ESC or click to close
Press releases and reports
Support for accession to Russia in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine.
The press release was prepared by the General Director of KIIS Volodymyr Paniotto and the Deputy Director of KIIS Anton Hrushetskyi
Right now, we are all witnessing how the aggressor state, Russia, is trying to hold pseudo-referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine and announce its results as "the real moods of the population." The results of the pseudo-referendum will be used to legitimize the occupation and promote the appropriate narrative for various audiences (including among Ukraine's allies in the West).
There are many arguments that testify to the worthlessness of these pseudo-referendums: according to the legislation of Ukraine, oblasts do not have the right to independently decide on the issue of secession from Ukraine through referendums; half or even the majority of the population left these territories and referendums do not reflect the opinion of the entire population of the oblast; repression of supporters of Ukraine and control of armed people hinder the free expression of people's will, etc. But let's put the question this way – and how people would have voted if the referendum had been conducted correctly and honestly?
KIIS participated in the forecasting of many elections and referendums held in Ukraine, and received quite accurate results (in particular, in the 2019 presidential elections, the deviation of the forecast from the election results was less than 3%, see https://kiis.com.ua/?lang=ukr&cat=reports&id=849&page=7&y=2019). We cannot conduct a full-fledged survey in the occupied territories now, but we can see what the public moods of the residents of the South and East was in the period 2014-2022 before the full-scale invasion.
What were the residents of the South and East thinking about in 2014
In April 2014, KIIS conducted a representative survey in each of the 8 regions of the South and East (including Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the survey took place throughout the territory) at the request of the weekly magazine "Dzerkalo Tyzhnia". In terms of information, it was one of the most difficult (and anti-Ukrainian) periods. Among other things, the respondents were asked the standard question of KMIS "How would you like to see Ukraine's relations with Russia?", which can be used to calculate the % of those who see Ukraine and Russia as independent states, as well as the % of those who want to unite them into one state. Although this question is not directly equivalent to support for secession, it is highly correlated with it (correlation coefficient 0.95) and is actually a fairly adequate measure of separatist moods.
As can be seen in the graph 1, even in April 2014, the absolute majority in every region of the South and East saw Ukraine as independent from Russia. Relatively the most support for "unification into one state" was in Luhansk oblast (16% against 80% who were in favor of independence), Donetsk oblast (12% against 87%) and Kharkiv oblast (11% against 87%).
Graph 1. What would the residents of the South and East of Ukraine like to see the relations between Ukraine and Russia in April 2014
When asked directly about the desire to secede and join Russia ("Do you support or not the opinion that your oblast should separate from Ukraine and join Russia?") in April 2014, moods were more radical in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, but with the majority opposing joining Russia. Thus, in the Donetsk oblast, 52% were against joining Russia, while 28% supported it. In Luhansk oblast, 52% were also against joining Russia, 30% wanted to join. It is clear that 28% and 30% are quite significant support, but one must understand, first of all, the context - decades of poisonous influence on these regions of Russian propaganda. Second, it was still a minority of the population. That is, even in such informationally unfavorable conditions and historically difficult situations, the majority of Donbas did not share separatist moods.
In other regions, support for joining Russia was even lower. In the Kharkiv oblast, only 16% supported joining Russia against 66% who were against it. In other oblasts, only 4-7% wanted to join Russia, against 79-85% who were against it. Separately, it should be said about the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. In Kherson oblast, 4% wanted to join Russia (85% were against), in Zaporizhzhia oblast - 6% (against – 82%).
Graph 2. Attitude of residents of the South and East of Ukraine to joining of their oblast to Russia in April 2014
What were the residents of the South and East thinking about in 2021-2022 (before the full-scale invasion)
KIIS regularly asks questions about relations with Russia. We combined the results of three surveys (February 2021, November 2021, early February 2022) in order to have a sufficient sample to analyze attitudes at the level of individual oblasts (Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts - only territories controlled by the Government of Ukraine).
As can be seen in the graph 3, in all oblasts of the South and East, the absolute majority see Ukraine as independent from Russia. Even in the Donetsk oblast, only 10% would like unification into one state, against 86% who supported the independence of Ukraine. The situation is similar in Luhansk oblast. In other regions of the South and East, even fewer people would like unification with Russia. That is, with any transparently and honestly organized polls, plebiscites or referendums, the absolute majority of the population of each of the regions of the South and East would speak out for the independence of Ukraine and the belonging of their oblast to Ukraine itself.
We would like to note right away that with such support for Ukraine from the population, even a significant population outflow does not change the fact that the majority of residents of the territories occupied after February 24, who still live there, are on the side of Ukraine (and this applies to every region). For example, we can assume as a thought experiment that 60% of the population left the territory of Kherson oblast and only pro-Ukrainian citizens left. Then in the oblast among those who remained, the share of supporters of unification with Russia was still only 15% against 75% of those who are on the side of Ukraine.
Graph 3. How would the residents of the South and East of Ukraine like to see relations between Ukraine and Russia in 2021-2022 before a full-scale invasion
In the 2021-2022 data, we did not have a direct question similar to the 2014 data ("Do you support or not the opinion that your oblast should separate from Ukraine and join Russia?"). Therefore, based on the data of 2014, we created a regression model to convert the data on the desire to unite Ukraine with Russia into the percentage of those who would like their oblast to join Russia. The correlation coefficient of these two indicators is 0.95, the R-squared coefficient, which characterizes the quality of the model, is 0.90. The forecast based on this model based on 2014 data differs from real data by an average of 2.3%. Below (graph 4) are the results of the calculation according to this data model for 2021-2022.
Graph 4. Attitude of residents of the South and East of Ukraine to the accession of their oblast to Russia in 2021-2022 before a full-scale invasion (recalculation based on a regression model)
We see that before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the percentage of those who would like the oblast to join Russia did not exceed 22% (in the Kherson oblast, for example, only 11%). We can say with confidence that after the invasion, which resulted in the death and maiming of many people, the destruction of houses and infrastructure, the number of Russian sympathizers in all regions of Ukraine has sharply decreased, this is shown by the data of all researches conducted after the invasion (see, for example, https://kiis.com.ua/?lang=ukr&cat=reports&id=1112&page=5). Therefore, any correctly conducted referendum that would be held in these oblasts would show that the absolute majority of residents of each oblast would oppose the separation of the region from Ukraine and joining Russia.
Holding referendums on Ukrainian territories captured by Russia is illegal and violates international norms. In addition, it is possible to annex territories to Russia in this way only by falsifying the results of referendums. The data of numerous polls show that in any transparently and honestly organized polls, plebiscites or referenda, the absolute majority of the population of each of the regions of the South and East would have expressed their support for the independence of Ukraine and the belonging of their oblast to Ukraine.