Ukrainian positions have fundamentally changed as a result of the war, says sociologist

31 March, 01:08 PM
Marianna Tkalych, Doctor of Psychology and CEO at Research Laboratory Rating Lab, is convinced that due to an external threat, the country has united on fundamental issues (Photo:Olexander Medvediev / NV)

Marianna Tkalych, Doctor of Psychology and CEO at Research Laboratory Rating Lab, is convinced that due to an external threat, the country has united on fundamental issues (Photo:Olexander Medvediev / NV)

“Earlier, the west of the country was significantly different from the east, now we don’t see any differences.” NV spoke to Ukrainian sociologist Marianna Tkalych, about recent research conducted by the sociologist and polling group Rating, about how recent events have fundamentally changed Ukrainian society.

These changes have been triggered by constant rocket and bombing attacks, military combat in Ukrainian cities, and evacuations from the cities and towns most affected by the Russian aggressor for over a month. They’re chronicled through data by sociological research group “Rating”, which has already conducted six waves of surveys among Ukrainians since the beginning of the war, and has recorded significant changes in Ukrainian society.

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In an interview with NV, Marianna Tkalych, Ph.D. and CEO at Research Laboratory Rating Lab, talks about these shifts, and what further changes should be expected in the future.

NV: How have Ukrainians changed during the first month of the war, and what exactly has changed the most?

Tkalych: There is a growing public confidence is that the country is heading in the right direction. We have always had these vacillations, from confidence in a newly elected president and government to a lightning fast collapse in six months. Now, almost 90% of Ukrainians support the Ukrainian government and its actions. Secondly, people are confident in the victory of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. We started to measure these sentiments during the course of the war right from Feb. 26, and before that, these sentiments were measured in January. In January, confidence that the Armed Forces of Ukraine could repel Russian forces and that Ukraine, in general, could survive, was less than 50%. Now, if we take those who are absolutely sure and almost sure, this is 92% of the surveyed respondents.

 With each day of the war, this confidence is growing and has almost tripled since January. The third point, which is also very clearly visible, is the absence of regional disagreements on issues critical to the country. Previously, the west of the country differed significantly from the east, but now we do not see such significant differences. Due to an external threat, the country was united on fundamental issues, such as the attitude towards aggressor, and towards international institutions, and to whether we should get back Crimea and the occupied part of Donbas.

The support for Ukraine's accession to the EU and NATO has grown significantly. If support for accession to NATO has been growing very strongly since the beginning of the war, now it has slightly decreased due to the fact that the sky over Ukraine has not been closed. But this disappointment does not look too expressive, because if you choose between a non-aligned status and together with NATO, Ukrainians definitely choose to be together with NATO. The country has consolidated its position regarding reparations from Russia for the restoration of mutilated life, regarding the fact that the majority is ready to invest their own resources in such restoration. In the east of the country, slightly fewer people agree on their own involvement in the restoration of the country, but still more than 50% of the surveyed.

The key emotional experience of Ukrainians from different regions of the country is also consolidated. When asked what emotions you are currently experiencing - hope or a sense of despair - 91% of Ukrainians answer that they are experiencing hope. At the same time, this comes out in the west of the country to 95% of Ukrainians, and in the east of the country - 86%, not too big of a difference and a very good result for a nation experiencing truly tragic events.

Ukrainians are also consolidated regarding returning home: 93% of them wish to return home from those countries they have evacuated to as soon as the war ends. This also applies to young people, who are traditionally more mobile. Only 4% of those who left today are planning to stay in where they’ve fled. We explain this position as a choice without a choice. When your resettlement is forced, the desire to stay arises less willingly. Of course, all this may change if the war drags on.

NV: It usually takes either a long time or severe tragedies to change the values ​​of a society. The current war is such a tragedy. Is it capable of changing the values ​​of Ukrainians?

Tkalych: Not only are the tragic events that we are all now experiencing important, but also their duration. A month later, fear appears when we promise ourselves that we will live differently, stop being corrupt, build a new world, get rid of our love for Russian cultural products. But it takes more time to consolidate these things. The good news is that it doesn’t take that much.

In the modern world, all processes, including the formation of values, are experiencing inflation, and when such a crisis occurs, it, of course, advances us very much. It is clear that not all Ukrainians will change immediately. There will be a certain rollback, some new contentious topics will appear, but the Ukrainian language, at the level of understanding it as a state language, has, in general, ceased to be such a topic and a reason for dispute. 86% of those surveyed believe that only one language should be the state language, and that’s Ukrainian, regardless of whether we are polling in the east, west, or south of the country. Disagreements and disputes can be about everyday usage, but there is a large national consensus on the state language.

NV: How long will it take to change attitudes towards the Russians, which, according to your data, up to 93% of Ukrainians consider enemies and guilty of the war?

Tkalych: We will see all of that: the more destruction, poverty, and death the Russian forces bring, the less opportunities there will be for positive relations in the future. As the Russian language in Ukraine is already being deprived of its speakers, and not vice versa, it is unlikely that there will be a significant rollback in relation to the citizens of the aggressor country.

It is extremely important how Ukraine will behave along this path. It is this country today that has a high level of public confidence, and it should determine at the institutional level a new cultural policy and a new attitude towards Russia and Russians. Not only within the country, but also beyond its borders, to question the dominating advantage of Russian culture abroad. Pushkin and Tolstoy cannot justify Russia, which for centuries has resisted the transformation of its society into a humanistic, value-based one.

As for society overall, the nuclear supporters of the “Russian world” will still remain, but they will significantly decrease, though not at the expense of the nuclear group - but at the expense of those who are now in the position of “it’s not all that clear.”

Another important thing is that the war showed the meaning and importance of local elections in Ukraine. We saw what the mayors who were elected by the people are, in terms of their character. Melitopol, Mykolaiv, Trostyanets, and many others are now cities where people are ready to defend their mayor, and they, in turn, feel personally responsible for their communities. Here, Russians, to whom mayors are in fact appointed, also played the wrong card.

NV: There is a well-known world ranking of values, in which in recent years we, as a country, have gradually moved away from the camp of post-Soviet countries. Can we predict where we will be after the war?

Tkalych: Now is not the time to measure values. We measure only threats, but the measurements that we did on the anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, and later in the fall of 2021, show that we are a country open to new experience, and this is a very good trend. Yes, we have conservatism, we have conformism, and we had a very high level of need for security even before the new stage of the war. Many Ukrainians have below average incomes, and security is about the economy too. But in these values, I think, if they are measured a little later, there will also be changes, but the fact that we are a European country is very clear even for this month, without research.

NV: Many people in Ukraine today prefer to rely on the data of Russian sociological surveys, namely, the fact that 70% of Russians support the Kremlin's policy. Is it generally correct to perceive sociological data from Russia today as true?

Tkalych: In totalitarian countries, where they imprison people for using of certain words, where they write denunciations against each other, and where the state has deprived people of opportunity to seek the protection of their human rights in international courts, to rely on what people say in opinion polls is a dubious practice.

I would not rely on them, but there is nuance: when everyone says 70% - this is 70% of those who agreed to answer. We do not know how this figure of 70% is formed, because we almost never see data on the representativeness of studies, but we know that many refuse to answer the survey because they are afraid. If about 30,000 people were interviewed, and 70% of them refused to answer, then we do not have a high-quality and truthful picture of the state of society. In general, Russian political sociology is now insignificant. When Russian citizens are asked about sugar and cereals, then yes, the answers can and should be trustworthy, because this is a socially safe topic. As for anything that concerns political issues, we will not receive any truthful data for a long time.

NV: The war has very strongly polarized the vision and sentiments of people into black and white. What consequences does this have for Ukrainian society?

Tkalych: This is a feature of war, halftones disappear. But as for the possible split of Ukrainian society, it is not so easy to split it, if there are basic values that everyone supports - and these do exist - then there will definitely not be a split in society.

When the war ends, it is important that our black and white perception also acquire shades once more, and this is also an important task for the country in the future. It is necessary to set vectors for society, to expand the understanding of normality, but all this should be after the victory. We see that other areas of life have changed, the perception of the roles of men and women has changed - now we live in a rather masculine society. Men and women experience war differently. Wars is more difficult emotionally for civilian women, because war is such a period of societal existence when everything related to courage, endurance, aggressiveness and other rather masculine characteristics comes to the fore. Men, on the contrary, are now gaining their confidence, experiencing more aggression, which is a more constructive emotion in these times.

NV: What emotional swings still affect Ukrainian society?

Tkalych: The euphoria is already subsiding a little, but we must understand that feelings will be different. When Ukraine is now scoring significant victories - like successes in Chornobaivka or a wrecked Russian ship – this is usually uplifting. And any bad news will significantly reduce this mood, and we need to get ready to go back-and-forth on these swings for quite some time.

At the same time, hope will decrease, especially if the war starts freezing, and there will be less big good news. We must prepare for this psychologically and understand that war is also a war on our mental endurance. There will be disappointments, possible discouragements, that we have not yet reached even in the fourth week of the war. But all of this is possible and is a common reaction to war. It is important not to make such a reaction total and not to try to immerse this feeling in not only yourself, but also more people.

NV: What useful supports can a person rely on during the war?

Tkalych: Rely on yourself, on your ordinary everyday experience, on communication with your family and friends. It is very important that if you have a job – to work, and if you have the opportunity to study – to study. This not only helps the Ukrainian economy, but also stabilizes a person on a personal level. Our study showed that maladaptation is more often experienced by people who have stopped working and do not have ordinary duties. If a person is at home, if they help others, work, does something useful for themselves, then they can keep their psyche in a relatively stable state.

War is not an individual, but a collective matter. It affects a lonely person very painfully and immediately. War is a time when we must be together with other people, support each other, support the economy, help those in need, rely on the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and trust reliable information sources - not anonymous Telegram messenger channels, but official communication channels.

Today, we may only control what depends on us. Russian bombings do not depend on us. You need to leave those places where there is a serious threat to life, or if you are just very afraid and cannot control your feelings, you should also leave. This is not treason. You keep your nerves sane, the nerves of your children, and you make it easier for the Armed Forces of Ukraine to work. In situations where you cannot or do not consider it necessary to leave, it is important to maintain your daily life, be sure to cooperate with neighbors, friends, those who are nearby. Now this group of yours is a small Ukraine, which helps each of you save yourself. This is your small unit, which is also fighting for the country.

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