As Kyiv fights a bloody war with Moscow, a new Gallup public opinion poll gives a striking look inside what ordinary Ukrainians think about their country’s future. VOA talked to leading experts to help unpack the findings.
“Given everything that’s happening, paying attention to what’s going on in Ukraine daily is more important now than it was before,” Julie Ray, Gallup’s managing editor for world news, told VOA.
Gallup is an independent global research organization based in Washington that is best known for its public opinion surveys.
What does ‘winning’ look like?
Nearly every Ukrainian agrees that winning the war means regaining all the land that Russia has conquered from their country since 2014, when the Crimean Peninsula was annexed by Moscow, the Gallup survey found.
While most Ukrainians support fighting until the war is won, that majority is shrinking. Last year it was 70%, and this year it is 60%.
“Fatigue is building up,” said Sergey Radchenko, a scholar of Soviet history at Johns Hopkins.
A growing number of Ukrainians are now hoping Kyiv can negotiate an end to the conflict. That sentiment, Ray said, is especially strong near the front lines in the nation’s south and east, where the toll of war is worst.
One in two Ukrainians reported in Gallup’s survey that they struggle to afford food and shelter. Experts say that Russia wants to see increasing disillusionment in Ukraine as the war drags on.
“That’s why [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has pursued this strategy of targeting infrastructure, power plants and so on,” Radchenko said. “He wants to exhaust the Ukrainian public.”
This winter, Putin could make further headway.
“There are going to be difficult conditions,” said Joseph Nye, a former dean of Harvard Kennedy School. “As the Russians concentrate on destroying infrastructure, people are going to go cold and hungry. That’s probably going to have some effect on how Ukrainians view the war.”
Most Ukrainians have confidence in Zelenskyy, military
“Although there is some evidence of fatigue, Ukrainians overall remain committed to winning the war,” Ray said. Continued approval of the army and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, she added, are key to victory.
Ukrainians are deeply confident in their military, with approval ratings at a record high of 95%, according to Gallup. Support for Zelenskyy has faltered slightly but is still overwhelmingly strong at 81%.
Gallup’s findings show that Ukrainians may back Zelenskyy now, but shrinking confidence in his leadership, however subtle, “sounds sort of like bad news,” Radchenko said. “If I were [Zelenskyy] looking at this polling data, I would start getting worried.”
Zelenskyy’s slight decline in support could owe to the fact that Ukraine’s “offensive has been less decisive than last year’s,” Nye explained.
But Nye does not see any cause for concern. “[U.S. President Joe] Biden,” he said, “would be delighted to have such poll numbers, and so would any leader in the democratic world. Ups and downs are natural.”
Support is up for Germany but dragging for the US
Zelenskyy’s approval ratings depend largely on his diplomatic successes in the West, experts say.
Ukraine’s two greatest military aid providers are the U.S. and Germany. Fifty-three percent of Ukrainians approve of the U.S. and German governments, Gallup found. That number was a marked dip from last year’s data for the U.S., but an increase for Germany.
“There’s a creeping sense of disappointment with the U.S. that it hasn’t delivered as much as it could have, given all Ukraine has been doing to hold back Russian aggression,” Radchenko said. “All that [Ukrainians] have been asking for is financial help, military help.”
As Republican and Democratic politicians in the U.S. spar with one another over sending military equipment to Ukraine, “Germany has come through in its support,” Radchenko said.
The survey was conducted on the heels of July’s NATO summit, where President Biden told the world that Ukraine wasn’t ready to join NATO until after the war was over. “It’s possible that … raised some questions,” Ray said. “The percentage of Ukrainians who said they didn’t have an opinion about U.S. leadership increased to 25% and disapproval also ticked up to 22%.”
Unsurprisingly, Ray said, 0% of respondents support the Kremlin, and only a sliver of Ukrainians back the Chinese government (Beijing is Moscow’s top trade partner, and one of its closest political allies).
Hopes for NATO, EU membership
Almost three-quarters of Ukrainians believe that their country will join NATO and the European Union within a decade, Gallup’s polling shows.
“It will be hard for Ukraine to get into NATO as long as the war continues,” Radchenko said, pointing out a contradiction in how most Ukrainians want both NATO membership and to see the war end.
NATO countries are formally obligated to defend each other, so being admitted in the middle of a war is a difficult sell, experts say.
“There’s nothing to prevent anyone from wanting more things than they can get,” Nye said. “But there’s a trade-off. It’s hard to see [Ukraine’s] accession to NATO being agreed on by all member nations when shooting is still going on.”
Nevertheless, Ukrainians are optimistic. “[They] see their future firmly planted with the West,” Ray said.