Donbas Residents Warm to the Idea of Reintegration
23 October, 2018

Editor’s Note: The following article was written by Oleksiy Matsuka, head of the board at the NGO Donetsk Institute of Information, for Ukrainian news site Ukrainska Pravda. Its translation was edited by Hromadske International for language and fluidity (and not content) purposes. It is published with Matsuka’s permission.

Ukrainian citizens on both sides of the demarcation line have become more tolerant toward the idea of reintegrating Donbas under government control. This can be seen from the data obtained through the Social Cohesion and Reconciliation (SCORE) index in 2016 and 2018.

In its latest results, 78% of the respondents living in Ukraine’s government-controlled territories said that they view the idea of reintegrating separatist-controlled Donbas into Ukraine (retaining the same rights as other Ukrainian regions) as “desirable” or “acceptable,” on the condition that the decentralization reform is implemented. This is a six-percent increase from the 2016 results when 72% shared the same perception.

In the separatist-controlled areas of the Donetsk region, 63% of surveyees in 2018 said they favor the idea of reintegrating Donbas into Ukraine, given the decentralization reform takes place. This is a four percent increase from 2016 when 59% supported or agreed with the idea. While the number of respondents who considered this option “unacceptable in any case” reduced from 37% in 2016 to 28% in 2018.

In Luhansk regions’ occupied areas, the percentage of people who view the idea of reintegration on the condition of decentralization positively has not changed in two years: in both 2016 and 2018, it equaled to 63%. However, the number of residents who considered that scenario “not acceptable in any way” has reduced by three percent, from 34% to 31%. The latter indicator’s change is statistically relevant as it corresponds to the general tendency of the decrease in the number of people who are against the scenario.

When analyzing the data obtained on the uncontrolled territory of Donbas, it is important to take into consideration that residents of these areas are wary of expressing their genuine opinions when they differ from their de-facto authorities’. These people are subjected to higher levels of anxiety, and therefore their responses do not always reflect the reality.

Another factor possibly affecting the responses of people living in the uncontrolled areas of the Donbas could be the change in the way GfK Ukraine collects them. Before 2018, this was done via mobile telephone communication, but in winter 2018 mobile connection with uncontrolled Donbas was lost and now the surveyors conduct the interviews at the respondents’ homes.

When asked during a face-to-face interview, more interviewees tended to give responses in support of Russia and local authorities or went for the “difficult to say” option. In researchers’ opinion, this could be because locals felt a greater sense of anonymity (and therefore safety) during telephone communication, as opposed to personal interviews at their home addresses when personal data is required by the surveyors for quality control.

Taking into account that people who live in Donbas’ uncontrolled areas tend to hide their pro-Ukrainian views, one significant indicator could be how many people say they view Donbas reintegration into Ukraine with the same status as other regions have as “unacceptable.” Hypothetically, respondents who support reintegration but are afraid to say they do could go for the "acceptable if necessary" or "difficult to say" options instead.

Overall, it can be concluded that despite four years of the armed interstate conflict, the majority of citizens who live on both sides of the frontline have preserved the desire to live in one country and view that variant of conflict resolution as acceptable. The number of people whose views on the future of the territories are completely the opposite has slightly decreased, which could signify that people have become tired of the conflict and would like to see it end.

The sample of respondents on the territory controlled by Ukraine was 7,737 in 2016; in 2018 the number was 9,018 respondents older than 18, maximum possible theoretical bias was 1.1% in 2016 and 1% in 2018.

The survey was conducted as personal interviews at respondents' homes.

The sample of respondents on the territory uncontrolled by Ukraine was 329 in 2016; in 2018 the number was 445 respondents older than 18; maximum possible theoretical bias was 5.4% in 2016 and 4.6% in 2018.

The sample of respondents on the territory uncontrolled by Ukraine in the Luhansk region was 312 in 2016; in 2018 the number was 597 respondents older than 18, maximum possible theoretical bias was 5.5% in 2016 and 4% in 2018.

In 2016 and 2018, in the Luhansk region, the survey was conducted as mobile telephone interviews (СATI). In the Donetsk region, in 2018, personal interviews were conducted at respondents' homes.

Thus, for the uncontrolled territory of the Donetsk region, the data is not entirely comparable with data of the previous survey (2016) as different methods of surveying were used: in 2016 it was CATI method with mobile telephone calls; in 2018 it was personal interviews at respondents' homes.

In winter 2018, telephone surveying was impossible as there was no telephone connection of Ukraine with the uncontrolled areas of the Donetsk region.