 to 4 points in Chernuvtsy region and from 6 to 4 points in Chernihiv region.

As for the uncontrolled territory, the idea of Donbas reintegration gets 3 points (a part of the Donetsk region) and 4 points (a part of the Luhansk region). 

At the same time, it is highlighted by the authors of the research that the citizens of Ukraine support the idea of reintegration in general and this has not changed in two years’ time.

So, on the one hand there is aspiration, though not totally supported to peaceful resolution of the conflict, on the other hand there is tiredness, passive attitude, uncertainty and skepticism, though not totally shared either, towards “Minsk” and peacekeepers. What can Ukraine do in this situation? Vitaliy Sizov, analyst of Donetsk Institute of Information, member of the Kalmius Group thinks that it is hard to intensify the peace process while the main demand which is ceasefire and heavy weapons withdrawal has not been fulfilled. However, he thinks that the idea of transitional administration can be implemented even now. Besides, there is a number of other painful issues which the Ukrainian state should solve to its advantage.

“The results of our research show that Ukraine is able to intensify some process and help its citizens on uncontrolled territories without making any concessions to Russia. These concession will not be too controversial to be considered violation of the Minsk Agreements. First of all we are speaking about international transitional administrations introduction and resuming paying pensions to residents of uncontrolled territories”, thinks the analyst.


*The second stage of research in Ukraine finished this spring. The number of respondents, including residents of uncontrolled territories, reached 10 thousand people. The main themes were constructive public activity, support of reforms, psychological and social influence of the war on the society and the problems of temporarily-occupied territories.

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