The mood of the Don­bas:

At the end of April, the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion Pol­icy pub­lished re­sults of polls from Donetsk Oblast. Ac­cord­ing to or­ga­niz­ers, they were con­ducted on both sides of the con­flict line

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - An­driy Holub

A poll in free and oc­cu­pied parts of Donetsk Oblast looks at sen­ti­ments on pol­i­tics, me­dia and war

Fol­low­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea and parts of the Don­bas, there is hardly any re­li­able data on the cit­i­zens who are cur­rently liv­ing in those ter­ri­to­ries. This goes for even ba­sic sta­tis­tics: age and ed­u­ca­tion, level of pros­per­ity, the num­ber of in­hab­i­tants in vil­lages and cities, etc. It is known that mi­gra­tion in the Don­bas and in Crimea has in­ten­si­fied con­sid­er­ably. How­ever, it is im­pos­si­ble to track this ac­cu­rately for ob­vi­ous rea­sons: sta­tis­tics are kept by the oc­cu­pants. To take them into con­sid­er­a­tion would mean to some ex­tent le­git­imis­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion au­thor­i­ties, not to men­tion the du­bi­ous qual­ity of their work.

Keep­ing tabs on pub­lic sen­ti­ment is a sim­i­lar prob­lem. Since 2014, Ukraine’s top so­ci­o­log­i­cal cen­tres have ceased their ac­tiv­i­ties in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries. The re­sults of all pub­lic opin­ion polls con­tain the phrase "with the ex­cep­tion of Crimea and the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts". The rare ex­cep­tions to this rule have some­times ended in scan­dal. In 2015, GfK Ukraine un­veiled a sur­vey on the so­cio-po­lit­i­cal at­ti­tudes of Crimeans. The re­search was com­mis­sioned by Berta Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and con­ducted by po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Taras Bere­zovets with fi­nan­cial sup­port from a Cana­dian foun­da­tion. Em­ploy­ees of GfK Ukraine in­ter­viewed Crimeans by phone. Within a few days, the So­ci­o­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion of Ukraine (SAU) is­sued a sharp state­ment that crit­i­cised the tele­phone in­ter­view method it­self and pointed out the risks: re­spon­dents are lim­ited in freely ex­press­ing their opin­ion, as they may feel threat­ened by Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties.

"Ukrainian cen­tres should be very care­ful about polls in Crimea and oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries. A so­ci­ol­o­gist is re­spon­si­ble for the safety of the in­ter­viewer and re­spon­dent. Of course, com­mer­cial or­gan­i­sa­tions can con­duct such re­search, but at their own risk," Yevhen Holo­vakha, Chair of the SAU Pro­fes­sional Ethics Com­mit­tee, said in an in­ter­view to The Ukrainian Week.

SAU does not di­rectly pro­hibit polling in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries. They sim­ply point out that the re­sults of such sur­veys should be care­fully scru­ti­nised and made pub­lic only if they are highly re­li­able. At the same time, there are barely any news­wor­thy events in this field. An ex­cep­tion wor­thy of at­ten­tion oc­curred at the end of April, when a study on the sen­ti­ments of Donetsk Oblast in­hab­i­tants, in­clud­ing its oc­cu­pied part, was pub­lished.

Ac­cord­ing to its or­ga­niz­ers, the study en­ti­tled "As­pects of iden­tity and iden­tity aware­ness of the in­hab­i­tants in the Kyiv-con­trolled and oc­cu­pied parts of Donetsk Oblast" was con­ducted by re­quest of the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion Pol­icy with the as­sis­tance of the Don­bas Think Tank and the US Na­tional En­dow­ment for Democ­racy. Field­work was car­ried out in De­cem­ber 2017. This was the sec­ond such poll – the first took place in June 2016. Com­par­ing the re­sults al­lows us to see how the views of the pop­u­la­tion have changed.

Both polls were con­ducted by the Ukrainian divi­sion of Ger­man agency IFAK In­sti­tut. This or­gan­i­sa­tion, in­clud­ing its Ukrainian of­fice, is part of ESOMAR. The name says lit­tle to the gen­eral pub­lic, but it is one of the most in­flu­en­tial as­so­ci­a­tions of pub­lic opin­ion re­searchers in the world.

How­ever, the re­li­a­bil­ity of the re­search com­pany it­self does not an­swer ques­tions on whether it is pos­si­ble to con­duct high-qual­ity sur­veys in oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory. The or­ga­niz­ers ex­plain that the polls can be con­ducted thanks to re­la­tion­ships pre­served with groups of in­ter­view­ers who still live on the other side of the con­flict line. Ac­cord­ing to pub­licly avail­able in­for­ma­tion, the man­age­ment of the Ukrainian IFAK In­sti­tut of­fice comes from Donetsk. The head of this or­ga­ni­za­tion, Serhiy Hovorukha, ex­plains that although he has been work­ing in Kyiv since 2006 and the com­pany op­er­ates on the na­tional level, many of its projects con­cerned the Don­bas in par­tic­u­lar.

"There are a lot of in­ter­view­ers with ex­pe­ri­ence in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries. We worked with them on dif­fer­ent projects be­fore. They're trained pro­fes­sion­als, not vol­un­teers," says Hovorukha. He adds that it was pos­si­ble to bring about 90% of the orig­i­nal ques­tion­naires back from the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory and trans­fer them to the client. The sur­veys were con­ducted through per­sonal in­ter­views at re­spon­dents' homes. House­holds were cho­sen ran­domly.

The pop­u­la­tion data used to select a sam­ple was taken from the pre-war pe­riod. Hovorukha says that it was pre­cisely due to the lack of fresh sta­tis­tics, in­clud­ing from ter­ri­to­ries con­trolled by Ukraine, that the sam­ple was made based on the sim­plest pos­si­ble pa­ram­e­ters of age and sex.

"The mar­gin of er­ror for our re­search is around 4%, how­ever it could be higher be­cause we do not know the pa­ram­e­ters of the com­mu­nity as a whole. But there is no other way at the mo­ment," says the so­ci­ol­o­gist. Hovorukha replied to a ques­tion about his at­ti­tude to­wards con­duct­ing polls in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries in prin­ci­ple by say­ing that he would rather not have to do this, but there is no other tool for un­der­stand­ing the trends and na­ture of pub­lic opin­ion.

Ac­cord­ing to Dmytro Tkachenko, ad­viser at the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion Pol­icy and head of the Don­bas Think Tank, sur­veys were not con­ducted near the front line, but oth­er­wise cov­ered small, medium and large towns and cities, in­clud­ing Donetsk. "We are still able to do such re­search with­out any prob­lems – 600 ques­tion­naires in big cities are not so no­tice­able," he says.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­search re­port, 600 peo­ple were ac­tu­ally in­ter­viewed in the oc­cu­pied part of Donetsk Oblast. An­other 705 re­spon­dents were in the area con­trolled by Ukraine. These numbers were al­most the same dur­ing the first phase of the study in sum­mer 2016. The ques­tions cov­ered var­i­ous ar­eas, in­clud­ing self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, at­ti­tude to­wards the war and emo­tional state.

The main pos­i­tive change that the or­ga­niz­ers of the study draw at­ten­tion to is the growth of a civic iden­tity com­pared to a ter­ri­to­rial sense of be­long­ing in the free part of Donetsk Oblast. At the end of 2017, 42% of those polled iden­ti­fied them­selves pri­mar­ily as cit­i­zens of Ukraine, com­pared to 32% a year ear­lier. The sense of ter­ri­to­rial iden­tity, i.e. self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as res­i­dent of the given re­gion, fell from 61% to 45%. At the same time, the level of self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as a "cit­i­zen of the Donetsk Peo­ple’s Repub­lic" in the oc­cu­pied part of the oblast de­creased some­what (from 18% to 13%). Ac­cord­ingly, the ter­ri­to­rial iden­tity of the pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing there (from 60% to 72%).

Serhiy Hovorukha notes that ad­di­tional re­search is needed on these is­sues: "It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand whether this [the growth of a civic iden­tity – Ed.] is a sit­u­a­tional fluc­tu­a­tion. There­fore, a third sam­pling is re­quired. If the trend con­tin­ues at this level, we will be able to talk about a pos­i­tive ten­dency."

In the opin­ion of Dmytro Tkachenko, a sec­ond and neg­a­tive ten­dency is that the “cit­i­zens of the DPR” are not very happy with the Rus­sians, but Ukraine is rapidly los­ing the hearts and minds of peo­ple liv­ing in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries. This is ev­i­denced by cer­tain fig­ures from the re­search. More than 40% of re­spon­dents be­lieve that they are more like Rus­sians than the rest of Ukraine in terms of their val­ues and way of think­ing. Only 7% have the op­po­site opin­ion. An­other 34% sep­a­rate them­selves from both Rus­sians and Ukraini­ans.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­hab­i­tants of the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries, most of the fac­tors men­tioned in the ques­tions are more likely to di­vide than unite them with in­hab­i­tants of other re­gions: the de­sire to change life in Ukraine for the bet­ter (35% – unites, 49% – di­vides), love for Ukraine (32%, 42%), be­long­ing to the com­mu­nity of Ukrainian cit­i­zens ir­re­spec­tive of na­tion­al­ity (35%, 52%), dis­ap­point­ment with cur­rent changes (37%, 54%), val­ues and way of think­ing (29%, 62%) and even re­li­gion (35%, 51%). The only unit­ing fac­tors are cul­ture and tra­di­tions (57%, 34%) and mis­trust of the cur­rent Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties (53%, 35%). It is im­por­tant to note that in the free ter­ri­to­ries all these fac­tors nev­er­the­less unite cit­i­zens with res­i­dents of the rest of the coun­try, with a size­able mar­gin to boot. In ad­di­tion, the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion both in the oc­cu­pied and free ter­ri­to­ries of Donetsk Oblast con­tin­ues to stay in touch with rel­a­tives and ac­quain­tances in other oblasts – 72% and 68% re­spec­tively.

Ac­cord­ing to the study, two thirds of in­hab­i­tants in the oc­cu­pied part of Donetsk Oblast have not heard the term "hy­brid war­fare". The re­sults in the rest of the oblast are not much bet­ter: 45% of those polled were not fa­mil­iar with the phrase. If we look at the aware­ness of so­ci­ety as a whole, the sit­u­a­tion seems ter­ri­ble. In the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries, there were no re­spon­dents who fully trusted the Ukrainian me­dia – only 3% partly trust them. The sit­u­a­tion is not much bet­ter in the free parts of Donetsk Oblast. At the end of 2017, only 16% fully or par­tially trusted Ukrainian me­dia. This is half of what it was a year ear­lier. How­ever, over the last year the num­ber of those who do not trust the Ukrainian me­dia at all has in­deed de­creased (to 26% from 40%). The num­ber of those who par­tially trust and partly do not has in­creased (to 39% from 25%). The Rus­sian me­dia does not have a lot of trust either, but here there is a cer­tain ten­dency to­wards po­lar­i­sa­tion in the views of res­i­dents of the free part of the oblast: the num­ber of those who trust these sources and the num­ber of those who do not trust them are both grow­ing. As a re­sult, over the year the pro­por­tion of those who par­tially trust and partly do not de­creased from 45% to 28%.

An­other topic of the so­ci­o­log­i­cal study was the gen­eral emo­tional state of the oblast’s in­hab­i­tants. While a feel­ing of hope pre­vails in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries (51%), the free ar­eas are un­cer­tain about the fu­ture (50%). Nev­er­the­less, the change in re­sults over time shows some im­prove­ment in the emo­tional state of peo­ple in both parts of the oblast. In the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries, there was also a de­crease in fa­tigue and anx­i­ety in ad­di­tion to the grow­ing sense of hope. The sense of fa­tigue and anx­i­ety de­cline sig­nif­i­cantly in the free part of Donetsk Oblast (to 33% from 51%) and a sense of hope is grow­ing there too (to 29% from 12%).

Al­most half of re­spon­dents in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries (49%) do not feel a dif­fer­ence be­tween the stan­dard of liv­ing in the "DPR" and Ukraine. In the free ter­ri­to­ries, the ma­jor­ity still sees a dif­fer­ence, but their pro­por­tion has de­clined (to 55% from 64% in 2016). In gen­eral, the per­cep­tion of Ukraine as a place with bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties has some­what de­te­ri­o­rated for res­i­dents of Donetsk Oblast on both sides of the de­mar­ca­tion line. The fig­ures for em­ploy­ment, prices, health­care and even re­spect for rights and free­doms, in par­tic­u­lar free­dom of speech, have fallen. Per­haps the big­gest out­sider is the ju­di­cial sys­tem. The level of con­fi­dence in it has halved over the past year. The pro­por­tion of in­hab­i­tants in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries who be­lieve that the "DPR" is bet­ter in this re­spect has in­creased to 17% from 12%.

The au­thors of the study state that the over­all life qual­ity in Ukraine neg­a­tively af­fects the sen­ti­ment of cit­i­zens in Donetsk Oblast. How­ever, there are other prob­lems, in­clud­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion and cov­er­age of the oblast’s prob­lems in the me­dia. In ad­di­tion, they men­tion the need for a strat­egy of rein­te­gra­tion and post-war re­cov­ery that is ac­ces­si­ble and un­der­stand­able to cit­i­zens. Ide­ally, every­one has to know what to ex­pect when Ukraine re­turns to the whole of Don­bas.

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