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Anton Oliynyk's column for UP based on KIIS data: "A difficult question about victory"

Anton Oliynyk, a professor at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, prepared a column for Ukrainska Pravda based on KIIS data. Below we also offer it for your attention.


The official position of the Ukrainian leadership regarding negotiations with Russia was and remains unchanged. The war will end with negotiations. " Zelensky's Formula " will be their agenda . Ukrainians' perception of the war is more dynamic. Public opinion is moving in the direction of a crossroads.

Ukrainians' answers to the question of why they think Russia invaded Ukraine indicate the presence of opposite tendencies. The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology first asked this question in May 2023, and then in February 2024. The question was open, without hints.


The words used in the answer to the question "Why do you think Russia invaded Ukraine?"



On the one hand, Ukrainians began to express themselves more irreconcilably. In 2024, they use words and sentences like "enemy", "aggression" and "destruction", "because it is the original enemy", "historically aggressors attack everyone" more often. On the other hand, Ukrainians became better aware of the geopolitical context of the great war: "defends its geopolitical interests at the expense of Ukraine", "geopolitics provoked by Western partners". 

Unlike the national context of a major war, its geopolitical dimension is more difficult to control. Ukrainians talked less about victory and peace in 2024 than a year ago. The table below shows changes in the use of key concepts that exceed the level of significant significance. Negative values indicate the relative rarity of the concept in the corresponding year.

The answers to the questions about the parameters of a possible peace agreement confirm that Ukrainians are now better than a year ago, aware of the complex nature of the issue of the conditions for the end of the war. The respondent had the option of agreeing to recognize Donbas as part of Russia in exchange for an end to the war, or rejecting such an option. The number of those for whom such a compromise is completely unacceptable decreased from 77.5% in 2023 to 57.2% this year (a reduction of 20.3%).

The territorial dimension of changes in public opinion attracts special attention. Last year, residents of the western regions (Volhynia, Lviv Oblast, Frankiv Oblast, Ternopil Oblast, Khmelnytskyi Oblast, Bukovyna, Transcarpathia and Rivne Oblast) were the most adamantly opposed to territorial concessions – 83.2% of them rejected such a possibility. This year, their attitude towards a possible compromise has changed more strongly than in other regions of Ukraine. 

Now the compromise is unacceptable for 56.3% of the natives - those who lived there before the beginning of the great war - residents of the West (-26.9%). Only in the South (Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv Oblast, Kherson Oblast and Odesa Oblast) there are even fewer "unwavering" people, 53.7% (-19.9%).


Some people claim that in order to conclude a peace agreement with Russia, Ukraine will have to make difficult compromises. And how would you feel about Ukraine recognizing Donbas within the full boundaries of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as an official part of Russia in exchange for Russia to stop hostilities against Ukraine and withdraw its troops from Ukraine?



In the past, the native inhabitants of the western regions often exemplified national consciousness. Will their more favorable attitude towards territorial concessions become a model for the residents of the Center, South and East today? It cannot be ruled out that the new mood in the West is a harbinger of more radical changes in the rest of the regions.

An analysis of the factors that increase or decrease the probability of accepting the idea of territorial concessions to end the war confirms this possibility. Residents of the West this year were more likely to agree to a compromise, while last year, on the contrary, the probability of not accepting territorial concessions was higher precisely in the Western regions. The new attitude towards territorial concessions in the West of the country became the most significant change compared to the dynamics of other factors.


Factors that increase (these factors have negative values) or decrease (these factors have positive values) the probability of refusing to recognize Donbas within the full limits of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as an official part of Russia in exchange for Russia to stop hostilities against Ukraine and withdraw its troops from Ukraine.



The probability of agreeing to territorial concessions was higher in 2024 among those who mentioned Donbas when answering the question about the reasons for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. "Liberation of Donbas" is one of the main narratives of Russian propaganda . The word "state" played the exact opposite role. It was used in their answers by those who had more chances to refuse territorial concessions. The emphasis on the state distinguishes Zelensky's speeches from the war-related speeches of other political leaders. But in Ukrainian news about the war, compared to the coverage of the war abroad, it is absent .

The influence of information sources on the respondent's attitude towards territorial concessions confirms the significant role of propaganda and counter-propaganda in forming views on the end of the war. Last year, users of Russian social networks and subscribers of Russian Telegram channels were more likely to agree to territorial concessions to end the war. On the contrary, the audience of Ukrainian radio and online publications was relatively more determined.

This year, the Ukrainian government managed to neutralize the influence of the Russian mass media and social networks and increase the effectiveness of "Edyny noviny" as a lever of counter-propaganda. Those who rely on the telethon for information about the war now have a better chance of rejecting the idea of territorial compromises.


Which of the following sources do you most often rely on for information about hostilities with Russia?



This victory on the media battlefield could be pyrrhic. The audience of "Edyny neviny" is constantly decreasing. Last year, 64.8% of Ukrainians relied on television for news, this year - 51.1% (-13.7%). This is significantly less than the audience of Ukrainian Telegram channels (75.3%, +3%), Ukrainian online publications (72.2%, +7.5%) and Western social networks (65.1%, +1.4%). The three most popular sources of information today do not affect the attitude of Ukrainians to options for ending the war. They are "neutral" from this point of view.

Today, Ukrainians decide the difficult question about options for ending the war in most cases independently of the media and the government. Should we continue to refuse territorial concessions, even if because of this the war will last longer, the mobilization will be more massive, and there will be threats to the preservation of independence? Is it necessary to be resilient when any effort at the national level is still insufficient to change the geopolitical context?

The probability of ending the war with victory depends on the answer to these questions. Victory will be what Ukrainians agree to consider as victory. The same can be said about defeat or "betrayal". 

That is, the prerequisites for victory or defeat are laid first of all in the mind, and only then are they created on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Therefore, difficult questions should be asked and discussed, without expecting that the answers to them will appear spontaneously. There is no certainty that spontaneous responses will not be unexpected, and not only for the government.


Anton Oliynyk

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