Since 1992, the Institute of Sociology of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences has conducted an enormous number of surveys and polls which together with the work of various private polling agencies provide a detailed if often ignored portrait of the evolution of Ukrainian society.
On the 27th anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the USSR, sociologist Tetyana Nikitina offers a sampling of this rich data source. Among many of the findings she highlights are the following:
- Most Ukrainians still think their country has 52 million residents. In fact, that number, thanks to emigration and other demographic changes, has fallen to 42 million and may, under the most pessimistic projections, fall to only 25 million by mid-century as Ukraine is one of the ten countries with the highest rates of population contraction at the present time.
- The Ukrainian population is aging with deaths far exceeding births and the birthrate far below replacement level. As a result, the number of pensioners per working adult is rising, leading to real “panic” among the latter group.
- Compared to 2014, Ukrainians now view the war in the east, political instability, relations with Russia and the Russian presence in Crimea as less important than they did but see corruption, inflation, the incompetence of the authorities, and the need to take care of the poor as more important.
- Seventy-four percent of Ukrainians think the country is going in the wrong direction. “This is not a unique situation,” Nikitina says. And it represents less a secular decline than a return to normalcy after the euphoria of 2014.
- Forty-eight percent of Ukrainians believe that their lives depend on external circumstances rather than their own efforts. That too has been a constant except briefly during 2014.
- “The ability to take responsibility for one’s own life and the country as a whole are habits which develop over decades if not centuries and depend on earlier positive experiences with independence and self-organization which Ukrainians do not have much of. As a result, up to now, authoritarian values are widespread in society.”
- “Ukrainians trust only those they know personally – relatives, friends and neighbors.” They seldom have any trust in larger and more impersonal groups. This situation “has not changed over the last 20 years.”
- “Not more than 20 percent of Ukrainians are members of any civic organization.” And the share saying they took part in the Euromaidan – 18 percent in 2014 – has fallen every year since then.
- “On the whole, in terms of values, Ukrainian society is quite different from European countries and more like the situation in Russia and the countries of the post-communist camp, although in the majority of them the situation is all the same closer to Europe as a result of their greater historical experience with independence.” Ukrainians nonetheless remain attached to the idea of joining Europe.
- Ukrainians vary in important ways by region as far as national self-identification is concerned. People in the central regions are most inclined to identify with and take pride in Ukrainian identity. People in the south less so; and Ukrainians elsewhere more attached to regional identities.
- When thinking about the future, Ukrainians feel concern, disappointment and confusion, again with important regional variations. Younger Ukrainians are more positive than their elders.
In pulling together this data, Nikitina says, she asked herself “what should each of us be doing in order to make life in Ukraine better?” Her answers are to stop placing one’s hopes on the government and take personal responsibility in all things, save for retirement, stop being alternately positive or negative about the state but learn to evaluate it more soberly, stop putting up with injustice in everyday things, and become more active on a broader scale.
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