The Pentagon announced $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine last week, the largest single drawdown of U.S. arms and equipment for Ukraine. And the U.S. treasury has authorized $4.5 billion in budgetary assistance to the Ukrainian government. These aid packages reaffirm the Biden administration’s commitment to meeting Ukraine’s “critical security and defense needs.”
That’s likely to be welcome news in Ukraine, where a survey reveals citizens remain determined to repel Russia’s invasion, no matter how long they think the war may last. And Ukrainians are even more resolved than they were before the war to build a strong democratic state integrated with Western institutions, according to the survey results from Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology (UNASIS).
With funding from the Program on New Approaches to Research on Security in Eurasia (PONARS), and fieldwork conducted by a well-known independent research organization, Rating Group Ukraine, the study interviewed 475 respondents in July from a group of 1,800 respondents UNASIS polled in late November 2021. This pool of repeat respondents is designed to be broadly representative of the population in territories now under Ukraine’s government control, based on key traits such as age, gender, language use and region.
Amid the profound shocks of war, the poll shows that Ukrainians’ support for their president has surged, along with their appreciation of democratic values, trust in democratic institutions, and willingness to join NATO — and, particularly, the European Union. These results suggest Ukrainians have responded to Russian aggression with great optimism about Ukraine’s future as a nation — and confidence in Ukraine’s victory.
Few have not been affected by the war
Close to 70 percent of July respondents reported at least one form of war loss to their family — people lost friends or homes, got wounded, had to flee, or saw friends or family displaced. These figures mark a more than threefold increase from December 2021, when responses about exposure to war were related to the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has been ongoing since 2014.
Roughly 1 in 5 respondents in July reported being displaced to a different region, or oblast. Nearly 84 percent said they knew at least one person fighting in the war. And there were clear signs of the psychological stress Ukrainians are under. The numbers of respondents reporting symptoms of trauma — recurrent tension or anxiety, nervousness when alone, and war-related nightmares — have risen sharply, along with surging fears of government collapse and going hungry.
Ukrainians have rallied for democracy
Despite the daily traumas of war, Ukrainians have rallied for President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom they elected in April 2019. Respondents who, on average, rated Zelensky’s job performance as just 3.8 on a 1-to-10 scale in December 2021 now give him high marks — he scored an average 8.9 approval rating in July. In fact, 88 percent of survey respondents in July say they trust the president “mostly” or “completely,” a sharp shift from the 20 percent who felt that way last December.
Ukrainians also indicate rising support for democratic values — twice as many July respondents say democracy is very important to them personally, compared to December 2021. And 75 percent of respondents now say democracy is the best form of government for any country, up from 60 percent in December’s survey.
This support extends not only to the army and police, but also to the media and parliament. Respondents also boosted their approval for Ukraine’s membership in key global democratic alliances — support for joining the European Union jumped from 53 percent in December to about 84 percent in the latest survey, while approval for joining NATO jumped from 48 to 70 percent among the same individuals over the last six months.
How confident are Ukrainians?
According to the July 2022 poll, about 80 percent of Ukrainians are fully confident in Ukraine’s military victory over Russia, and another 18 percent are mostly confident — the yardstick is pushing Russian forces back to the pre-February or even pre-2014 positions. And yet respondents understand it will be a long war: 40 percent say they expect the conflict to last from six to 12 months, while another 23 percent think it will take more than a year. Notably, Ukrainians expressed considerable faith in the outcome, despite 74 percent of respondents seeing military assistance and 50 percent seeing economic assistance to Ukraine as insufficient.
What explains this resilience? Two factors stand out. First, Russia’s military aggression is nothing new for Ukrainians. Since 2014, millions of Ukrainians had to adapt to hardship and insecurity — Ukrainian military and volunteer forces have fought and died in World War I-style trench warfare to stave off attacks by the Russian military and its proxies in Ukraine’s eastern regions, over a 250-mile front line. By December 2021, over 20 percent of respondents had experienced war losses, 60 percent knew at least one individual personally who fought in the war and 25 percent worried Ukraine might not survive as an independent nation.
Second, the Russian threat has united Ukrainians like never before. In December 2021, 63 percent of respondents saw their primary identity as citizens of Ukraine, compared to just 50 percent in a 2013 survey, shortly before Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Donbas. Close to 70 percent had trust in Ukraine’s armed forces, compared to about 40 percent in 2013. But by July, those figures had risen to 82 and 97 percent, respectively.
Our poll findings suggest Ukrainians have a hard-earned capacity for unity and resilience through adversity — harking back to victories in the 2004 and 2014 revolutions. This strength helps sustain Ukraine’s democratic and pro-Western rallying.
Asked what they believe unites Ukrainians, most of our respondents (76 percent) named “belief in a better future” — that’s more than twice the response level in December 2021, and far more than those who named ethnic identity (42 percent), language (20 percent) or political views (11 percent). This surge in collective optimism suggests Western assistance can boost the hope that Ukrainians feel about their future, as well as their determination to fight against Russia’s aggression.
Mikhail Alexseev is a professor of political science at the San Diego State University. He is a former Ukrainian journalist and Kremlin correspondent.
Serhii Dembitskyi, the deputy director of the Institute of Sociology of Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences, has conducted extensive research on the social and psychological effects of war.