The nature of the conflict
Most residents of Ukraine consider events in Donbas an interstate conflict. According to a nationwide poll conducted by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 45% of Ukrainians identify the Donbas conflict as Russian aggression; 17% – as internal conflict, where Russia supports one of the parties; and 12% – as purely internal civil conflict.
However, the opinion that the events in Donbas are an internal conflict prevail in the eastern regions. According to the above poll, 21% of the residents of these regions are convinced that Donbas is experiencing a purely internal civil conflict, and another 21% – an internal conflict, where Russia supports one of the parties. Only 24% of East residents define the situation in Donbas as Russian aggression against Ukraine
There is no consolidated assessment of these events in the government-controlled territories of Donbas. A poll, which was conducted by the “Democracy House” Centre using the open questions method, shows that local residents most often described the situation in Donbas as “disorder and chaos”, “business war”, ideological conflict, war within Ukraine or the Russian-Ukrainian war.
It is noteworthy that most respondents are convinced that an armed conflict could have been avoided. According to the poll by Democracy House, inhabitants of government-controlled areas of Donbas often blamed bad governance in Ukraine (an unprofessional statesmen, a thirst for enrichment, a lack of patriotism) for failing in averting the conflict. Some respondents believe that the conflict could have been stopped if Ukraine had had a stronger defence capability or the international community had intervened in the situation more actively.
Expectations from Ukraine and Russia
The poll by Democracy House in the government-controlled territories of Donbas showed a wide range of expectations from Ukraine on peace. Some respondents believe that Ukraine should be friends with Russia, refuse to join the EU and NATO and end the “business war”. Others are convinced that Ukraine needs to strengthen the army and maintain a clear and consistent position in the international arena. There were also respondents who said that Ukraine should focus on combating corruption and reforming the judicial system in a government-controlled territory. In addition, there were thoughts that Ukraine is doing everything possible to secure peace, or that peace is possible only in the event of victory .
In turn, respondents in the controlled territory of Donbas showed greater unanimity about similar expectations from Russia. Many local residents most often said that Russia should withdraw troops from Ukraine, and cease military and financial support for militants. There is also an opinion that Russia must accept that Ukraine is an independent and sovereign state.
Critical attitude towards the Minsk agreements prevails in Ukrainian society. A poll, which was conducted by the Razumkov Centre at the end of 2016, demonstrated that only 9% of the population of Ukraine evaluated the Minsk agreements positively. Other citizens evaluate the Minsk agreements negatively (30%), neutral (32%) or know nothing about them (16%). Since then, attitude towards the Minsk agreements has never been put to a nationwide poll. This may indicate that the Ukrainian society does not perceive the Minsk agreements as an effective instrument of conflict settlement any more.
Аccording to the poll by Democracy House, the majority of respondents in the government-controlled territories of Donbas show low awareness and negative assessment of the Minsk agreements. Many respondents perceive them as unfulfilled agreements, a temporary armistice agreement, Russia’s pressure on Ukraine or the surrender of Ukraine’s national interests. Instead, some respondents see the Minsk Agreements positively as they contributed to the de-escalation of armed confrontation, helped Ukraine win time and impose sanctions on Russia.
Disengagement of forces
According to the poll by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, the majority of Ukrainian citizens (59%) are positive about the disengagement of forces near Stanytsia Luhanska, Zolote and Petrivske. On a nationwide scale, 27% of respondents rate this process negatively. At the same time, support for the disengagement of forces in the eastern regions is much higher (73%) than in the western regions (46%).
The poll by Democracy House in the government-controlled territories of Donbas demonstrates that most respondents were unable to give a clear assessment of the disengament of forces. Many respondents who support the disengagement of forces do not believe that this can be done along the entire contact line. Some supporters believe that the disengagement of forces makes sense if it stops human loss or if Russia is interested in the process. At the same time, critics call the disengagement of forces a surrender of Ukrainian territories, a step to capitulation, and an unnecessary or senseless process.
Status of the SADLR
There is a consensus in Ukrainian society over the status of the SADLR (separate areas of Donetskand Luhansk regions). The sociological poll by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology shows that 62% of citizens support the return of the SADLR to Ukraine on pre-war terms, 22% are for granting autonomy within Ukraine. This advantage is observed in all regions, including the eastern regions, where 48% of residents support the return of the SADLR on pre-war conditions, while 39% believe that these territories should be granted autonomy.
Мost of the respondents interviewed by Democracy House in the government-controlled territories of Donbas also believe that the SADLR should return to Ukraine on pre-war terms. Many categorically reject any status for these territories, stating that the SADLR are “Ukraine and may have no other status”. Only a few respondents stated that the SADLR should be granted autonomy.
In addition, some respondents said that the SADLR should be granted the status of “affected and poor” areas, or that local self-government and suffrage should be suspended in these territories for some time .
Elections in the SADLR
The majority of Ukrainian society opposes holding local elections in the SADLR before restoring control of Ukraine in these territories. According to the poll by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 21% of Ukrainian citizens believe that elections can be held only after the withdrawal of Russian troops and the disarmament of militants, 24.5% – only in a few years after the resumption of control over the SADLR. Only 20% of Ukrainian citizens support the fastest possible local elections without any preconditions.
However, in the eastern regions, there are many more citizens who are prone to compromise on the elections in the SADLR. According to this poll, 37% of the residents of the eastern regions of Ukraine support the fastest possible local elections without any preconditions, 17.5% are for holding elections only after the withdrawal of Russian troops and disarmament of militants, and 13.5% believe that local elections are possible only in a few years after establishing control of Ukraine over these territories
According to the poll by Democracy House, respondents in the government-controlled areas of Donbas called the following prerequisites for the elections in the SADLR: withdrawal of Russian troops, cessation of hostilities and restoration of legal order, establishment of control over the state border with Russia, presence of supervising observers, observance of the transparency of the electoral process, patrolling of the border by the UN peacekeepers. Some respondents believe that elections can be held only in 6-10 years after the reintegration of the SADLR into the Ukrainian political and information space.
There is also a consensus in Ukrainian society on the inadmissibility of all-inclusive amnesty for the members of the illegal armed forces of the “DPR” and “LPR”. The poll by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology shows that only 8.5% of Ukrainian citizens support amnesty for all those involved in armed conflict without exception. In turn, 25% reject any option of amnesty, 23% believe that amnesty should be extended only to civilian employees of the authorities in self-proclaimed republics, 22% – to only those members of illegal armed groups who did not commit serious crimes such as murder of civilians or torture.
Most residents of the eastern regions also reject amnesty for everyone without exception in relation to the Donbas conflict. According to the above poll, only 14% of residents of the region support this option, while 33.5% favour amnesty for those who have not committed serious crimes, 16.5% are for amnesty for civilians who worked in the authorities of self-proclaimed republics, and 17 % deny any amnesty.
At the same time, about half of the respondents interviewed by Democracy House in the government-controlled territories of Donbas have no specific ideas for resolving the amnesty problem. The other part of the respondents mentioned the following options for resolving this issue: the amnesty should not be extended to the “DPR” and “LPR” leadership; amnesty should not be possible for those who took up arms; amnesty should be possible after trial and sentence for each militant; the members of the “DPR” and “LPR” should be banned from entering Ukraine; it is necessary to create labour camps for members of illegal armed groups. Some respondents believe that the “DPR” and “LPR” members should be given amnesty on the grounds that “people are innocent” or “they fought for their idea”.
There is no unity in the Ukrainian society regarding the payment of pensions to the SADLR residents. According to a public opinion poll, which was conducted by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Razumkov Centre in 2018, 40% of Ukrainian citizens support the removal of restrictions on social and pension payments to residents of the SADLR, 35% oppose it. There are clear regional differences in the issue of pension payments. Thus, most residents of the eastern regions of Ukraine (52%) support social and pension payments for the SADLR residents, while more than a quarter (27%) do not support such an initiative. At the same time, half of the inhabitants of the western regions (47%) oppose social and pension payments for the SADLR residents, while less than one third (30%) hold the opposite view.
Most respondents, interviewed by Democracy House in the government-controlled territories of Donbas, support social and pension payments for the SADLR residents. Proponents of pension payments make the following arguments: the SADLR residents have earned their pension; they are the citizens of Ukraine; they need to live somehow; not everyone can leave the SADLR for health reasons. Some respondents support this idea with reservations, stating that pension payments should be made under the jurisdiction of Ukraine to persons who had been receiving them before 2014 or who did not acquire Russian citizenship.
Opponents of pension payments believe that by paying pensions, Ukraine helps Russia to maintain the SADLR; or they are convinced that pensions should be paid only in territories which make the Single Social Contribution.
Reconstruction of the conflict-affected areas
There is no unanimity among the residents of the government-controlled territories of Donbas on who should finance the reconstruction of the SADLR. The respondents interviewed by Democracy House most often indicated that the reconstruction of the conflict-affected areas should be financed by the state budget of Ukraine, reparations from Russia as an aggressor state, joint efforts of Ukraine and Russia, assistance from foreign states and international organizations, local taxes of the SADLR, as well as by “de-kulakization” of Ukrainian political elite. Some respondents believe that the reconstruction of the SADLR should be financed only after holding local elections under the jurisdiction of Ukraine and regaining control of Ukraine over the border with Russia .
OSCE Special Monitoring Mission
Residents of the government-controlled territories of Donbas demonstrate a very low awareness about activities of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (OSCE SMM). According to the poll by Democracy House, many residents perceive the OSCE SMM as a peacekeeping mission, though its mandate is much narrower. Others claim that the mission is useless, provides biased information, is under the influence of Russian lobby or does not record shelling at night. Some respondents note that OSCE SMM members have a high level of personal financial security which is a sharp contrast with living standards of local population.
According to the poll by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, the majority of Ukrainian society (59%) supports the deployment of peacekeepers in Donbas. Support for a peacekeeping mission is prevalent in all regions of Ukraine, although residents of the eastern regions demonstrate the least loyalty to this idea (47% favour the deployment of peacekeepers).
Residents of the government-controlled territories of Donbas show cautious optimism towards the UN peacekeeping mission. Many respondents, interviewed by Democracy House, support the introduction of peacekeepers if they help settling the conflict. At the same time, locals rarely voiced the mandate, numbers, national composition, location, and other details of the UN peacekeeping mission. There were thoughts that peacekeepers should strengthen control over the Ukrainian-Russian border or that the peacekeeping mission should consist of military and police personnel. At the same time, an opinion was expressed that Vladimir Putin would agree only to the peacekeeping mission in Donbas that would be formed by the Russians.
Foreign Policy of Ukraine
The Revolution of Dignity and Russia’s aggression contributed to a significant increase in support for Ukraine’s pro-European foreign policy vector. According to a poll conducted by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Razumkov Centre, the share of citizens in favour of Ukraine’s accession to the EU increased from 46% in 2013 to 64% in 2019. At the same time, Ukraine’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union has effectively turned into a marginal geopolitical idea – its level of support has fallen three times over these years (from 36% to 13%).
However, residents of eastern and southern Ukraine are less loyal to Ukraine’s European integration. According to the above poll, 42% of residents of eastern regions and 44% of residents of southern regions support Ukraine’s accession to the EU. About a quarter of Ukrainian citizens living in these areas are in favour of Ukraine’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union, and a third are undecided in their foreign policy orientations.
Most respondents, interviewed by Democracy House in the government-controlled territories of Donbas, support the pro-European vector of Ukraine’s foreign policy, but do not substantiate their position. It is noteworthy that almost all the respondents who participate in the socio-political life of their city are in favour of Ukraine’s rapprochement with the EU. Some respondents believe that Ukraine needs to both continue its pro-European foreign policy and develop pragmatic relations with Russia.
Despite the fact that almost all respondents in Donbas said that their financial situation deteriorated due to armed hostilities, not all changed their attitude towards Russia. The poll by Democracy House shows that some respondents support the refusal of Ukraine’s accession to the EU and NATO in favour of friendly, good-neighbourly and brotherly relations with Russia. Another group of respondents believes that Ukraine should develop pragmatic, equal and mutually beneficial relations with Russia. There was also an opinion that it is necessary to maintain trade between foreign economic subjects but drift away from political relations. At the same time, many respondents said that they began seeing Russia as a hostile state, changing their attitude towards both the Russian leadership and the Russian citizens. Some believe that no relationship with Russia is possible until the war is over, Crimea and Donbas are returned, or Vladimir Putin leaves power in Russia.
At the same time, this poll also allows distinguishing residents convinced that Ukraine should build foreign policy independently from Russia, the EU and the U.S.
The poll, which was conducted by Democracy House in the government-controlled territories of Donbas, shows a high level of distrust of local residents to the media. Respondents often indicated that they mostly trust an information provided by eyewitnesses. Some respondents indicated that they were learning about events in Donbas from television and online publications. The respondents specified the following sources of information: TRC “Ukraine”, “Espresso TV”, “Hromadske TV”, “Radio Liberty”, the “Day” newspaper and the Internet project “Information Resistance”.