Ukrainians have voiced their overwhelming confidence in the country’s eventual victory over Russian forces, a strong desire to join NATO, and a firm belief in their leadership’s behind-the-scenes conversations with U.S. and other Western officials, according to a recent poll conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) in Ukraine.

 In an interview with Kyiv Post, the director of the IRI – which seeks to foster and support good governance and democracy in countries around the world –  Michael Druckman, said he was surprised and encouraged by the data.

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 “[One] thing that surprised me was that the number of respondents who think Ukraine should join NATO continues to go up – from more than 50 percent last year to 82 percent of Ukrainians now – across the board, from west to east. Those numbers have shifted completely.”

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 Druckman highlighted that not only has Ukrainian public opinion improved in terms of their view of the United States’ commitment to the war, but also that of their European partners.

 “One important point from the survey is the perception of Ukrainians towards those countries assisting,” he said. “When the full-scale invasion began, Germany's support was perceived by Ukrainians as one percent, which has now shifted to 17 percent.”

What was the goal of the survey, and was there anything in the results that surprised you?

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Initially, Ukraine surprised the world with its stalwart defence and managed to regain some of its territory, also thanks to Western military aid. What are the prospects now?

 This is already the third survey we have conducted in Ukraine since the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022. Before that, we had conducted frequent regular polling allowing us to track public opinion on a wide range of issues over recent decades. The latest poll was focused on Ukrainian attitudes toward the war, joining NATO, and their support of existing political leadership and institutions. 

 In April of 2022, we conducted the first survey after the full-scale invasion. Even then, there was overwhelming confidence that Ukraine will win, and the response that the future looked promising was very surprising. We still have this confidence a year later – more than 90 percent of respondents believe that Ukraine will be victorious. And this is not in just one part of Ukraine. It's all over the territory. 

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 The second thing that surprised me was that the number of respondents who think Ukraine should join NATO continues to go up -- from more than 50 percent last year to 82 percent of Ukrainians now -- again, across the board, from west to east. The numbers have shifted completely. These things are both surprising and increasingly positive. 

Incredibly, the longer the war lasts, the more Ukrainians believe in victory. What are the reasons for that, in your opinion?

 There’s no other choice. The longer it goes on, the more Ukrainians see Russia's paper tiger on the battlefield. Also, after our successful counter-offensive, they witnessed Russia's weaknesses. It happened in Kyiv last spring, in Kharkiv, Kherson, in defense of Bakhmut, etc. That reinforced the belief that victory is possible, and that there is no alternative. 

 The poll shows strong confidence in President Zelensky. However, looking closely at the June 2022 survey, respondents have changed their opinion from strongly approving of Zelensky to somewhat approving. Why did this happen, in your opinion?

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 Well, it’s not only about Zelensky but also about all of the government institutions we measure. At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, people were emotional, and they were positive about everything from the Parliament of Ukraine to the president of Ukraine. We've seen this support decline in intensity, and we started to point this out in June of last year. Still, if we take the aggregate numbers strongly approving and somewhat approving together, it shows a solid, positive balance that has stayed the same since April.

 Could Ukrainians be more critical? 

 I don't think so. Ukrainians are more acute political observers than in anywhere else in the world. They consume so much information, from TV to [social media platform] Telegram, and their opinions on different things change constantly. Still, the president is doing an incredible job of rallying and obtaining global support for Ukrainian aid. All Ukrainians appreciate what he is doing. It is a completely different story when you compare this to his approval rating in previous years. The Parliament also enjoys strong support now, despite its decline in the years before the invasion. These are great numbers for all Ukrainian institutions, historically.

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 What are Zelensky's political prospects after the war? In your opinion, will he manage to keep this support in the future?

 The political landscape will change the day after the victory, just like after the Euromaidan revolution in 2014. We will have a few healthy political parties, and some new ones. It's difficult to predict what the afterwar political landscape will look like. It will be very dynamic, and Ukrainians will decide what it will be. 

 What about fighting corruption? Will this factor matter for Ukrainians?

 Sure. Before Russia's full-scale invasion, this was one of the top issues of Ukrainian concern, together with the war in the Donbas. Ukraine has a great story to tell about the last few years of the fight against corruption. New anti-corruption institutions have been established, enforced by the best anti-corruption units to be found anywhere in the world. Also, the various decentralization reform measures have had a positive impact. People are happy with their mayors and local authorities.

 Another interesting point in the survey is that most Ukrainians would like foreign organizations to oversee funds to reconstruct Ukraine. Is that because they don't trust the government or local authorities? 

 Yes, that is interesting. We should have more focus groups to look into it. Ukrainians know that international stabilization funds have been established, and think, "Let's have them manage these funds and it will help against any potential allegations of corruption.” It is smart thinking for Ukrainians, but it isn't a sign of any concerns about the government’s integrity. 

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 What about the recent corruption scandal with excessive food prices within the Ministry of Defense? Has this issue been discussed with U.S. officials?

 Yes. It has been discussed how quickly Ukrainian authorities at all levels have moved to address this issue. That was pointed out by civilian activists and also by the independent media, and then reacted to, and necessary measures were taken. We saw the Ukrainian anti-corruption network in action here. That is highlighted as a positive example of change.

 You are communicating with U.S. officials. What about the U.S. support for Ukraine? Is it as strong as they declare it is?

 When U.S. President Joe Biden spends 20 hours on the train trying to come to Kyiv, I would say this is a strong example of the personal commitment of American leadership. There is strong support for Ukraine there.

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 Of course, some local U.S. politicians have put this in play because there is an election year coming up. Just look on the battlefield: We have American weapons in place, and we observe their robust spending on defense. U.S. Senate leader Mitchell McConnell said that this is an investment by the American people toward their own safety and security. 

 What are the projections and scenarios for this war as discussed in the U.S.?

 Everyone is waiting for good news from the battlefield and Bakhmut and also from the next counter-offensive to take place. Indeed, Ukraine is receiving weapons from the allies now. Germany began to supply tanks in early February. The allies are committed and believe in Ukraine.

 One important point from the survey is the perception of Ukrainians towards those countries assisting. When the full-scale invasion began in February, Germany's support was perceived by Ukrainians as one percent, which has now shifted to 17 percent.

 Now, we observe more European leadership, and they are taking more active roles, whether we are talking about tanks, training, ammunitions, or aircraft. It is an important message to the United States, to understand that everyone in the coalition is pulling their weight. 

 President Zelensky says that more support is needed; more high-range weapons, ammunition, and modern fighter jets. What do you think Ukrainian officials can do to attract more military aid to Ukraine? 

 They should keep doing what they are already doing. If we look over a year ago, we were talking about Javelins, and now we are discussing HIMARS and F-16s. Kyiv has to make the case for it, stay on top of it, and quickly react to these allegations of corruption, provide support the free media and anti-corruption institutions, because all of this sends the right signals… That will help to support the idea that Ukraine is a successful democracy that can defend itself.

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