As the Russian invasion enters its third week, most Ukrainians want to keep up the fight, according to a poll released Wednesday.
Conducted by Info Sapiens, based in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, the poll offers the clearest snapshot yet of Ukrainian public opinion as Russian forces continue to shell and encircle cities in a war that analysts say is aimed at toppling Ukraine’s pro-European government and replacing it with pro-Russian proxies.
The fighting has killed and injured hundreds according to a conservative U.N. count, while official Ukrainian figures put the number in the thousands. Millions of civilians have fled across borders or to perceived safer places in Ukraine.
As the war drags on, public opinion in Ukraine appears to continue to harden against Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the latest poll. The study was commissioned by the British research agency ORB International and carried out using a random sampling of cellphones March 3 and 4.
Most notably, 67 percent of Ukrainians polled — 78 percent of men and 59 percent of women — said they were “willing to put up armed resistance” to stop Russia’s advance into Ukraine. A smaller subset, 14 percent of people, said they were “strongly unwilling” to fight back with arms.
Eighty-eight percent of Ukrainians said they are favorable toward President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has defiantly remained in the capital to rally Ukrainian and international support. Zelensky was elected in 2019 on an anti-corruption platform and before the Feb. 24 invasion had faced waning support.
Publics often rally around leaders during crises. But when it comes to some of Putin’s key demands on Ukraine, which he has dangled as possible concessions to end the war, a majority of Ukrainians remain opposed to accepting them.
InfoSapiens found that 79 percent of Ukrainians reject accepting Moscow’s recognition last month of areas of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine as part of Russia, even if doing so would end the fighting. Pro-Russia separatists have been battling the Ukrainian government for control of these areas since 2014, when a Ukrainian uprising ousted the country’s pro-Russian president.
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Similarly, 75 percent oppose Putin’s official recognition of Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014. People in Crimea and occupied areas of Donbas were excluded from the poll.
One of Putin’s key demands in the lead-up to the invasion was for NATO to pledge never to accept Ukraine into the Western military alliance, which Moscow perceives as an existential threat. InfoSapiens found that 56 percent of Ukrainians opposed a ban on NATO membership as a guarantee for ending the war, compared with 30 percent who would accept it.
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A smaller subset, 46 percent, opposed the full implementation of the Minsk agreements reached in 2014 and 2015 by Moscow and Kyiv to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine. From the start, Ukraine was unhappy with the accords, which it said it was effectively forced into signing and were stacked in Russia’s favor.
Though opposition to the agreements was lower than other possible offers, support was not relatively higher: Just 23 percent of Ukrainians said they would accept the Minsk agreements, with 31 percent marking themselves as “don’t know.”
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Inna Volosevych, the deputy director of Info Sapiens, said in an email that she was surprised by the large percentage of Ukrainians who said they opposed concessions.
She spent the first eight days of the war in the town of Vasilkiv outside of Kyiv enduring “dozens of rockets and bombs,” she said.
“Within this period, I personally was ready to accept anything just to end the war,” she said by email. “That’s why I was impressed by the courage of Ukrainians who refused to accept Putin’s requirements in order to finish the war.”
“I personally agree with public opinion,” she added, saying that to concede would mean that “the evil remains unpunished and terror and atrocities will continue.”
Russia and Ukraine have deep ties, with many cross-border families, friends and businesses going back generations. But the Info Sapiens poll offered a look at how divides may be deepening: 66 percent of Ukrainians surveyed said “ordinary Russians are to be blamed for armed aggression,” while 30 percent disagreed.
Media in Russia are banned from calling Putin’s attack on Ukraine a war or invasion. Instead, state media says it is a “special military action,” one it falsely claims was needed to “denazify” Ukraine and stop genocide of Russian- speakers.
Accurate polling in Russia is always difficult to ascertain: An all-out crackdown on independent media in recent days has made it even more challenging.
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Still, there are some useful snapshots of Russian sentiment. A national survey carried about between Feb. 28 and March 1 by an independent Russian research firm found that 46 percent of respondents fully supported the war, compared with 23 percent who opposed it and 13 percent who somewhat did.
The poll also found a clear generational divide, with support highest among older Russians and lowest among those age 18 to 24. Far-reaching international sanctions and boycotts targeting Russian leaders, banks and businesses since the invasion began have greatly affected ordinary citizens.
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Polls conducted in the fog of war in Ukraine are also limited in what they can capture, with so many Ukrainians on the run or without consistent means of communication. Over 2 million people, mainly women and children, have fled Ukraine over the past two weeks. Most men between the ages of 18 to 60 are barred from leaving so they can be conscripted to fight.
Of Ukrainians who remain, 51 percent reported being afraid of running out of food and 38 percent said they feared not having water.
Fifty-one percent told Info Sapiens that they stayed because “it’s my home and I wont leave.”
The response rate to the poll was about three times higher than to those seen before the war, Volosevych said.
“We explained that this data will be published in Western media and people were willing to respond,” she said.
“I was really lucky that we had Wifi in our bomb shelter and I was able to work,” she said. “This was the only thing which prevented me from craziness. Our telephone interviewers said the same thing: they want to work because work creates [the] illusion of normality in this nightmare.”