Oleksiy Borovskiy is a professor and lecturer, in the Department of Sociology, at Taras Shevchenko National University, Kyiv. He has studied, researched, and written about Ukrainian society for decades. In a one-on-one for the Kyiv Post, Prof. Borovskiy, a frequent television guest on Ukrainian programs, explains how the war has changed Ukrainian society.
Dr Borovskiy: What is your background? Your education and where you taught, etc?
I am a sociologist. I studied the modern history of Ukraine at Zaporizhzhia University, and then completed my doctoral degree at Shevchenko National University in Kyiv. Since then, I have been a professor and lecturer at the National University for 15 years. In addition to that, I do polling and focus groups. I also have worked with political leaders and advised them.
Following Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014, you did a lot of research, including polls and focus groups in Ukraine. How did Ukrainian society change after the 2014 invasion?
There were several really dramatic changes. However, allow me to list the most important changes that I have documented:
1. The aggression of the Russian Federation reduced support for pro-Russian political movements in the country.
2. We’ve seen increased social cohesion among Ukrainians.
3. For the first time, the European orientation and support of NATO became the main and most significant ideology in the country.
4. Energy independence from the Russian Federation increased for Ukraine.
5. Russia lost its strong ally, Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, whom they depended upon in Ukraine.
6. There was the creation of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
7. The role of elections increased and the attitude towards politicians changed. It has become difficult for politicians to manipulate the public, and civil society has become stronger and is able to better keep a thumb on political leaders.
8. There was the introduction of visa-free travel to Europe for Ukrainians.
9. The creation of a new, modern Ukrainian Army, began.
Before the 2014 invasion, and before the 2022 invasion, how strong was the Ukrainian people’s support for joining NATO? How has that changed?
Support for NATO has grown and there is now a much greater understanding of why NATO is important.
Here are two polls that you can contrast. The one on the left is support for joining the EU, the one on the right is support for joining NATO. Blue means “support joining,” and orange means “against joining.”
Why do you think Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014 and what did it show you?
Ukrainians realized that Russia is terribly afraid of losing Ukraine. This is why Russia went through the entire manipulative show of sending the military (little green men): Russia did not want to publicly admit that it was scared of losing Ukraine, but that is now clear. It also showed everyone that Russia is weak and through regular, open, democratic politics, Russia would never again regain its influence in Ukraine.
I have heard that before February 24, 2022, most Ukrainians did not think that there would be an invasion. What percent did not believe an assault would occur?
Yes, that is true. The majority of people – in the range of 80-90 percent – did not believe that there would be open hostilities in Ukraine. Most especially, many did not believe that a Russian military assault on Kyiv was even possible.
This was hindered by the illusion that the Russian Federation is a strong state, and it does not need a war with its close neighbor. In fact, here in Ukraine, few people knew what was happening in the Russian Federation. We did not notice that the Putin regime is now in crisis and becoming ineffective: the Kremlin had hoped the war would make Putin stronger and pull him out of the problems he was having domestically. We didn’t understand this before the invasion!
The greatest mistake was the notion that Putin would stop in Crimea. The first stage of the military operation was 2014, that continued in February 2022. The decision to fight Ukraine through war was made immediately after the annexation of Crimea, already 8 years ago!
Why do you think that Putin wants to destroy Ukraine?
Ukraine, for Putin, is his biggest defeat. All of his plans were destroyed. Then Putin decided to destroy the state. His idea is that “no country, means no problem.”
As a sociologist, how do you think Russian society feels about the war in Ukraine? Do they really believe that they are fighting Nazis? Do they now hate Ukrainians?
Yes they do. Ukrainians are enemies there now. The work of propaganda in Russia has been very effective.
How is Ukrainian society different from one year ago?
Society is cohesive and has set itself the goal of restoring Ukraine to being a strong country.
As an expert in polling: What do you think will happen to Pres. Volodymyr Zelensky after the war?
He will win the next presidential elections.
Do you believe that this war will forever change Ukraine?
The changes are strong. Ukraine will definitely be different. But the influence of the oligarchs will not change too much immediately. It will take time for that to change.
How do you think that this war will end?
Putin will soon realize how bad this war is for him. In order to get himself out of this, he will look for a version of a political treaty similar in format to the Minsk Agreements.
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