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Volodymyr Paniotto

About 80% of Russians support the war against Ukraine, which the Kremlin calls a "special operation." Such moods there are easily combined with public statements about "brotherly nations ".

Evidence of high support for the "special operation" is provided by the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Research (ACPOR). This is a state structure that obviously works in the interests of the Kremlin.

However, independent analytical centers give a similar picture of Russian moods. For example, the “Levada Center” in its March poll shows that only 14% of Russians do not support the actions of Russian troops in Ukraine. On the other hand, 81% of respondents fully or partially support the invasion of the neighboring country.

In addition, a new poll shows that almost 60% of Russian citizens have a negative attitude towards Ukraine.

For many years, similar researches were conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) in partnership with the “Levada Center”. Its leader, Volodymyr Paniotto, says a poll has not yet been conducted this year because of the war.

In an interview with BBC News Ukraine, he also told why even sociologists in Russia support the war, and how the bloody confrontation will change the political landscape of both countries.

Sociology during the war

Is it difficult to conduct sociological research in Ukraine during the war, or is it impossible at all?

Volodymyr Paniotto: I would not say that it is impossible. But they are really difficult to carry out today. In addition, there are limitations in representativeness: some people left Ukraine, some remained in the occupied territories, and some changed their place of residence, and there may be no Internet or poor mobile communication.

But despite this, the vast majority, 80 percent of the population, can be interviewed.

We are now interviewing people who have remained in Ukraine who have more or less stable and safe conditions. The vast majority of such people, so the main tendencies this reflect.

Reuters - Many Ukrainians were forced to flee the war. The UN has counted such 12 million.

There are various technical issues, but we plan to resume researches. We are already doing some projects and even face-to-face interviews in some regions where it is safe.

: Does military censorship in the country somehow affect the objectivity of researches? Maybe some people are afraid or just can't say everything they think.

Volodymyr Paniotto: Of course, it affects. And not just military censorship. The sincerity of the answers decreases. Because people who, for example, support Russia will be more likely to refuse to communicate.

But there are certain methods by which you can try to estimate this shift and take it into account when analyzing the data. Accordingly, in spite of everything, we have (in polls, - Ed.) some people who support Russia, and this shows that not all answers are insincere.

It is this category of people, relatively pro-Russian, has decreased significantly in Ukraine compared to pre-war times, yes?

Volodymyr Paniotto: It has decreased, but it is difficult to assess where the impact of the war is and where the real change in their orientation is. But there are different question formats. There are various methods by which we can study so-called "sensitive" questions.

For example, we do not ask about the opinion of the respondent, but about the position of his entourage or the majority of the population of his city.

There is a method of "guessed acquaintance". That is, the respondent is asked to choose a person he knows very well, but we do not ask who it is. It can be himself, his wife, his enemy, anyone.

And then we ask what this person thinks about this or that. Thus, he has complete anonymity, such answers are more sincere.

"Ukrainians really believe in victory"

Polls conducted by your colleagues since the beginning of the war, as well as a simple slice of information in the media and social networks, show an extremely high level of Ukrainian faith in victory. Somewhere at the level of 90-95%. In your opinion, it is really the citizens who are so sure of this fact?

Volodymyr Paniotto: It seems to me that most really believe this. Because it is always possible to evade the answer to this question. This is not such a sensitive question. If a person does not believe in victory, it is not so scary.

Of course, the error here is greater than in other surveys. It is impossible to say that here it is 3%. But the vast majority really believe.

Plus, it's also due to the fact that the media is talking about it all the time, and opposition channels are not working. TV is still our main source of information.

People who watch the Internet in our focus groups said that they still trust TV more, because there is at least some control, and you can write "anything" on the Internet.

Therefore, it seems to me that the citizens are really convinced of victory. It is difficult to say whether this is their own experience, or the experience of their acquaintances or the influence of the media. But the more "monolithic" position of the media has a definite effect on this.

State Emergency Service - Russia destroys Ukrainian city

Before the war began in mid-February, KIIS conducted a research of how Ukrainians were preparing for it. There, for example, were such data that quite a small number of Ukrainians - 12% - were ready to move to a safe region in the event of armed aggression by Russia.

But now we see that a third or more of Ukrainians have moved to safer regions and even abroad. What do you attribute this discrepancy to? People were too optimistic or did not think that the war could be so bloody and brutal?

Volodymyr Paniotto: According to our data, 12% were ready to move to a safe region and another 8% - abroad, i.e. only 20%. And how many actually moved is hard to say, the famous demographer Ella Libanova, for example, believes that UN data is inflated (the UN says that almost 12 million Ukrainians fled the war: in safe regions - 7.1 million, and abroad - 4.9 million, - Ed.)

A couple of weeks before the war, the media expressed doubts, denied US intelligence about the offensive, and said that the Russians did not have the necessary offensive capabilities.

Zelenskyi also spoke and said that we would prepare for barbecues. That's why some people just did not imagine that it would be so large. That this will not only apply to the eastern regions.

And the same Putin spoke and spoke only about the eastern regions. So no one could have imagined how horrible it would be.

In your same research, there was another interesting figure - 57% of citizens said they were ready to resist the Russians. In your opinion, this figure was also underestimated, because we now see a strong volunteer movement, records in the territorial defense, rallies in the occupied territories?

Volodymyr Paniotto: It is difficult to say. How can you estimate how many people are now ready to fight or resist? Is it 57% or more. Yes, we see that the majority of the population is very active.

I personally know many examples when people want to enroll (in territorial defense, - Ed.), They come there, they are sent home, they say they are not needed. And they try again and again.

We honestly thought that the intentions of the people expressed during the survey were inflated.

Because it was a theoretical question, and the answer that you will defend the homeland with weapons in your hands is a "socially desirable answer." But it turned out that this figure is quite adequate, and that people are really doing everything they can to win.

"People will find justifications for Russia"

Returning to the topic of the pro-Russian electorate. Now we see a ban on all parties of this direction, the liquidation of the fraction OPZZh in the Verkhovna Rada. What do you think will happen to this electorate? This is about 20%, if we add up the votes of all those who voted for the OPZH, the Opozytsiinyi Blok and other pro-Russian forces. These people will be looking for new political projects?

Volodymyr Paniotto: I think part of this electorate will change their minds. I just personally know people who have already changed their minds.

But, unfortunately, in today's world, this applies not only to the situation during our war, the facts do not always convince people. That is, they are being shelled by Russia, they see that people are dying here, but they say: "The main thing is that there should be peace, and after the war we will find out who shot at whom".

It has always been the case that people with certain beliefs choose media that support their point of view. This was shown in researches conducted by sociologists after World War II. They were impressed by the success of Hitler's propaganda and studied the media very carefully.

People trust what they like and don't trust what they don't like. Because of this, their views are cemented.

And now this process is much faster, because they receive support for this information on social networks, and the algorithms of social networks work in such a way that they throw people what they liked.

For example, there were cases written in the American media that people died in hospitals from covid and said that covid did not exist, but simply misdiagnosed and treated.

So here. People will not be able to convince anything and they will find excuses for Russia, say that Ukraine is to blame, will support the attack of the aggressor, despite all their sufferings.

Some of these people will remain and political parties will collect them, do some projects that may not directly support Russia, but will be in opposition to the government. And they will say that "resistance has led to a large number of victims", that the government "should have started looking for peace earlier" and so on.

Reuters - The sociologist says that part of the pro-Russian electorate in Ukraine will remain. These people will justify the actions of the Russian Federation.

And what will happen to the opposite flank - the pro-Ukrainian parties? Do you see, for example, tendencies to increase the rating of nationalist parties like "Svoboda" or "Natsionalnyi Korpus"?

Volodymyr Paniotto: Now both the “Sluha Narodu” and the President enjoy great support. Because of this, we can say that “Svoboda” or Poroshenko's party is losing some of its image as the most patriotic force. So I'm not sure that's going to happen.

We conducted a research on the success of the “Svoboda” party in the 2012 elections, when they won 10%, although they had not had such a result before.

Researches have shown that at the time, they seemed to be the most consistent in their fight against Yanukovych. When Yanukovych was no longer in the parliamentary elections, they could not get into the Verkhovna Rada, despite their active struggle on the Maidan.

Perhaps Andrii Biletskyi (leader of the "Natsionalnyi Korpus" and ex-commander of the “Azov” Regiment ", - Ed.) will gain rating growth due to the truly heroic struggle of "Azov", but "Svoboda" - is unlikely. Although now it is difficult to say.

We see an increase in the number of supporters of integration with the EU among Ukrainians, but at the same time a decrease in the number of supporters of joining NATO. How can you explain this?

Volodymyr Paniotto: Now there is a very high level of trust in the government and in Zelenskyi personally. Therefore, when the authorities say that we are not accepted into NATO and we need to look for other ways to ensure the security of the state, the citizens trust it.

It also reflects a bit of resentment at NATO for not helping Ukraine enough. Therefore, the percentage of sympathizers is declining. There are two reasons - trust in the government and resentment to NATO.

Did the so-called Istanbul Agreements and peace talks between Ukraine and Russia divide Ukrainian society? Because public criticism was quite active, some said that no negotiations could be held with the aggressor at all. Does the majority of the population support this initiative of the government?

Volodymyr Paniotto: Unfortunately, we did not conduct such researches, but, according to our colleagues from the “Reitynh” company, 74% support even Zelenskyi's direct talks with Putin.

The majority of the population, I think, also supports the Istanbul talks, against negotiations with Russia in general only about 30% of the population.

In particular, because they deal with humanitarian issues, green corridors and the exchange of prisoners of war. But I can't name exact data. We plan to conduct such researches.

"Even educated people support the war in Russia"

As for your Russian colleagues. Do you generally believe in the possibility of conducting honest opinion polls in Russia, whether it is a priori impossible at this stage and in the near future?

Volodymyr Paniotto: I think that the “Levada Center” is perhaps the only independent sociological center in Russia, and they are objectively conducting researches.

That is, they try to formulate questions correctly, and do not ask them in such a way as to push to one or another point of view, like other sociological centers.

And the “Levada Center” gives the data they really got. In fact, because of this it was given the status of "foreign agent" in Russia.

It is important what the questions are in the survey. If this questions are directly about supporting the war, then they can hardly be objective, because the very word "war" is criminally punishable in Russia.

But sociologists in Russia have conducted some more methodological experiments and believe that somewhere in 10-15% overestimated support for the war by the Russians. But still it's the majority.

This is confirmed by the behavior of many Russians on social networks, where no one is forcing them and they can speak freely.

We see there that the war is supported even by educated people and, unfortunately, even many sociologists. This upset me a lot. Fortunately, my friends in Russia can support Ukraine, sign letters, go to rallies.

: Why Russian sociologists support the war?

Volodymyr Paniotto: This is due to the fact that the more intelligent a person is, the more opportunities he has to come up with such a system of protection and such a justification for his statements, which gives him the opportunity to feel like a decent person.

But at the same time, show support for what you will not receive punishment for, on the contrary, you will look like a "patriotic person" who can successfully advance in his profession, receive a salary and risk nothing.

This cognitive dissonance that occurs in humans can be addressed in several ways. They can cynically say that they support the government's actions, and scold it about themselves, as was the case in the USSR.

Another option is to convince yourself and others that you really believe in it. For example, they say that this (war, - Ed.) Is done for Russia's security, because Ukraine seeks to join NATO and so on.

But it is not true that Putin attacked Ukraine because it wants to join NATO. On the contrary, Ukraine wanted to join NATO because it was attacked by Putin. Because by 2014, 90% of our population had a positive attitude towards Russia, and Putin was the most popular politician.

In 2009, he had 60% support, incumbent President Yushchenko 10% less than 6% and Yanukovych 30%.

As for NATO, only 16% of the population wanted to join. The vast majority of citizens were against, and politicians generally did not include this issue in their program, because it was an unpopular thesis.

There was no danger. And only after 2014 did the number of those who support joining NATO triple and the number of those who oppose fall. And it did not even fall to zero, but to about 30%.

Reuters - Opinion polls show that most Russians support Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Do you see any correlation between Putin's personal rating and this expansionist position of Russians who support the war? That is, as long as the president's rating is high, they agree with him on everything, only he will start to fall, for example, for economic reasons, they will turn away from him and say that they were not supporters of war at all.

Volodymyr Paniotto: You know, I now have less and less faith in the thesis that "the refrigerator beats the TV." Putin's rating for 7 years before the Crimea was falling and fell to 55%.

But after the capture of Crimea, he jumped again to 85%. The theses of "getting up from one's knees", waging local wars and escalating conflicts have contributed to the fact that domestic problems have receded and people support Putin's foreign policy actions, and his rating is growing.

The same thing is happening now. During the month and a half of the war, the positive attitude not only to Putin, but also to various key ministers and to the Russian government in general has increased.

And this, by the way, is a question that is not so sensitive for respondents. Because you can say about a minister that you are against him, unlike the question of Putin or the war. But we see that the support of all of them has increased by 10%.

This is another confirmation that this war will contribute positively rather than negatively to the popularity of the Russian government in the short term.

Our hopes that people there, when they see their soldiers die and their economic situation deteriorate, will radically change their behavior, unfortunately, are unfounded.

It's a bit of a philosophical question, but don't you think that in Russia sociology actually legitimizes any acts of aggression, any crimes of the government, because it can always tell it that people support it? In fact, sociology serves the lowest instincts of the population.

Volodymyr Paniotto: In principle, perhaps so. I know that colleagues from one of the Russian sociological centers discussed whether to publish the data of their research and decided not to publish it for the very reasons of not supporting the government. True information is now also in favor of the Russian government.

What to do… This is the specifics of democracy in general, honest information can help support lowly instincts. But other social systems are even worse, control of the media or sociology to educate people leads to the coming to power of Hitlers and Putins.

I do not think that honest information and sociological researches should be banned because of not always pleasant results. By the way, from time to time our deputies suggest banning them a month before the election or during the war.

Getty Images -

"Unrequited love"

One recent “Levada Center” poll shows that 57% of Russians have a negative attitude toward Ukraine. And in all age groups, even young people. What can this be related to? This is the effect of propaganda?

Volodymyr Paniotto: We have been studying the attitude of Ukrainians towards Russians and Russians towards Ukrainians since 2008. We had such a joint project with Levada Center.

And it turned out that 90% of Ukrainians until 2013 had a positive attitude towards Russians. In Russia there were fluctuations all the time. First it was 60%, then it dropped to 30% during the war in Georgia. There was such an "undivided love" of Ukrainians for Russians.

I asked Russian sociologists what this was about. They said that the Russian population has an imperial orientation, which is expressed in the fact that, in their opinion, it is not the Soviet Union that collapsed, but the Ukrainians abandoned them and left.

It was a kind of insult. And then, when there is no opposition media, public opinion becomes very regulated, it changes depending on what is said on television.

By the way, when Zelenskyi came to power, this was the first time that Russians treated Ukrainians better than Ukrainians treated Russians. But it was a very short period.

Do you believe in the "sudden enlightenment" of the Russians, as was the case with the Germans after World War II?

Volodymyr Paniotto: I believe in "enlightenment". But only if it is not a "sudden" insight, but the same work that was carried out in Germany.

If the Russian media radically change their propaganda, because public opinion in Russia is very much dependent on it. This may be under the new leadership of the country.

The denazification they are proposing to Ukraine is something that could change Russia. We see that this has helped Germany. And now it is helping to save Ukrainians from Russians. Which in itself sounds paradoxical.

 Oleh Chernysh BBC News Ukraine

April 21, 2022

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