A majority of people living in the occupied Donbas think Russia has nothing to do with the war in Ukraine, a new poll suggests.
According to its results, 76% of people living in the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts believe that Ukraine is experiencing a civil war, not fighting against Russian-backed militants.
The sociological survey was conducted by New Image Marketing Group in partnership with the Dzerkalo Tyzhnya newspaper and published on Nov. 9. However, the firm’s website was hacked, so the results are currently only available on Dzerkalo Tyzhnya‘s site.
New Image Marketing Group conducted face-to-face interviews on Oct. 7–31 with 1,606 people who live in the occupied territories. The results of these interviews show that the respondents believe that the three groups most responsible for the war in Donbas are Ukraine’s current government, the United States and the activists who participated in the 2014 EuroMaidan Revolution, which overthrew pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych.
According to the survey, 86% of people from the occupied Donbas believe that the Kremlin didn’t start the war, and roughly the same percentage believes that Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 was intended to “legally defend Russian-speaking citizens alienated by Ukraine” at the time.
Asked who should be responsible for rebuilding war-torn Donbas, 64% of respondents said Ukraine must pay for it. However, Russia and the unrecognized, self-proclaimed statelets in Donbas must oversee this process, more than half of those interviewed said.
Despite this, 58% of people in occupied Donbas still consider themselves Ukrainians. Moreover, 42% of them would not consider giving up their Ukrainian passports, and 38% have visited Ukrainian territory controlled by Kyiv over the past year.
The rest, however, either have a Russian passport (7%) or a passport of one of the self-proclaimed republics (35%).
Only 19% of respondents want to leave the area: 11% would leave for Russia and 5% — for Ukrainian-government controlled territory. The rest would rather move to other countries.
Of the 5% considering leaving for Ukraine, most say they would move if they were guaranteed a stable job and a place to live.
One reason why so few residents of the occupied territories are considering moving to Ukrainian-controlled territory may be their beliefs about the economic situation there. Half of respondents indicated that they believe the Ukrainian economy has worsened over the last year. Another 41% think it hasn’t changed in the past year.
It might also be because of the media they consume. The vast majority of respondents — 84% — said they get their news from Russian television, including TV channels like Rossiya 1 (43%), NTV (26%) and Rossiya 24 (19%), which regularly air pro-Kremlin propagandistic coverage and talk shows.
In fact, according to the survey, the second most respected person among residents of the occupied Donbas (after Russian President Vladimir Putin) is pro-Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, who works for Rossiya 1.
It is unclear how many people remain in the occupied territories of Donbas. Before the war, the total population of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts was 6.5 million. Around 3.8 million of them resided in cities, towns and villages which are now controlled by Russian-backed militants, according to Ukraine’s State Statistics Service.
As of 2019, only 1.4 million residents of the occupied territories have moved to cities under Ukrainian control, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy. However, roughly 60,000 of them are from occupied Crimea, the nonprofit CrimeaSOS reported in 2017.
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