The purpose of this post is to gather in one place a set of links and references which point to the fact that a significant number of people in Ukraine are (very loosely speaking) ‘pro-Russian’. Or; they bemoan the hostility between the states. The reason I want to do this is because most (but not all) of the discourse in the Western media and all of the discourse in Western liberal political circles eliminates these people. They simply pretend they don’t exist. The narrative thus constructed talks about freeing Ukraine from Russian aggression – and from that flows all sorts of things – like a commitment to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes”, and visits to Kiev by the NATO Secretary General announcing that Ukraine belongs in the “Euro-Atlantic” family. But, the narrative is one-sided. It is like looking at a marble cake and seeing only one colour. In short Western aggression is predicated on a fake narrative whose function is to mask the aggression. Nothing new there of course.
Gallup Survey shows that in 2014 support for joining NATO and the EU in Ukraine was limited, especially in the Southern and Eastern regions while in Crimea a clear majority favoured annexation.
A poll by mainstream US polling organisation Gallup in Ukraine just after the Maidan coup found that:
- 73.9% of Crimeans agreed with the statement: “Crimea’s becoming part of Russia will make life better for me and my family.”
- Support for joining NATO was: East: 13.1%, South: 10.3% (Crimea was not asked this question), Center: 32.1%, North: 37.7%, West: 53.2%
- Support for joining the EU was: East: 19%, South: 26.8% (Crimea was not asked this question), Center: 42.9%, North: 59.8%, West: 84.2%
Stop. Now listen to the NATO Secretary General again: “Let me be clear: Ukraine’s rightful place is in the Euro-Atlantic family. Ukraine’s rightful place is in Nato. And over time, our support will help you to make this possible”. But in 2014 in only one of 5 regions of Ukraine was there a majority in favour of joining NATO – and that just 53.2%! Of course; it could be argued that the mood has changed since then; but the fact is that “Euro-Atlantic” policy towards Ukraine has not changed since 2014. They have been trying to pull Ukraine into the Euro-Atlantic family for years (in fact a key date was the 2008 NATO summit in which it was agreed that Ukraine would eventually be invited).  They have been doing this despite this not being a very popular policy in almost all of Ukraine – especially in the East.
After the Maidan coup the EU signed a political association agreement with Kiev even before the new regime was somewhat legitimised by elections. Despite the fact that in only two of five regions was there a majority for this. What is going on?
Surveys carried out by mainstream Western polling organisations support the results of the Crimean referendum: a clear majority want to be part of Russia.
Forbes magazine reports on the above Gallup poll and one carried out by international market research company GfK. Forbes writes: “One year after the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula in the Black Sea, poll after poll shows that the locals there — be they Ukrainians, ethnic Russians or Tatars are mostly all in agreement: life with Russia is better than life with Ukraine”. Both polls, which were carried out after the annexation of Crimea, reported that 82% of the population supported the annexation. (A figure which corresponds closely to the results of the referendum: 97% in favour of rejoining Russia on a turnout of 83%) .
Surveys by Kiev based sociological institute show minority but not insignificant support in Ukraine for being part of Russia.
An organisation called The Kiev International Institute of Sociology carried out a survey in February 2021. [I have tried to verify that this is a bona-fide research organisation. I have found what appear to be 2 public marketing agency databases which list it. It appears to be still active e.g. a report in the Kiev Independent from January 2023 reports the organisation as having carried out a survey which found that 85% of Ukrainians are against making territorial concessions to Russia. – which suggests that it is not a pro-Russian front. The organisation is described as “highly reputable” by The Washington Post ].The survey was not carried out in Crimea or in the areas controlled by the LDNR. One finding of this survey is that 88% of Ukrainians support independence from Russia. 7% supported unification with Russia. 49% supported being independent from Russia but without borders and customs.
This survey shows two things; excluding Crimea and the territory of the LDNR there was (in 2021) a high level of support for Ukrainian nationhood: 88%. But a) there was a significant minority who wanted to unite with Russia, even outside Crimea and LDNR and b) about half the population were interested in some kind of customs union with Russia. (Which would probably be completely incompatible with EU membership).
Again; the point is that in Ukraine there were (and still are of course) some people who wanted a ‘Russian future’ and not a Euro-Atlantic future. And – a lot of people who hoped perhaps, either way, to keep close to Russia. (50%).
Polls commissioned by The Washington Post in February 2021 show a majority in the LNR and DNR (“occupied territories”) wanted to be part of Russia
This research may have been part of the same research reported on in the previous point. It is reported that a majority of people in the LDNR wanted to be part of Russia. (About 58% if we combine the ‘with autonomy’ and ‘without autonomy’ answers). Just 12% wanted to be reintegrated into Ukraine.
Clearly it is not all “Russian propaganda” that there is a pro-Russian sentiment in this area.
Multiple anecdotal reports from journalists on the frontline in Eastern Ukraine (currently) indicate that there are many people who are “waiting” for Russia to “liberate” them – and some who are still unwilling to pick a side.
As this site comments now and again the political narrative which dominates Western media is something which is input at the editorial level and by columnists sitting in offices in London, Washington and Bonn. Field journalists sometimes report more objectively. I have seen multiple reports from journalists in Eastern Ukraine where they report that some people are not evacuating because they are waiting for the Russians. Apparently Ukrainian police refer to these people as “waiters”. I have also read several reports from liberated Kherson which talk about how some people “collaborated” with the Russians when the area was under occupation. Some of these articles are quite frank; one man’s collaborator is another man’s patriot. Basically; there is evidence that even outside the original LDNR areas, such as in Kherson, there are some people who prefer Russia, or, at least who don’t want to choose. Just one example: a good piece from DW entitled “Why some Ukrainians choose to remain in frontline settlements”.
Professor John Mearsheimer summarises how Ukraine is split with some nice graphs
John Mearsheimer shows how Ukraine is divided. For example; showing how the deposed (elected) President Yanukovych who decided in the end not to sign an Association agreement with the EU, was more popular in the East of Ukraine. He also shows the ethnic breakdown between the East and the West. *** Unfortunately this video has been removed from YouTube. For now I am replacing it with this link to a 2000 scholarly article which clearly clarifies the strong regional differentiation in Ukraine which Mearsheimer is talking about: “Generally analysts draw a line along the Dnieper river dividing the country into a Russified and heavily industrialised East and a more ethnically Ukrainian Western-orientated West” (There are a lot of graphics on WikiPedia claiming to show how Yanukovych got more votes in the 2010 election in the East but I cannot reliably source these).
Demographics – data from a Ukrainian government census in 2001 shows majority Russian by ethnicity in Crimea and a significant Russian minority in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.
Read a little history
Even a little bit of reading about the history of Ukraine will make the reader fairly quickly realise something like this:
Years before the events of 2014, it was clear that Ukraine consisted of two people with different histories and political beliefs.Kenez, Peter. A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to its Legacy (p. 332). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition
Peter Kenez is a Professor at the University of California and the book cited is published by Cambridge University Press. This is not some sort of pro-Russia propaganda. If this is the case then surely this should have informed Western, that is EU and US, policy towards Ukraine? Either they did not bother to inform themselves or, if they did, they chose to ignore the history. If the country is split and yet you try to grab the whole of it based on the desires of just one half of the population, even let’s say, 4/5, surely you realise that something is going to go wrong?
I haven’t talked much about the history because I am not really qualified to do that. But even a glance at the history of Ukraine (for example reading the Encyclopedia Britannica) article is enough to show that Ukraine is likely to be a divided country with some looking more to Russia and some looking more to the West. From the middle of the 17th century until the end of the 18th century half of Ukraine was ruled by Poland and half by the Russian Empire. After 1800 Russia controlled most of Ukraine. Part of the West was under the Hapsburg Empire. (This is a massive over-simplification I am afraid but I just want to give the contours). This is not to argue that somehow modern Russia has a claim on parts of Ukraine; I am simply trying to indicate that the history of Ukraine shows why loyalties might be divided.
The point I want to make is very simple. History aside, all the evidence is that there are some people in Ukraine who look more to Russia than to the “Euro-Atlantic” bloc. These people are more concentrated the further East you go. Support for joining NATO and even the EU is nothing like as universal as one might believe if one simply followed the main editorial line in Western media – or listened to Western political leaders.
It also seems to be the case that some people in Ukraine do not want to have to choose. In the DW clip linked to above there is one old gentleman who says: “It is one people. The same people. Everyone was in the Soviet Union. Everyone served in the Soviet army. And now opinions are divided. This is what the leaders did wrong. They brought into conflict one people. You needn’t need to do this. It was necessary to negotiate”. [5.00] Of course; it is not an over-simplification to look at the situation as two sides fighting over a pie when in theory at least the pie could have been shared.
It follows from this that the West’s project to bring Ukraine into NATO owes more to the ambitions of NATO (especially liberals in the US if we follow the analysis of Professor John Mearsheimer) than it does to the dreams of Ukrainians. It also calls into question the wisdom of the West supporting Kiev in its relentless ambition to retake all of their territory. It would seem that if we believe in “individual rights”, self-determintion and democracy then we should perhaps be looking for a more balanced solution.