Considering how pessimistic Western analysts and policymakers have recently become about Ukraine’s chances in Russia’s imperialist war, Ukrainians should be even gloomier. They’re the ones doing the fighting and the dying. Russian missiles are destroying their country. Their people are the targets of the Kremlin’s genocidal urges.
In fact, Ukrainians remain bullish about their country’s future. To be sure, not quite as bullish as a year ago, but bullish nonetheless.
According to a public opinion survey conducted in December by the respected Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 73 percent of all Ukrainians believe Ukraine will be a “flourishing” country within the European Union 10 years from now. In October 2022, that number was 88 percent. Back then, 5 percent believed Ukraine would have a “ruined economy and a large outflow of people.” In December 2023, the number quadrupled, jumping to 19 percent.
Not surprisingly, two years of death and destruction have had their effect on popular attitudes. That said, almost three-quarters remain optimistic about Ukraine’s future 10 years from now — and by logical extension about Ukraine in the interim as well.
The regional breakdown is no less significant, as it evinces a rough uniformity across the board. In Ukraine’s west, 73 percent are optimistic, while 19 percent are pessimistic. The corresponding numbers are 76 and 17 for the center, 76 and 16 for the south, and 67 and 25 for the east.
Understandably, eastern Ukrainians are most pessimistic, since they’ve borne the brunt of the war. But, given their past divided loyalties between Ukraine and Russia, the fact that two-thirds are optimists is striking, if only because it probably indicates that their loyalties are no longer divided. Significantly, the southerners, who aren’t far behind the east in terms of death and destruction, are as optimistic as their counterparts in the west and center.
The optimism also affects all age groups: 68 percent of 18-29 year olds are optimistic, while 26 percent are pessimistic. The corresponding numbers are 72 percent and 21 percent for 30-39 year olds, 71 percent and 21 percent for 40-49 year olds, 78 percent and 17 percent for 50-59 year olds, 80 percent and 10 percent for 60-69 year olds, and 69 percent and 16 percent for those who are 70-plus years old.
The relatively greater pessimism of the youngest cohort may be due to the fact that they face the very real possibility of being drafted and sent to the front. In turn, Ukraine’s seniors may be more optimistic because they’ve experienced bad times in the past and know that they’ll somehow survive.
We’ll see how the numbers will change in 2024. But, barring some highly unlikely catastrophe, they’re likely to remain more or less stable. After all, 2023 was anything but easy for Ukraine. The war and genocide continued with full force, thousands of Ukrainians were killed and the much-ballyhooed counteroffensive failed to produce the desired results.
Meanwhile, Putin and his comrades are crowing about victory; the West is dilly-dallying about supplying Ukraine with the requisite armaments; and Putinite populists in Hungary, Slovakia, the Netherlands and the United States are threatening to destroy the very European Union of which Ukraine aspires to be a member.
Ukrainians should be in a deep funk. And yet they’re not — almost certainly because they believe, still, that they will win.
Putin, beware. You can’t defeat a nation that will never give up.
Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, as well as “Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires” and “Why Empires Reemerge: Imperial Collapse and Imperial Revival in Comparative Perspective.”
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